If fear were a wolf–this is how you would feel at its stare. A character in Jodie Picoult’s Lone Wolf says, “If you’ve been lucky enough to look into a wolf’s eyes, you know that they penetrate. They look at you and you realize that they are taking snapshots of every fiber of your being—that they know you better even than you know yourself.
That’s how it was with the dark. When I was a child, it penetrated to my core. Insisted that I acknowledge its power over me. Like some hideous monster, it refused to turn its flint eyes from me. In its presence, my daytime bravado shattered.
Under its influence, fear flourished. Awake, I tried to fight it. Don’t stare at the closet door, or, the shape of things. Close your eyes. Don’t think about the invisible monsters lurking under your bed waiting to grab your foot. Asleep, nightmares spawned scary creatures under my pillow. I woke up crying. And was spanked. My father didn’t understand my needs. He didn’t know he was supposed to protect me.
We left my father. Moved in with my grandmother when I was a toddler. But my fear of the dark continued. In the daytime, I pretended it away. In my family, fear was a character flaw.
By the time I was in elementary school, fear of the dark evolved into fear of dying in my sleep. It began with a nightmare about the wicked witch from The Wizard of Oz. It grew, after a real obscene phone call in the night. I awoke, phone to my ear, a man asking if he could put his tongue in my mouth. Afterwards, my body shook and I couldn’t get the call out of my head. Finally, I dreamed a dead body fell on me. Why these experiences spelled imminent death in my sleep, I don’t know. Still, I told no one.
I remember the rise of anxiety, the stampede in my stomach, and then, the sense of resignation, the next night, as I headed to my bedroom, my death as real to me as my arms and legs.
Raised Catholic, our prayer included, “if I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take,” but thoughts of God as my protector never entered my mind. Like cardboard dividers in my drawer that separated socks from underwear, a mental divider separated daytime religious instruction from nighttime fears. An hour later, a good scolding at my reflection in the bathroom mirror successfully dispelled my irrational fear of dying. But my fear of the dark persisted.
By my late 20s, the monsters in my room were serial killers and the evil in my dream were demons. But my faith in Jesus Christ, an intangible notion while growing up, had become real and relevant. And I knew I needed to apply truths about God to my fear of the night. Lights off, I closed my eyes, prayed non-stop reminding God of His promises to keep me safe. And finally . . . the dark turned its eyes away for good.
Proverbs 3:24, was written for me: “When you lie down, you will not be afraid; when you lie down, your sleep will be sweet. Do not be afraid of sudden fear, nor of the onslaught of the wicked when it comes; For the Lord will be with you. He will keep your foot from being caught.