Never Let Me Go
July 20, 2016 | by: Sharon Bruce | 3 Comments
Posted in: Culture, Science and the Christian Walk
Sometimes I think I was born afraid. I can look back at my life and see fear winding through it like a black line denoting a river on a map. Sometimes the river was a trickle, other times a torrent that swallowed me whole for months on end. Many of my earliest memories are tinged with fear: fear of going to daycare; fear of fire drills and the dentist; a wailing, flailing fear of needles, much to the dismay of my mother and Armi, the nurse at the pediatrician’s office tasked with giving me the occasional vaccine or blood test. Seventh grade was marked by panic attacks that morphed into a phobia of the school bus I was expected to ride every day to and from school. My mother couldn’t understand it and chalked my behavior (intentionally missing the bus, and humiliatingly hiding under the bed until it had passed) up to rebellion. I can’t blame her; I didn’t understand it either. This fear that I couldn’t explain and couldn’t control filled me with shame. I hid it as best I could, afraid I would be ridiculed by the few friends I had. Eventually, I overcame this phobia and things were normal for a couple of years. Then the panic attack returned in high school, centering on social situations. I was better at hiding by then, so almost no one knew. I would just go quiet, try not to faint and try not to throw up.
Fear has always been entangled in my faith journey as well. I have always believed in God―or was afraid not to believe in God―since I was a child. I remember praying to Him when I was little, little prayers to a distant God. I prayed the prayers I learned and asked that He would keep me from my fears. I saw Him as a huge distant figure, who didn’t particularly care about me or my problems, but who would certainly care if I disobeyed Him. I knew about Jesus from Sunday school and Catholic school but He was also distant, and while he seemed a more caring, less dangerous Being, I had no concept of Him being the Person who loved me so much He came to save my soul. I didn’t know He loved me. By the time I was in my early teens I was so full of shame at who I was and regret over things I had done that I couldn’t imagine Him―or anyone else―loving me if they really knew me.
I was about twelve years old when God really started to get under my skin. He scared me. He frustrated me. It seemed he asked impossible things and then would hold me accountable for my inevitable failure. I felt like when he handed out faith to people, he skipped me. He left me out. If I could be saved only by faith and faith was a gift, why did he hold it back from me? It made me angry. I wanted to know what he wanted from me. He was pursuing me by making me pursue him, I just didn’t realize it.
At fifteen my best friend told me she wanted me to talk to a pastor she knew named Tim. I refused. I wasn’t interested in talking to a stranger about my problems. She persisted for about a week and I finally gave in and told her I would call him. Then I changed my mind and refused again. Thank God, she wouldn’t let me get away with it. She finally won the argument. A few days later, at my grandma’s house, I got up the nerve to call Tim. I don’t remember much about the conversation except that his voice was so incredibly gentle as he told me of my need for salvation, of Christ’s love for me and how He died on the cross for my sin. He asked if I would accept Christ as my Lord and Savior. I said yes. I had a greater sense of peace after that, and thought I knew something of faith and the love of God. When I was 18, two weeks before leaving for college, I was baptized.
In the fall of my freshman year, that sense of peace completely and utterly disappeared. The fear returned with a fierce, crippling vengeance. This time it came in form of fleeting, but horrific thoughts about God and my family. They were my thoughts, in my voice, saying I hated God, that if I did a certain thing a certain way it meant I wanted my parents to die, or I was selling my soul to the devil. Sometimes the thoughts were worse than that. I couldn’t stop them, so I tried to counter them with actions to undo what I was thinking―to make it not count. No matter what I did, no matter how hard I prayed and begged for God to take the thoughts away, they kept coming. How could God love someone who thought such vile things?
Eventually, I found out the thoughts had a name: obsessive compulsive disorder. I alternately rejected and accepted treatment for years, viewing my symptoms as failure of my faith and the medication as a crutch. How arrogant of me. Finally, I submitted to taking the medicine and the thoughts for the most part remained―and still remain―a sort of background noise.
Even as the fear receded, even as I continued my walk with Christ, God made something very clear to me: I didn’t trust Him. Not really. I was in a perpetual state of waiting for the other shoe to drop; convinced it wasn’t safe to rest in God. Yes, I had surrendered my soul to Christ, but my heart was another matter. And just because I had surrendered my soul…it didn’t mean He wouldn’t change His mind and cast me away, did it? And so I prayed and served God flinching in my spirit with my fists clenched, trying to focus on Christ instead of the Father I feared. I held Him at a distance, waiting for Him to reject me and walk away, until a couple of years ago.
I remember the Sunday morning when things started to change. It was March 24th. I was listening to Dr. Cofield preach a sermon and he said, “We want to be loved and we want to be safe. Impossible.” I could feel the conviction from God. How long would I push down my fear and my shame? How long would I keep Him at a distance? In the three days that followed, God brought me the same message again and again from different directions. I knew I needed to talk with someone, but I was terrified at the thought of anyone knowing me to the depth I thought I was being asked to reveal. After a few months of stalling, I started meeting with a friend who does identity coaching using intensive prayer. That was also terrifying. I had to write things down to show her…things I couldn’t bring myself to speak. And she read. And she was unfazed. Slowly, slowly she helped me let God in, really let Him in. It was hard. I spoke things that I never wanted to acknowledge or admit. It hurt. But the healing would not have happened without the hurt.
Now as I stand, it’s like the chains and ropes around my heart are falling away. I sometimes still stumble over them, these doubts, but they don’t confine and constrict me anymore. I praise God for the freedom He has granted me. I praise Him for the friends and the church he has surrounded me with, who walk with me. It’s been an incredibly frightening, beautiful couple of years since Dr. Cofield’s sermon. I have faced things I never wanted to face, spoken things I never wanted to speak. God has answered prayers I didn’t pray. There has been joy and frustration and loss and blessing. I pray that He never lets me clench my fists and close my heart to Him again. I pray He never lets me go.
"I waited patiently for the Lord; he turned to me and heard my cry.
He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand.
He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear the Lord and put their trust in him." Psalm 40:1-3 NIV
Sharon Bruce, a current CG leader at Restoration, traded her childhood desert mountains for beaches and green. Her lush backyard garden plants display a marked respect for her Bachelor of Science in Horticulture. Sharon’s love for God and compassion for His creation shout loudest in her artwork, in her caring friendship, and in her willingness to gently re-home a slimy frog from a friend’s front porch Bromeliad to the river three miles away.