By Mike Glenn
When I was a little boy, I thought alligators lived under my bed. Yes, I looked under my bed. I looked at night (when I could work up the courage), and I looked under my bed during the day (when I was much braver). I could never see any alligators, but anybody who knows anything about alligators knows they are masters of camouflage. Just because you can’t see them doesn’t mean they’re not there.
For that reason, I never let my hands hang off the side of the bed. If my hands were dangling off the bed, I thought, the alligators would grab my arm and pull me under the bed. This was a serious concern when I was kid, but as long as I kept my hands on top of the bed, I was fine. I was safe on top of the bed.
Everyone knows alligators can’t climb on the bed.
To this day, I can’t let my hands hang off the side of the bed.
I know, you think this is silly and I should grow out of this childhood fear. I don’t know if I can do that. After all, I still have both of my hands!
A lot of us have childhood fears that we’ve outgrown. There were monsters in the closets or dragons in the basement – there was some kind of creature that symbolized everything we were afraid of in the world. The world is a big place, and we’re really little kids. As far as we were concerned, the whole world was filled with big, scary, monsters.
And we outgrow our childhood fears. In fact, we are so confident of our abilities we insist on living without any fears of all. We want to scale high mountains, jump out of airplanes, push ourselves to our physical limits. We wear t-shirts in the gym that scream “No fear!” Don’t let your fear hold you back, the motivational speakers tell us. Face your fear, we’re told, and you can conquer every obstacle.
We can do it all and more than we ever dreamed if we don’t let our fear hold us back.
Now, before we get too far down the “No Fear” road, let’s remember fear is a perfectly good emotion.
It’s necessary for our survival as a species. Fear keeps us from slapping bears and running in traffic. Fear keeps us out of a lot of situations that are dangerous and harmful. There are things in our world we need to be afraid of. Without that fear, we would never survive as people or as a species.
Like anything else, however, fear can become unbalanced and lead to life-crippling phobias.
Or worse, we can become fixated on being afraid of the wrong things. A lot of us are afraid of dying in a terrorist attack. Yet, we are a lot more likely to die of a heart attack than a terrorist attack. We will put up with all kinds of inconveniences in our lives if we think we’re being protected from terrorists getting on the plane with us.
Yet, we won’t think twice about eating a triple decker cheeseburger with fries.
As I have gotten older, I find out I’m still afraid, but I’ve changed my mind about the things I’m afraid of. I don’t fear alligators under my bed anymore. I fear missing a moment with my wife. I’m afraid I’ll miss a moment with my sons and grandchildren. I worry about the time I have with my friends. I worry about missing an adventure that would have allowed me to see the secret of the universe and missing it all because I thought I should show up for one more meeting about nothing.
I’m afraid of living for nothing. I’m afraid when everything is said and done, nothing I’ve said and nothing I’ve done will have mattered.
But this time, my fear doesn’t paralyze me, it energizes me. I’m 62 years old. I have lived most of my life. Whenever I read the paper and notice the obituaries, I’m stunned by how many people my age and younger have died! Tomorrow is never guaranteed.
So, I know this. I know I’m going to die, and instead of being frozen in fear, I’m motivated to do those things – and only those things—that matter.
I may be a little later going into the office because I’m enjoying coffee with my wife.
I may get up and step outside of a meeting if one of my sons calls.
I may linger in my Bible study and not be in such a rush during my prayers.
I’m old enough to know what matters. I’m old enough to know I don’t have forever. Funny, but the fear in me keeps me focused.
After all, you learn to get up fast in the morning if you think there are alligators under the bed.