I can’t say if the scream came first or the pounding heart, but they both seemed to have happened simultaneously. And with the bloodcurdling screech, I threw my body into reverse, despite my previous rapid forward motion. Had I been in my car, I’d have destroyed my transmission.
My walking partner jammed on her brakes in ignorant response to my behavior but quickly saw what had set me off. A small garter snake completed its slithery journey across our path, its tail disappearing into the long grass. I use the word “small” to describe it from her perspective. To me, it was A SNAKE! Stretched out, it was likely a foot and a half long and less than an inch in diameter, but it was A SNAKE! And I had almost stepped on it.
My heart raced for the next few seconds as if I had come face to face with a grizzly bear.
My friend admitted to a similar heart rate pattern in her own chest, but hers was more of a startled response, evidenced by her choice of expletive and her eye roll. She might have believed my scream was an over-the-top reaction to a harmless grass snake.
In an attempt to defend my behavior, I shared some pertinent information. “Did you know that there are poisonous snakes in Ontario?” I began. “Did you know there are even rattlesnakes in Ontario?”
“What? No,” she admitted.
We did an inquiry in my Kindergarten class on snakes this spring, and I learned just enough to make my mild fear of snakes transform into a full-on phobia: ophidiophobia, to be exact. She didn’t thank me for sharing my well-researched knowledge.
I believe her reply included the phrase, “Ignorance is bliss.”
According to Merriam Webster, a phobia is “an exaggerated usually inexplicable and illogical fear of a particular object, class of objects, or situation.” In my case, my phobias include snakes, height, and, to some extent, water. A survey of my entire friend group would likely discover that I am one of the few to experience these fears. (Although, I will credit my teaching partner for contributing to my ophidiophobia since hers was a well-known fact before we began our in-depth study of snakes with our class.)
Isn’t it strange how some of us have these fears and others don’t? The four- and five-year-olds in our class teased my partner mercilessly for being afraid of snakes. They often drew pictures of snakes to give her as presents. She was probably tempted to turn off all the lights during the next thunderstorm as revenge. Take that, you little imps! But her warm smile never faltered—except when she exaggerated her fearful response to their gifts.
According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition (DSM-5), there are five general categories of phobias*:
• fears related to animals (spiders, dogs, insects, snakes)
• fears related to the natural environment (heights, thunder, darkness)
• fears related to blood, injury, or medical issues (injections, broken bones, falls)
• fears related to specific situations (flying, riding an elevator, driving)
• other (fear of choking, loud noises, drowning)
See? I’m not so special after all. There are enough fearful people in the world to warrant a list!
The question is, why do we have irrational fears at all? When we compare the size of a human adult to a spider, an insect, or a garter snake, we recognize that the human’s chances of winning a fight are high (except where poison or a weak heart are involved).
A Promise of Freedom from Fear
None of these fears are insurmountable when we trust in God’s promises. Our Father sits in His lifeguard station, watching everything, listening for cries for help from His children. King David admits to asking for assistance in Psalm 34:4:
What does that kind of freedom look like? At our request, He lifts the weight of our worry and anxiety and fills us with His peace. But, as long as we continue facing the scary ocean alone, claiming to be good swimmers in the stormy waves, our chances increase that a riptide will pull us under or a shark will attack. While our Lifeguard is there to protect us, He’s not going to run into the water to save us unless we call out to say we’re in trouble—that we need Him.
Jesus gives that invitation in the New Testament too. He promises freedom for His followers.
He offers freedom, comfort, hope, and strength. We just have to believe it and receive it. I once noticed a wall plaque that caught my attention:
When we voice a prayer for freedom from fears and phobias, we trust He will take care of all the “things” that scare us. He says to his children:
The writer of Ecclesiastes also gives us the following sound advice:
How do we “enjoy” our life when we live in fear? We can’t. We have to learn to trust God and believe:
He’s. Got. This.
What are you afraid of? Do you have any secret (or well-known) phobias? Have you tried releasing them to God and allowing Him to fill you with peace instead?
We have a nasty habit of falling back on our self-reliance when things are going well, and we reclaim our baggage from God. What we need to do, is give our anxieties to Him and leave them with Him. Determine to do that with your fears today.
I am placing my fear of snakes in His hands—I will walk that same snake-friendly trail another day. I gave Him my fear of heights when we moved into our 21st-floor condo, and I have many photos of vacations where I faced my fear of water to go snorkeling. I’m determined to enjoy my life, and when my heart begins to race again from an old fear, I’ll repeat these three words again:
He’s. Got. This.
Dear Father, not only are You bigger than my phobias, You are greater than any fears I could face. I put my trust in You and trade my fear for courage. In peace I will lie down and sleep, for you alone, O Lord, will keep me safe. (Psalm 4:8)
Thank You for loving me and protecting me.
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