I distinctly remember as a very young child curling up in my pink Disney “Aristocats” pajamas while my mom read me the story of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. I loved the story and I loved Snow White. I imagined living in a tiny cottage in the woods and being able to call a host of little woodland creatures to my housekeeping assistance. Unfortunately, every fairytale has a villain – an evil nemesis to the beautiful princess who is determined to destroy her. In Snow White, it was the wicked stepmother turned evil witch. With a long, hooded cloak and a giant crooked nose, she was terrifying to my little toddler self. I remember lying in bed, convinced that hiding behind the end of my bed was the witch, ready to grab my toes if I let them peek out of the blanket for even a second. So I made sure my apparently witch-proof blanket was wrapped under my feet and the villain-banishing nightlight was on before drifting off to sleep. And thus ushered in every child's main fear – the fear of the dark.
Unlike most children, I didn't grow out of it. It was an oddly selective fear – if I was in a room with someone else, I was totally fine. Slumber parties? No big deal. If there was a bit of light in the room, I was totally fine. So while my peers described the need for blackout drapes and sleep masks in an effort to achieve the complete absence of light that is required for sleep, I left my door opened a crack to see the nightlight in the hall.
Life continued well and good until one day the inevitable happened: we moved. Don't get me wrong. I was very excited for this move. At 17, I now had a room almost double the size of my previous room, and with a walk in closet. Oh, and the best part? It was a basement bedroom. The idealization of teenage luxury, I finally achieved the “privacy” to which I was so obviously entitled.
Unfortunately, this led to an unforeseen dilemma. You see, leaving the door open a crack is a great thing when all that's out there is your parents’ room three feet across the hall and your sister’s room four feet to the right, but as it turns out, leaving the door open a crack is NOT a viable option when outside your door waits a long, dark hallway, and your parents are a full floor removed from your obvious inevitable doom. Clearly, the door had to stay shut.
So I tried a series of options. There was the classic, “Oh look, I must have forgotten to turn off my lamp,” and the ever effective, “Wow, I fell asleep doing my homework again.” Leaving the closet light on, and the door opened a crack, proved to be an excellent compromise. Until one day my dad asked me: “Did you forget to turn the light off?”
Now I don't remember what exactly I said, but I imagine it was something akin to “Oh yeah, homework on the lamp ... forgot something in the closet ... was reading a book and forgot the closet. Lamp. Forgot the lamp.” Or something equally eloquent.
“Oh. Okay,” my dad said.
Phew. I was so smooth.
That night, there was a nightlight in my room. And not one of those Winnie the Pooh or Barbie lights you had as a kid. One of those elegant lights that people put in the guest bathroom. I found one in my room and one in the hallway outside. It just sort of appeared, as if it had always been there. My parents never said a word.
It's funny, the things that scare us, but I think it's even funnier how embarrassed we are by them. As though fear is unique to us, and no one else ever feels those same sometimes rational, sometimes irrational, feelings. Had one of my parents asked me if I was scared of the dark, or if I wanted a nightlight, I likely would've responded with an offended indignation and all the teenage angst I could muster. But they didn't. A nightlight simply appeared, and they never said a word.
Fear seems to be a chronic illness of the human condition. As children we fear the dark, as we grow older we fear being alone. We are afraid of spiders, or confined spaces, or abandonment within an intimate relationship. Whatever it is, whatever that fear that seems to be a shadow following a step behind us, every person has, does or will experience fear in their life.
We often quote the Lord's words to Joshua (Joshua 1:9): “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”