Stephie Smith never dreamed of becoming a writer until a series of her humorous essays about family were published behind her back. Unlike most things done behind her back, this one she actually liked.
And now she writes.
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“Fear can’t exist where faith resides.”
I’ve long since forgotten the name of the minister giving the sermon, but the words will probably remain etched in my memory forever. I had recently changed employment from a comfortable job of six years to one with a boss who turned out to be a nightmare, and the frightening prospect of job-hunting loomed before me once again. While I was still trying to get a grip on these changes, my boyfriend of eight years moved out, and he left behind such a path of deceit and betrayal that I thought I would never recover. I had already had one panic attack and that was enough for me to know that I never wanted another.
But another seemed inevitable. For days I had lain in bed, my mental state alternating between bouts of anxiety that clutched at my heart until I couldn’t breathe and periods of depression so severe that I truly wanted to die. I knew there were things I needed to take care of–finding another job, locating an apartment I could afford on my own–but I couldn’t seem to function. Disquieting thoughts ran endlessly through my mind: what will I do if… how am I going to… what if I can’t… My family was three thousand miles away, and my friends–well, it didn’t take me long to realize that they were his friends, not mine. He hadn’t liked my friends, so I had given them up. As I lay trembling in bed, listening to the taped sermon that a chance acquaintance had given me, I felt as though all of my support mechanisms had been stripped away, leaving me naked, freezing, and alone.
The minister on the tape went on to say that fear is simply a lack of faith that you’ll be protected and kept safe. It’s believing that you have to take care of everything yourself, without help or hope.
And I realized that was exactly my problem. I was afraid. There had been too many upsetting changes in my life, and I was afraid I couldn’t cope. There was no one I could talk to, no one I could draw comfort or strength from. I felt completely alone with my fears, and now, as I listened to the sermon, the reason was so very clear.
I had let God slip out of my life. I had let God slip out of my life and it had happened so gradually that I hadn’t even noticed.
I had been raised in the church, but as a child I viewed it as one of those things that I had to do, much like school. After I left home at the age of fourteen, I continued to visit the church but never with any real sense of purpose. And yet I still believed in God and I prayed almost daily. But His presence in my life was something I took for granted.
In my mid-twenties, I met the man I thought I would spend my life with, but that lifetime lasted only eight years, and during those years I lost much more than I gained. You see, I hadn’t even thought to ask him if he believed in God before I let myself fall in love with him. He was a kind person and I simply assumed he was a Christian. I can still remember my shocked disbelief when he told me he didn’t believe in God or in any power higher than man, but I felt it was ignorance on his part, a lack of proper upbringing. I didn’t realize his convictions were as strong as my own.
Our relationship became intimate and we moved in together, even though it went against my Christian upbringing. I told myself that things were different now, the world was different now. People couldn’t be expected to live as they lived in the time of Christ, and surely God understood that. Anyway, we would be married eventually, and all would be forgiven. It continued to bother me that he was a non-believer, but I told myself I had a lifetime to change his mind. Instead, I was the one who changed.
My visits to church became less frequent because I wanted to spend my time with him. Eventually they dwindled down to none. What once had been daily prayers became sporadic ones, prayers that were said only when someone I knew was going through difficult times. It wasn’t long before those too were left behind. I still believed in God, but He was no longer a presence in my life.
As I lay in bed I thought back over my life. I had experienced other trials that had surely been as difficult as the present ones, but somehow I had known that things would turn out okay. There had never been any doubt in my mind and now, because of the minister’s words, I realized it was because of my faith.
I realized something else, too, something I had probably known in my heart but hadn’t wanted to face. I had been unhappy during the last few years of my love relationship and I had been searching, albeit unconsciously, for something that would make the difference in my life. But I had been searching in the wrong places. I wasn’t going to find it in a career, money or possessions. It wasn’t going to come from an exciting social life or from alcohol or drugs. It was something that I had once had and then let slip out of my life, without ever realizing its value.
It was God.
It was God that I had been searching for during those last few years. And now that I have found Him again, I’m not going to let Him go. Because living in faith means living with a serenity that comes from knowing with absolute unshakable certainty that the universe will support me, that everything will work out for the best or at least that I will make it through and become a stronger person. Living in faith means knowing that God will provide me with everything I need. Living in faith means living without fear, because just as the minister said on that fateful day that changed my life, “Fear can’t exist where faith resides.”