They say the Eskimo’s have over 50 words for snow. I guess when you are surrounded by something all day, nearly every day, you begin to learn the distinctions of it. One word doesn’t do the variations you experience justice.
I have wrestled with some level of fear, anxiety and worry for a lot of my adult life. And I understand where the Eskimos are coming from. Landing on one word to describe the feeling and state of mind that takes a million different forms at a million different times is silly. Fear is not just fear, anxiety is not just anxiety and worry is not just worry.
There’s fear and anxiety and worry as it relates to loss. To uncertainty. To new normals. To big questions. To sleepless nights. To sick kids. To passing time. To sometimes, just trying to find the energy and endurance to make it through the day in spite of yourself. The possibilities, unfortunately, are endless.
When you live with something like this long enough, you begin to notice the warning signs, aware of when it’s about to catapult into your life and take residence for awhile. Kind of like your body knows a cold is coming by the scratch in the back of your throat.
For me, the world starts to get really small and I start living in my own head. Everything in the peripheral goes out of focus—not literally, but figuratively. I can’t hear the voice of my kids as well. I can’t comprehend the lines on the page of the book. I can’t even convince my face to look like I have it all together. I clench my jaw and my eyes glaze. The thoughts in my mind are all I have the energy for. And as small a world as it is, it can feel infinite. Like a dark and lonely abyss.
Sometimes fear causes it’s host to retreat. Sometimes anxiety causes it to attack. But both—an offensive posture and a defensive one—stem from the same demons.
In Acts chapter nine we read the story of Saul, who would later be Christianity’s greatest advocate, but at this point in his life, is Christianity’s greatest threat. When we tune in, Saul is single-minded in his searching out the people he deems a hazard to the Judaism he loves. But on his way to arrest more Christians, he has an encounter on the road with Jesus and afterwards, nothing is the same.
It starts with a bright light. But it ends with Saul’s world going dark.
Saul meets Jesus in a flash of light, and leaves the unexpected encounter reeling, and also blind. But that wasn’t the end of the story—or Paul’s conversion. Jesus tells Saul to find a man named Ananias and that he will be the one to restore his sight. To open his eyes—literally and figuratively. To illuminate his world. To turn on the lights.
And that’s what Saul does. He finds Ananias, who’s heard about Saul, and his campaign to kill people like him. But Ananias has also heard from Jesus, who told him to welcome Saul in Jesus’ name. And that’s just what Ananias does. He sees Saul. A man whose world has shrunk down to just the thoughts in his head. A man whose darkness has confined him and sequestered him. And he says to Saul, in his personal abyss, “Brother”.
When Ananias is done speaking, “something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes.” And he can see.
Anyone who has experienced crippling fear, consuming worry and debilitating anxiety, knows what it’s like to have the lights turned out. We know when that happens the temptation is to retreat into ourselves in the darkness or lash out and want to pull others into it with us.
And we also know that it’s complicated. That there isn’t a surefire way to get out. That there is rarely a formula that solves everything. Anxiety, fear and worry are nebulous and morphing things that don’t respond to prescriptive remedies.
But sometimes, there are patterns. Trends. Things that we can count on for a dose of perspective that if it doesn’t pull us out of the pit, at least makes us more aware of being in one and offering glimmers of hope in the midst of it.
For Paul, the lights came on, the scales fell off, when someone took the time to speak more than just his humanity to him, but spoke his worth.
And it was enough to let some light in.
When someone close by is willing to speak commonality, to close the gap, to find camaraderie in what feels like our solitary struggle, it can be like a conversion. Like a wake up call. Like we are called out of our minds and into the world. And sometimes, the miraculous happens in the midst of it. We are able to see again. And we realize our minds weren’t meant to be traversed alone—that our greatest asset just might be the people we had originally shut out. It doesn’t make everything better. But for the time being, it makes enough better. It’s a little light. And at times, it’s a lifeline.
The darkness cannot put out the light. Not forever.
There are fifty words for snow. Maybe more for the things that turn the lights off inside of us. But when it comes to the scales falling of our eyes, there’s only one word that begins to illuminate our world again. Brother. Sister. Friend. And one word to know we are not alone can sometimes be the one word to change our whole world.