Fear and anxiety can really do a number on a person. It can turn ordinary men and women into giants, and it can make toys threatening.
One day when I was 5 years old, my kindergarten teacher showed the class a picture of a violin. I had never seen a violin, and when I looked at the picture, what I saw in it was a face. The f-holes, the cut parts, were the eyes, the bridge formed the nose and the saddle, where the chin rests, looked to me like a crooked black mouth.
I do not know what prior experience caused me to see the picture that way. I highly doubt that anyone else in the class saw in it what I saw. But for some still unknown reason, the face that was the violin looked unkind, even threatening. The fancy F hole, the cut-out eyes, looked to me as if they were somehow staring at me. They seemed scared and crying. With only a picture of a violin, and without hearing the sound of it, I could not see any good use for it. I knew nothing of the comforting tones it could create. I knew only that it made me uncomfortable.
The next day the teacher brought a real violin to school, but I was not there. A feverous cold kept me in bed. When I tried to imagine how the instrument would sound my mind produced only noise. The violin grew larger in my thoughts. That night I dreamed about it. In my dream it was huge, the size of a bass. It had feet and it was chasing me. I wanted it gone. From that night, and for months thereafter I knew fear. I thought the big bad thing was hiding in my closet behind my clothes and toys. I would not even try to sleep before checking, sometimes more than once. Each night I carefully opened the closet door just enough to peep in and assure myself that my enemy was not really there.
Troubles loom large when one is anxious. Imagination runs wild and places havoc in one’s life. Of course, there are happenings that can have awful consequences, but the real must be separated from the imagined. Feared things always grow larger until one confronts and manages that which was thought to be unimaginable. A paralyzing fear dissipates trust. As stones cast into water cause ripples, anxiety causes ripples in us.
Fear has the power of pushing to the point where we sometimes create false gods to ward off an imagined danger. We retreat with our idols instead of hearing the God within that promises safety and tells us to fear not.
Lack of self-trust coupled with fear can turn ordinary men and women into large living foes, like the “giants” that the Israelite scouts encountered on route to the promised land. Because they were afraid, Caleb and Joshua, the scouts, saw themselves and all the Israelites as grasshoppers, and their enemies as larger than life. (Numbers 13:33).
Taken as metaphor, the entire journey of the Israelites can be viewed as the journey inward to an unknown place of promise. It is a place that we can reach only when we work through the thicket of the anger, dishonesty, jealously, guilt and disappointment that often accompanies fear and anxiety. When we walk past the residue of fear-twisted branches, lost hopes, and broken promises we open ourselves to brightness and faith. There we can see more clearly that the many anxieties that threaten us are nothing more than shadows of ourselves.
I learned long ago that an underlying fear of not being able to breathe caused by severe asthma was the culprit that caused the picture of a violin to create terror in my five-year-old mind. Those shadows no longer invade conscious memory. Since then many real things came and still come along: things best faced outwardly with courage and strength. But imagined fears are different. For these one must confront the shadows so the fears that we feel may resolve and dissipate in the light.
Lee J. Richmond, PhD, is a licensed psychologist in the State of Maryland. She is a professor emerita of Loyola University Maryland. and former professor of counseling and human development at the John Hopkins University. Additionally, she has been a human resources consultant and leadership development trainer for national and international organizations including the United States Postal Service and Recruit Ltd. Japan. She is widely published in books, monographs and journals. Dr. Richmond is known for blending her interest in the nexus between psychology and spirituality, Dr. Richmond holds a Ph.D. from the University of Maryland. She is a mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother.