Today I got some news that scared the shit out of me. Someone very close to me was diagnosed with cancer rather unexpectedly. My heart sunk, and it was like getting punched in the gut. I felt mostly shock, and then lots of processing.
Then, a bunch of emotions all flooded through me ranging from fear, to surprise, to sadness, to gratitude.
And then after a while, the feeling that stuck with me most was that I was scared.
There are very few things that scare me in life. Mostly just public toilets, and spiders.
In all honesty, I can’t remember the last time I was as scared as I was today when I received this news.
There are a number of reasons why I don’t usually experience fear. Some reasons are deep, like how my faith and trust in God usually leads to a profound sense of peace. Some are just practical, like how the fact that I’m a pretty big dude means I rarely feel unsafe in dangerous places (even if I am). And some are actually character flaws, like how my naivety and ignorance mean I don’t properly fear things I should (like jumping off of ski lifts).
But, why do I experience fear when I do? Honestly, it’s the same reason why most people experience fear: the unknown.
The unknown is a scary thing. It forces you to confront reality and assumptions, which - if we are honest - we rarely do. Most of us live in a reality distortion field to at least some degree made up of our assumptions, biases, and prejudices which are rarely challenged to any meaningful degree.
The unknown forces you to acknowledge and face all of those things.
The unknown can be something like a cancer diagnosis, or the loss of a job, challenges to your beliefs, or a person you meet.
The unknown is all around us because - lets face it - most of what the universe is is unknown. That’s not just astrophysical meta speculation, it’s a reality about the world in which we live. Our world is largely unknown, and we have only a small glimpse into very small parts of it.
For people of faith, even the Bible says as much when the New Testament writer says, “for now we see through a glass darkly,” contrasting the ambiguity with which we understand things now in this age with the clarity with which we will know in the age to come.
In fact, people of faith in ancient traditions were very comfortable with the mystery and ambiguity of life in ways that led them to a greater awe and wonder for God. Yet, in our culture saturated with knowledge and information, we loathe the unknown - even fear it.
And I think that’s pretty normal. In fact, I think it’s healthy to fear the unknown. It’s what makes faith and trusting such a healthy thing for our souls (not to mention what kept our ancient ancestors from being eaten by sabertooth tigers and poisoned by beautiful-but-deadly plants).
Without the fear of the unknown, how would we realize the value of something worth trusting?
I’m still pretty scared. The coming weeks and months hold much for me and my family that are far beyond what I can imagine, even after talking with friends who have walked this journey before. I’m not expecting fear to go away, because the unknown will not go away.
But what I am expecting to do is get more comfortable with the unknown, trust that there is a purpose - and a God - who knows what I do not, and lean on the wonderful people around me who offer glimpses of hope in dark times. Because the unknown is part of life, and I really think it’s something that should be feared as a reminder of our limitations, cherished as an opportunity to break through those limitations, and embraced as part of what unites us as humans.