What's in the water with you?

Overcoming Fear of the Unknown

Sunny Sanibel

When I was young, my family went to Sanibel Island, FL every year. I was the epitome of a beach bum. I loved the beach, the water, the sounds. I even relished the bit of gritty sand in my teeth as I ate salty potato chips and drank Pepsi in the hot sun between rounds of swimming and sand castle making. 

Sanibel’s on the Gulf side, and in this particular area, the water is a murky greenish-brown. It’s nearly impossible to see through for more than a foot or two. That’s how I thought all seawater was supposed to look. 

Me in my happiest place

The problem was, you have no idea what is in the water with you. Sharks, stingrays, a stray salt-water croc. Something could be right next to you and you’d never know it. We learned how to do the Sanibel-shuffle with our feet to avoid stepping on the frequent stingray visitors. So why wasn’t I afraid?

My Grandpa Bud, that’s why. He was strong, fearless, always smiling, and an endless source of facts that may or may not have been made up but were told like God’s-honest-truth. And he had a big squishy heart, especially for his only granddaughter (that’s me). He was a WWII hero, survivor of a POW camp, and always had his trusty cane to help him since he had shrapnel in his hip. He wielded his cane like a utility tool, the cane was a helpful extra appendage.

At the beach, Grandpa would stand guard a few feet into the water, cane and all, constantly on the lookout for danger so we wouldn’t have to. He taught me to float, dive under the waves, and how to search the beach floor with my toes for conch shells (though I never really liked touching those squishy slug-like creatures in their spiky conch shells). 

What would have felt terrifying alone, was perfectly safe just because he was there watching. One time we had to stay out in the deep water while a group of stingrays meandered close to shore. I remember that being so cool. I can’t imagine I would have felt that way if he wasn’t with me.

Me & Grandpa Bud ❤️

Who’s In The Water?

Here’s where I’m going with this. On Wednesday, I was talking to God about how stinking scared I was to take the next step of the plan he is directing me toward. I felt over my head in the waves and terrified, which I told him. Being the good Father that he is, he left me weeping with his reply:

“Do you remember when your grandpa used to go in the ocean with you? How he’d just stand there and you wouldn’t be afraid of anything? Not stingrays, or sharks, or what you couldn’t see under the water? That’s me, I’m your grandpa. I’m in the water with you. I’m not going anywhere, I won’t leave you alone. My presence takes the fear out of the unknown.

You just have to look at me to see I am not afraid or panicked. I am in charge of the seas. Nothing can harm you when you swim with me. Play in the waves with me. Float on your back. My presence gives you wings. Safety to enjoy life without fear. To do what you love without worrying about the unknown sharks, jellyfish, stingrays, and stuff you can’t see that brushes by your legs. 

Invite me into the shark-infested-waters you fear. It’s not about what’s in the water but who’s in the water with you. Come hold onto my arm when you need reassurance and stability. You can swim and play and know where I’ll be. Watching out for you with my cane-weapon at the ready.”

Grandpa standing guard over the grandkids (I’m the ham in the back with arms spread as if I’m going to burst into song like Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music

Will you let Father God be your Grandpa – standing with you when the waves are rough and the creatures are unknown and scary? The frightening things may not go away, but with his presence, you will be strengthened and comforted. God’s even stronger than my Grandpa – there’s nothing God can’t do. 

Fix Your Eyes On Jesus

Like Peter in Matthew 14, we need to fix our eyes on Jesus. Moments before Peter gets out of the boat to walk on the water, Jesus says to his disciples: “Take courage. It is I. Don’t be afraid.” 

Peter did look to Jesus for strength to get out of the boat. Well done, Peter!  He just found out before we did, that it takes a continual effort of trust and keeping our eyes fastened to Jesus in order to sustain our bold moves of faith. Every one of us will sink if we focus on the waves instead of Jesus’ presence, no matter how fearless and confident we began. 

It brings to mind what Jesus said to me a few months back: “Leave the fear behind you when you step out, and Go!” (read more here) We can step out of the boat into the waves, not on our own strength, but because of his steady presence and assurance. On my own, I will panic and sink. With his help, I will laugh and take delight in the waves. And boy do I ever take delight in the waves.

Get Practical

Practically, how do we remember that God is with us? We have to spend time in our secret place pouring out our heart, fears, hopes, and emotions to him. 

He is so kind, even when I have been distracted and fearful. This week he reminded me to draw closer to him when I’m afraid. He said, “You’ve let fear choke out my voice. You haven’t visited our garden recently.” “You’re right,” I said, “I’m really scared, Jesus.” He replied, “Sit next to me and hold my hand. I’ll give you strength.”

Sit with him, tell him your fears. Let him fill you with the comfort of his presence. Hold tight to his arm when the water gets choppy. After all, he’s got his cane-weapon close at hand to keep you safe from predators and rogue waves. 😉

A Little Light Reading

If you need a little extra reading about facing our fear and obediently walking forward anyway, check out this great devotion from Proverbs 31 Ministries on Our Reluctance to Return to Normal.

Here’s a particularly great quote: “God promised to protect [the Israelites] as they crossed the waters. What God didn’t promise was to first remove their fear of the rushing waters. Instead, He promised to take His step after they took theirs.” Ooh, that’s so good!

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