Where Fears Are Stilled
“In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety.”
I sometimes find myself idly wondering how long the actual incident lasted. 7 seconds? 12? I know in moments of crisis, time seems to stand still, and those critical seconds of a traumatic experience seem to stretch much longer in our minds than they do in reality.
Looking back, I know it didn’t last as long as I felt it did. The number of seconds could probably be shown with the ten fingers of my two hands. I spend 8-10 seconds everyday performing an infinite variety of different tasks, and very few of those short bursts of time ever impact me beyond the moment. But in this case, it’s incredible how a single digit number of seconds has been imprinted upon my memory and impacted my life forever.
While certain details are vivid in my recollection, others are less defined. The crisis moments created a sort of tunnel vision experience.
I can still hear the violent crash of our living room window being shattered by a man under the influence of drugs. The memories play out in my mind, and my physical body still experiences the feeling of being jolted awake, of going from dead sleep to instant action in a split second.
I can see Trey’s silhouetted body in the darkness as he bounded from bed and ran in the direction of the crash, bravely advancing upon unknown danger to protect his family. I remember flying out of bed myself, instinctively running to retrieve the gun from our safe. I panicked when the closet door stuck, delaying me for but a moment.
I can hear Trey shouting, “Get out of the house!” His deep voice was full and booming, fueled by his own fear and adrenaline of the moment. I remember hearing another man’s voice shouting in response to my husband, confirming my fear — there was an intruder inside our home. The confused questions tumbled in my mind: Who is this man? Why has he invaded our home?
I remember running down the dark hallway, our oldest hurrying from her room just as I passed her door. There was no time to explain, so I hurriedly told her to hide in my room, and she thankfully obeyed. She was just five years old at the time.
As these events play out in my memory, I can feel the weight of the gun in my hand. I kept thinking I was going to have to shoot a man who was wrestling with my husband, and in those few seconds before I came upon the scene, a question tumbled endlessly in my mind: What if I miss?
I remember rounding the hallway corner and seeing Trey, alone, his bare feet pacing on a sea of broken glass. I looked out our window, the frame now only holding shards of glass that peaked out from the edges like steep, jagged mountains on the horizon. Most of the window was below Trey’s feet. I briefly searched the floor to see how the intruder had broken the window, expecting to find a rock or brick, but instead finding nothing. We later realized our intruder had simply jumped through the window, the force of his body instantly shattering the double-paned glass.
I remember looking into the night, seeing no one, and wondering if we were now safe.
I ran to get my phone, and when I came back, Trey had turned on our entryway light. My eyes beheld a horrifying scene. Blood was splattered all over our walls, our couch, our baby’s Fisher-Price jumperoo. It saturated our carpet. Whose blood is this? On the phone with the 9-1-1 operator, I searched Trey’s body for injury, my jumbled mind trying to find the source ofall the blood I saw.
It took seven minutes from the time I dialed 9-1-1 to the moment the first officer arrived; that seven minutes felt like an eternity. I remember the flooding peace I felt when I saw those flashing lights. We opened our front door and walked out, expecting the police to run to us. But instead of rushing to us, they hurried to our neighbor’s home. Don’t they know we have just experienced a horrifying home invasion? Don’t they know we need them?
I remember the first time I saw the dead body in my neighbor’s yard. Their front porch light was on, and right outside another window, smashed open just like ours, the dim light illumined the body of the man who had intruded our home just minutes earlier. We thought he’d run down the street, disappearing into the night, but there he lay, motionless, gone.
As I’ve just described, we were victims of a horrifying home invasion earlier this year. I’ve always been inclined to fear; in fact, my mind is usually very good at conjuring up reasons to feel fearful in any given situation. This real-life experience did not help. In the immediate weeks after our experience, I would even say I was crippled by fear. The trauma of living through that experience has not been easily shaken.
If you’re like me, you don’t need much help in imagining a reason to fear, because the unfolding tragedies of our world continually feed us new material to work with. We are only a little over a month removed from the horrifying massacre of concertgoers in Las Vegas. Earlier last week, a man influenced by terrorist ideology plowed down innocent people who were simply out for a bike ride. Yesterday, a group of Christians gathered at their church for their usual Sunday morning service. In an instant everything changed when a gunman entered their worship service and began to ruthlessly slaughter those present.
These tragedies remind us that we live in a world possessing infinite unknowns. Our fear is often a natural byproduct of our circumstances, and if we aren’t careful, fear will pervade our daily lives.
