I’ve had the opportunity this summer to spend a couple of months in my hometown of Port Huron, Michigan. Not only has it been great to visit with family and see old friends, but I’ve also gotten the chance to show my kids some the areas that were important to me as a kid – the schools that I attended, the homes I lived in, where I played sports, the church I went to. While there can be many good memories that come with revisiting one’s childhood, there are also painful experiences that come along with that. As well, there are people in all of our pasts that we’d rather forget.
A couple weeks ago I ran into one of those people. I was at the local shopping mall and as I walked through the food court, I saw him sitting there -- Freddy. The Freddy that lived in my neighborhood. The guy that was several years older than us and used to scare us to death. He rode his bicycle throughout our hood looking for young kids to terrorize which caused us to view him as some sort of monster.
Now as a adult I realize that Freddy was mentally retarded and was simply misunderstood by the neighborhood kids. I don’t ever recall him harming anyone physically or doing anything illegal, but that didn’t stop us from being deathly afraid of him. With our elementary-age minds, Freddy was a mad man that was to be kept away from.
As I saw him sitting there in the food court at the mall all of these memories from when I was a kid came flooding back to me. It was unmistakably him (although his hair was a little grayer and thinner) and as he quietly sat there sipping on his soda, I didn’t feel fear towards him, but experienced more of a sense of pity. Not for him, but for me.
Several years ago I participated in a high ropes course as a team building exercise and the instructor said something that I’ll never forget. He explained the difference between perceived fear and actual fear. Perceived fear is when we’re fearful of something or someone that is based more in irrationality than rationality. For instance, walking on a board that is two inches off the ground would be no problem. But walking on that same board ten feet off the ground invokes lots of fear (even when strapped to a harness that would prevent any injury). Our perception causes our fear.
So I felt pity for myself because my perception of Freddy, which was not based in reality, caused me to be fearful of him. I was scared he would try to hurt me even though he had actually never really tried to harm me. And our collective perceived fear of him by kids in the neighborhood caused him to be an outcast with kids scattered into homes and back alleys every time he came near.
Unfortunately, my irrational fears didn’t end in my youth. I still get scared in situations that I really don’t need to be afraid. At times I am intimidated to share my faith with others. I can feel inferior to others when asking them for financial support. I even get butterflies when simply introducing myself to someone that I haven’t met before.
But as a follower of Christ, I realize that I don’t have to live in a state of fear. God’s Word tells me that “perfect love casts out all fear” and when I rest in His love, I can live by faith instead of fear. I can take that leap that I normally wouldn’t take. It’s why when I’m living in the light of God’s love, I can share the gospel with others or invite them to invest in our ministry or simply not run the other way when someone unfamiliar comes my way. In some ways I’ve grown up quite a bit from the child that wouldn’t ride his bike down certain streets for fear that this odd man would try to scare me, but in other ways I haven’t. I still need God’s grace and His Spirit to direct me to live by faith and not by sight…or fear.