His name was Duke, and he was a behemoth of a dog.
His kingdom was nestled directly east of our house, in between ours and the one two doors down. I am positive that Duke ate bunnies for breakfast, along with the occasional small child. I was terrified of him.
Thankfully, there were five-foot fences that separated us from certain death, which allowed us to play outside, if we could endure Duke’s guttural, unworldly barking. From inside our backyard, my older sister Lisa and I would play in the sandbox, on the swing set, and with our very un-Duke like dog, Daisy. When my parents bought us a red dodge ball, we made up a lame game called “31” on our small patio (imagine 4 square without all the risk).
Sometimes, however, we would get cocky, and pull out a wiffle ball and bat. Because my I.Q. has never been very high, we would play up against the fence that separated us from Duke’s kingdom, using it as a makeshift backstop. I think you can perhaps see where this is going.
One day, I foul tipped a pitch, and it soared high into the air above us, finally landing about ten feet on the other side of the fence, squarely in Duke’s domain. We immediately knew our choice: leave the offering where it landed, or attempt to retrieve our only wiffle ball. We quaked with fear, imagining our limbs being ripped from our still growing bodies. In my mind, I had peered into Duke’s cavernous maw millions of times, and I imagined those rows of yellowish fangs razor sharp, covered with the bad decisions of boys like me.
I decided to peer over the fence to get a sense of what Duke was thinking of this turn of events. To my great surprise, he was sleeping on other side of the yard. I didn’t imagine that he ever slept.
Without thinking, I silently dropped into his yard and began creeping towards our one and only wiffle ball. I traveled the distance between the Shire and Mordor in those ten feet, my throat constricting, my lips dry. When I finally reached the ball, I hadn’t realized I had been holding my breath. I slowly reached down for it, but just before closing my tiny hand around it, I took one final look at Duke, who was about twenty feet away.
At that precise moment, Duke’s ears shot up and his eyes popped open, wide awake and alert. Before my hand had finished closing around that wiffle ball, Duke was bounding towards me. He had been toying with me; of course he never slept. I threw the ball over the fence as I began racing towards it, every corpuscle of my body filling with adrenaline. As I approached the fence, Duke was bearing down on me, and I began reflecting on who might eulogize my short life.
And then, something magical happened. It was all instinct, and I swear to you that it happened exactly this way, unlikely as it may seem. As I got close to the fence, I jumped. The next thing I knew, my belly was parallel with the fence top, and I was staring down at it, the snarling face of fear on one side, and the safety of our backyard on the other. I don’t remember landing, but I do remember that I never touched that fence. As I sat in that short grass, smiling, Duke looked through the fence in stunned disbelief.
I am convinced that fear is the enemy of the expansive kingdom of God, and it keeps us from the life that God intends for us.
I am also convinced that fear needs to be faced, even if it snarls and snaps at you, even if it threatens to eat you alive. But in order for it to be faced, it first has to be named.
What are you afraid of, really?
And what would it look like to stop playing silly games next door to your fear? What would it look like to climb right into its presence, to see it for what it is, and come out of it alive? What would it look like to imagine that there is something greater than that fear that will help you to face it?
In it together, friends.