Children face their worst fears on their beds in nightmares. Adults escape their worst fears by staying in bed. Dreams can still be scary, but reality can be terrifying. Our humility in the presence of our Father is our confidence in the presence of our fears.
When I was a kid, I had terrible nightmares — about losing my family and about monsters. My mother comforted me when I would wake up screaming. I’d cry with the relief of reality, feeling a love strong enough to expel the terror.
As an adult, nights are different. Now, I struggle to sleep — not because of nightmares, but because life itself has become the nightmare. As we grow older, monsters trade their closing shifts for first shifts. We’re greeted by our fears, not as nocturnal anxieties, but as waking worries.
Dreams can still be scary, but reality is straight terrifying. That’s why people drink at night while they watch Netflix. That’s why people jump on their favorite app — Instagram, Minecraft, or Facebook — when they’re waiting on bad news. That’s why we check our phone for texts first thing in the morning. That’s why the Psalmist cries, “In the night my hand is stretched out without wearying; my soul refuses to be comforted” (Psalm 77:2). Our triggered indulgences are simply our childlike riffs on weary hand-stretching at dusk — our soul’s variations on refusing the realities of the dawn.
Is there a word for it — reality-phobia? Our worries are the same, but more specific than when we were children — and now they bully us with “You really can lose it all.” Our monsters have upgraded to HD, with hollow-tip-power dooming judgments. Our circumstantial fears always come packed with an existential charge. The suffering of a family member shakes us with our powerlessness, and our failure to fix them. Failure at work ties our hands to the plow with the rope of “If you fail, you are a failure.” The four words “I have a lump” are strong and violent enough to shatter our brittle lives like glass.
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