Attic Rooms

There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. ~ 1 John 4:18

As a kid I loved the light of day and feared the darkness of the night. I do not know why; I just did. Barbara Brown Taylor writes, “Most people do not know what they mean by darkness except they want to stay out of it. Just say the word and the associations begin to flow: night, nightmare, ghost, graveyard, cave, bat, vampire, death, devil, evil, criminal, danger, doubt, depression, loss, fear. Fear is the main thing. Almost everyone is afraid of being afraid.”

What fears occupy our minds? Does fear ever consume us? Paralyze us?

I remember my childhood fear of the dark, and I cannot say it is completely gone today. The basement in Uncle Bill’s old farmhouse was very dark with few windows. The big room had a pool table, so it was one of my and my cousins’ favorite places to play during the day, but once the sun went down and we turned the lights off, watch out!

I lay terrified in my sleeping bag waiting for a ghost to open the door to the basement and slowly fly down the stairs to me. I held my breath with every sound I heard, the furnace kicking on, a coyote howling, or a dog barking. Every sound was dangerous, and I tried to disappear in my sleeping bag.

My family lived in a two-story house on Euclid Avenue in Grandview, Washington. My bedroom was at the top of the stairs, first room on the left. I thought if an apparition appeared, it would float upstairs and look in my room first, the most at-risk room. I asked my older sister Becky if we could switch rooms, but she declined. “Too scary,” she said.

When my mom said a prayer for me, tucked my covers around me, kissed me good-night, and then turned my light off, I froze in terror. The walls cracked, the wind blew outside my window, and the refrigerator made strange noises unique to the night. When I heard cats, who have a sixth sense, screeching in the yard, I knew they were fighting ghosts. I hoped our cat “Mouser” would be o.k. in the morning. I would hold my breath, hide under the covers, and pray for dawn to come.

My grandma’s tall two-story home was my favorite. She had a zip line between two trees, a steep metal slide where we could exceed speeds of one-hundred miles per hour, and best of all, Grandma had a house full of candy jars. The old homestead overflowed with memories of my grandfather’s family and Grandma and Grandpa’s five children. The house surrounded us with deep love and joy, and we felt the loving presence of the great cloud of witnesses (see Hebrews 12:1).

Yet, the night brought the customary fears. All the grandkids fought over the upstairs bedrooms. Who would sleep in the attic room? The small room, not much bigger than a walk-in closet, was tucked away in the corner. Opposite the door there was a long steep stairway that led to a walk-in attic. All of us cousins did not even go to the attic during the day. The old house shifted and moaned during the dark night, and the attic stairs creaked. I stayed alone in the room one night for three hours before I ran to mom and dad’s bed. It was terrifying. I never stayed there again.

Taylor reflects that “darkness is shorthand for anything that scares us, that we want no part of.” We cannot avoid the darkness all the time, so how do we live with it? Can we move beyond our fears?

Fear is present in Matthew’s resurrection story. “Suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow” (Matthew 28:2-3).

The Roman guards shake out of fear of the angel and become like dead men. Fear paralyzes them; they cannot function or live. “Often fear penetrates our inner selves so deeply that it controls, whether we are aware of it or not, most of our choices and decisions. Untamed fear can become a cruel tyrant who takes possession of us and forces us to live as hostages in this house of fear,” says Henri Nouwen. We bury our heads under the covers at night and we cannot move.

From the desperate attic of the house of fear we ask, “What if…” What if I set a boundary with my best friend and he leaves me? What if I lose my job? What if I get sick? What if my marriage does not work out? What if a strong man destroys our way of life? Fear seizes us, our communities, our nation, and we live like “dead men.”

“Fear is one of the most effective weapons in the hands of those who seek to control us,” Nouwen says.

The angel speaks to the women, “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised” (Matthew 28:5-6). Their fear does not paralyze them. Instead, it energizes them writes Eugene Peterson. “They left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy and ran to tell his disciples” (Matthew 28:8).

When darkness comes, do we hide under the covers and hold our breath? Or do we throw off our heavy blankets and face the darkness while rooted in the power of God’s love and grace? Nouwen writes, “We do not have to live in fear. Love is stronger than fear: ‘There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear’” (1 John 4:18).

It takes time, but may we move by the Grace of God from the “house of fear” to the “house of love.” May we live with fear and boundless joy because love perseveres.

Blessings and peace,