The ground moved under the beam of my flashlight. My gaze caught the pink, wet flesh of the creature as it yanked the exposed one and a half feet of its body into the hole from whence it came.
But this monster wasn’t alone. Our backyard seemed to slither everywhere that I tried to step in the darkness of night.
Some of the long, disgusting creatures didn’t dart away under the beam of my flashlight. They instead sat piled on top of each other, or left parts of their bodies languishing for me to accidentally squish under my feet.
Disgust and repulsion crawled up my throat, but culminated into something worse—fear. I searched the ground with my flashlight on all sides of my feet, waiting for the creatures to return to their dark holes before I could move another foot.
My throat was dry, my pulse racing, stomach twisting as my mind screamed at me to run into the house and never step outside after dark again.
My phobia of earthworms and nightcrawlers didn’t happen overnight. I think it was instead the result of an accumulation of disturbing encounters with the creatures that led to my fear when I see them in this context at night. Those unfortunate experiences culminated into being required to watch a documentary in college that told the disgustingly true story (believe me, I’ve seen the footage) of huge predatory slugs that hunted and slowly ate earthworms alive (caught on camera, unfortunately for me).
Easily one of the most revolting things I’ve seen in my life, this film primed me for a nighttime encounter with worms like I’d never experienced. Not long enough after viewing that documentary, I escorted our dogs outside late at night during spring, a typically very wet season here in the Midwest.
Using my flashlight casually just to make sure I didn’t step in anything unpleasant, I suddenly noticed movement where I would shine the beam. The rest of the experience, you know.
I live in the country, an area of farmland where we apparently have a very active and healthy worm population. Once my eyes were opened to this busy nightlife, I’ve never been able to go outside after dark during the warm months without encountering these nightmarish sights.
So what do I do to confront this fear? I stay inside at night, especially during the spring.
That’s right. I hide from my fear.
I let it, in a sense, control my life by determining what I can and can’t do.
But now, I’m the author of a Fear Warrior Blog. Believe me, I think about that incongruity every time I shrink back from a worm, a spider, centipede, etc.
In the last couple of posts, we’ve discussed how fearing even real dangers is sinful, according to Scripture. If being frightened in the face of something that could actually cause me harm is wrong, then I guess I don’t have a leg to stand on when it comes to my terror of nighttime earthworms.
To be honest, I’ve long planned to write a post on phobias—illogical fears that aren’t based in awareness of true danger (or fears of such taken to an illogical extreme). I hadn’t done so before now for two reasons.
First, phobias are embarrassing. Not all phobias have to be, but I admit to a great deal of chagrin in publicly sharing that earthworms terrify me witless. My second reason, hopefully a more legitimate one, for not addressing phobias before was because I hadn’t figured out how to combat them.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m by no means perfect in my fight against my other fears either, but at least I feel that God has shown me many ways that I can begin to battle those fears.
Phobias, on the other hand, seem different. They work on a seemingly instinctive level. They usually can’t be reasoned away, which is incredibly frustrating for an ordinarily logic-driven person like myself. Phobias grab you before you can think and don’t let go until you can flee from the object of fear. So how could I write a post on conquering phobias when I have no clue how to begin to resist mine?
I wasn’t going to make the attempt. Then God brought a passage of Scripture to my attention that gave me, for the first time, an idea of how to tackle my phobias.
I bless the Lord who gives me counsel;
in the night also my heart instructs me.
I have set the Lord always before me;
because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken. – Psalm 16:7-8
I can’t help but note that this verse is ironically perfect for my phobia at hand, as it says, “in the night also my heart instructs me.” For all fear warriors, though, not just those with a phobia of nightcrawlers, the night can be the scariest time. The Bible speaks frequently of the dark and night being the time of evil and sin. It’s no wonder that nighttime and dark often bring an increase in our fears.
But this verse tells us that even in the darkest nights, the Lord gives us counsel and, if His Holy Spirit is in us, even our hearts instruct us. This instruction helps me know that rampant phobia is wrong and some of the truths as to why and how I should resist it.
Yet, when reason abandons me at the sight of a quickly slithering worm, these truths and knowledge are not enough for me to beat my phobia.
What I need to conquer my fear and trudge on is in verse 8. I need to set the Lord always in front of me. I need to remember and trust that He is always at my right hand, and that because He is there, I will never be shaken.
So when you, with your phobia of heights, are at a hotel with a glass elevator or open staircase, don’t take the concrete emergency stairs or stay on the first floor. Look at Jesus instead of those gaping stairs or that open view of the lobby as you travel upward. Feel His comforting hand holding you, steadying you as you confront your fear.
When you, with your claustrophobia, can’t ride in a crowded car with your family or friends, don’t take a taxi or stay home. See Jesus in that car with you and feel His presence give you air to breathe and the peace to calm your fear.
And the next time I step outside at night to face our squirming yard, I plan to look to Jesus instead of the worms, to remember and believe that He is at my right hand, that His powerful Spirit is inside me, and that even a bunch of worms cannot shake me.
Will putting this truth into practice banish our phobias instantly? Probably not. Phobias increase and grow in strength according to years of habit and, likewise, may take time to undo and conquer.
But if we consistently react to our instinctual phobia with the incompatible response of focusing on our Lord instead of what scares us, then in time we will develop a new instinct, exchanging our phobias for power and peace.
Do you struggle with a phobia? Have you developed ways to confront your phobia or do you just avoid it? Please join the conversation!