When I was little, I was a hypochondriac due to severe emetophobia—fear of throwing up. I remember being about 10 years old, sitting on the floor of my bedroom and looking into my mirror. I was covered in tears. My heart wouldn’t slow down. I felt so on edge, and I was praying for the anxious feelings to leave, but they wouldn’t. That day I told the Lord I couldn’t do it anymore—I couldn’t live with this specific anxiety because it was taking over my life. For some reason, I gave God a timeline: Please give me an answer in two weeks, I prayed. Two weeks later, I saw a therapist. I knew it was the answer I had prayed for because the therapist gave tips on how to soothe myself when my phobia got out of control, and they worked.
About a year before that desperate prayer, I’d made a deal with God. I was wide awake on the bottom bunk in the bedroom I shared with my sister. My heart was pounding, and I couldn’t sleep. I was worrying about scenarios that could expose me to my phobia: at school during flu season, at home, at the movies, on a rollercoaster. Nowhere was safe. That night I prayed that if I read my Bible every night, then God would keep my fear far, far from me in every way possible. From then on, I kept up my side of the bargain: I read my Bible every single night no matter what. Whether I was away from home or so tired I could barely keep my eyes open, I read the Word.
A year later, when I was in desperate prayer on my bedroom floor, it was because—despite my deal with God—my fear hadn’t gone away. I hadn’t been exposed to my phobia in real time, but I was still triggered when I saw it on TV, read about it happening in a book, or even heard it mentioned. I had tools from the therapist, yet I still struggled. By the time I was in junior high, I worried a lot about what I ate. What if I got food from the wrong place at the wrong time and it made me sick? I mostly ate canned soup and homemade meals, but even then, I worried about the ingredients my mom used. Were they fresh or tainted in some way? Was I going to be okay?
My phobia stuck around until I was nineteen years-old. I won’t go into detail, but that year I experienced my fear firsthand and, well, it cured me. The worst had happened, and I was okay.
Even though reading my Bible every night began as something transactional with God, I still do it. Now, my evenings with God are about winding down and reconnecting. But looking back, I see that season of transaction as a lesson about what it means to have a relationship with God, and how good and kind He is even when you’re approaching Him entirely wrong. It reminds me of a verse that has been rattling around in my head since the beginning of the year. It comes from Exodus when the Israelites have settled at the base of Mount Sinai:
…Moses approached the thick darkness where God was…
The Lord is on the mountain, the giving of the law is coming, and the people are frightened of God’s awesome and terrible presence. It is described as a “dark cloud” that thunders and crackles with lightning, and Moses even warns the people to keep their distance from it so they won’t die from terror. But Moses, God’s servant, approaches the dark cloud “where God was.” And when he returns from the mount, his face is radiant and filled with light. He had to approach the darkness to be bathed in the light.
Being in a relationship with God is scary. It’s vulnerable. It’s constantly being exposed to the reality that you are not in control. To love God and have faith is to be brave. A lot of the time, it feels more manageable to hide and trust ourselves, but having faith at all is approaching the dark for the promise of light. It isn’t easy. I look back on the worst days of my phobia and remember how miserable I was, but out of that misery I learned something so precious.
Of course, “the darkness where God is” has come again since then—many times and in many forms. Such is life. And each time, I’m faced with that choice: Do I approach the dark again, or do I keep my distance for fear the terror will kill me?
I keep choosing the former.
It isn’t easy, but it’s worth it. Even when we approach Him wrongly, transactionally, or filled with doubt and mistrust, all that matters in the end is that we’re approaching Him at all. Because He can work with that—and He does.
How can you approach the dark where God is in your life? What light do you anticipate is on the other side?Leave a Comment