This is the great challenge I have faced since our home invasion: how do I live each day in confidence and peace, not ruled by crippling fear born from a traumatic experience? I realize, though, that the challenge is not my own. Every single one of us faces our own fears. We live in an unstable world wrought with political, economic, racial, and social tensions. We are all vulnerable to the possibility of an accident, a disease, an injury, or some type of tragedy wrecking our plans, disrupting our “normal.”
After our home invasion, I wondered if I would ever be able to sleep peacefully again. The sun would barely begin its descent upon the horizon before a suffocating fear would seize me. During the daytime, I was usually able to put my fears to rest. But at night, when my physical body beckoned me to succumb to a peaceful night of sleep, my mind would fight back with the knowledge of possible danger. Sleep is a vulnerable state. Who would protect me then?
It was during this struggle that I came upon the words of David in Psalm 3. In this Psalm, David described a time when he was literally fleeing for his life. His enemies sought to kill him, and he had been forced into hiding. “O LORD, how many are my foes!” wrote the king. “Many are rising against me…” he continued. If anyone could understand the inclination to be ruled by fear, David could.
Yet in spite of his terrifying circumstances, David penned a different outcome than we might expect:
“But you, O LORD, are a shield about me,
my glory, and the lifter of my head.
I cried aloud to the LORD,
and He answered me from his holy hill.
I lay down and slept;
I woke again, for the LORD sustained me.
I will not be afraid of many thousands of people…”
I initially read David’s words in disbelief: How could a man, being pursued by men desiring to take his very life, believe such words? How could a king sleep peacefully, allowing his body to enter such a vulnerable state, when he did not know where his enemies were hiding?
Yet when I paused to remember our own experience, I realized I could say the same thing. There are details of our home invasion that not many know about, minor details that might have seemed insignificant in any other situation. Yet in the face of our trauma, these details take center stage.
Earlier that week, for instance, a man had knocked on my door when I was home alone. I informed him I was uninterested in what he was selling, but he became persistent and agitated when I didn’t open the door. Beginning to feel unsafe, I ran to retrieve our gun. When I returned to the front door, he was gone, and instead of locking the gun away again, I placed it on top of the safe — high enough that none of my children could get it, but accessible enough that I could grab it in a moment, if needed. During the home invasion, the amount of time it took me to grab our gun was just right so that I met my daughter in the hallway, keeping her from running to the scene where her dad and our intruder were.
In the days leading up to the home invasion, I considered on many occasions moving our baby’s jumperoo to a different location, but something (Someone) kept me from doing so. Because I never moved it, our intruder was immediately entangled in the children’s toy when he crashed through our window. That jumperoo prevented this man from intruding further into our home, causing more damage and possibly entering our children’s room just steps away from the window.
On the night of the home invasion, my husband had gone to the office to study for his upcoming PhD entrance exam. The kids were in bed, and I was about to head to bed myself. Yet on that night, I felt physically compelled to lay on our living room floor and to pray over our home. It’s hard to describe such a compulsion except to say that the Holy Spirit had put within my spirit a sense of urgency for my family. Just hours before our invasion, I lay prostrate on our living room floor, praying.
I could go on with more and more details, details that make it clear God had already been working to protect our family when we didn’t even know we needed protecting. We would never have imagined this happening in the safety of our home, yet God knew and He was our shield and refuge.
I realized through our traumatic experience just how thin the veil really is between our perception of safety and the possibilities of danger. If I am not careful, fear can steal into my heart and rule my day before I realize what has happened. Yet with all of these fearful possibilities in every moment, I’ve also come to realize something more about the nature of fear: the overwhelmingly vast majority of the fears we hold will only ever be figments of our imagination. We can imagine or fear any number of events all day long, but if they aren’t meant to be, they won’t be. Often, our daily or momentary fears are not grounded in reality, but they are fueled by our imaginations. They are born from perceived danger, not actual danger.
I’ve also realized something else, a deeper truth born from a more eternal nature. And that truth is this: we need not fear the terrors of the night, for if they ever do visit our homes, the Lord will be enough. He will sustain us; He will protect us. This is not to say we aren’t susceptible to violence and injury, tragedy and even death. But this is to say that even if the worst may happen, the Lord God will be our refuge.
The power of this truth is the same for you. We need not fear danger or imagine a terror coming into our lives. But if it does, we can rest assured the Lord will be with us. He will always be enough.
It is here, abiding in this place, dwelling in this truth, where we find our fears are stilled.