Earlier this month, on my birthday no less, our son “discovered” the presence of a snake living nearby. I say “discovered” because he was minding his own business, our son, when he noticed the long black creature next to the driveway. We all stood on the porch transfixed as this 5 1/2 foot reptile slithered back into the neighbor’s yard and disappeared into the brush beneath a large tree.
My husband alerted the neighbors and for the next several days, every time we left the house, I looked around the yard and ahead on our path to the van to see if anything creepy or crawly would prevent us from getting where we needed to go.
I was alert, aware of an unwanted presence, cautious.
How We Respond to Fear
The snake didn’t stop us from spending time outside, but it did change our behavior a bit. No longer did our yard feel like a safe and carefree place to play. I personally didn’t relax as much when we were outside and my eyes roved the base of the tree, looking for movement. (I should mention, also, that thanks to a Google search, we didn’t fear we’d be hurt by the snake. Not venomous.)
A week passed and I let my guard down. I still looked around, but the fear waned. Maybe it found a new home, I thought.
And then, about 10 days after the first sighting, the snake showed up again. On our way back from the bus stop, we noticed it on the side of our tree near the house. The kids and I made a wide path to get to the porch and into the house. My husband declared he would catch it and we would then call someone. I took a picture from the safety of the house and then we watched as it slithered/crawled/climbed the base of the tree and found a path across the branches of our tree above our driveway and back into the neighbor’s tree where it apparently lives.
I posted the picture to Facebook because I’ve never seen a snake this big outside of a zoo or that wasn’t in the hands of a trained professional. I was understandably freaked out by its proximity to our house and the fact that it used the tree branches like a bridge. (Visions of the snake dropping out of the tree onto my head or the roof of the van plagued me for a couple of days.)
We’ve not seen the snake again yet, though as I write this, 10 days haven’t passed since the last sighting. I’m no snake expert, so I don’t know if that’s the usual amount of time between feedings.
After posting the picture on Facebook, we saw a couple types of response: multiple offers to come get the snake (these people are my 911 right now); and bold assertions that we should move, kill it or never go outside again. None of those is terribly realistic, but I understand where it comes from. My eyes are constantly searching the branches and tree trunks for this creature. It’s only a matter of time before it emerges again.
(And if that picture gives you the willies, then here’s a happier picture to focus on.)
What Fear Does To Us
My son and I took a walk a few days ago. It was a rare morning when he didn’t have preschool and it was cool and we didn’t have anything pressing on the agenda. So, we walked a short stretch of sidewalk near our house.
We hadn’t gotten very far when I saw it on the side of the road: a much smaller snake with different coloring than the one in our yard. It wasn’t moving. Probably dead, I thought. Just breathe and don’t panic. We were safely on the sidewalk and it was lifeless on the shoulder and cars passed by as if nothing was out of the ordinary.
By the time we’d finished our walk, I had myself convinced it was a copperhead, one of the poisonous variety of snake, and I was internally freaking out about so many snakes being in the neighborhood. I felt like Indiana Jones. Why did it have to be snakes?!?
Wanna hear something embarrassing?
It didn’t occur to me until HOURS LATER that the snake we saw on our walk was probably a child’s toy. We live near a large apartment complex, so it was far more likely a realistic-looking toy than it was a dead snake.
I was influenced by the fear I’d been harboring for a week. I was thinking about the snake in our yard, so what I perceived about the side-of-the-road snake was a threat, not something harmless.
Isn’t that just like fear? It clouds my perception and twists reality and alters my mind. I could have let a toy limit my life because fear was in charge.
The Alternative to Fear
In our house, we’ve chosen to fight fear with facts and truth, which in some strange way aren’t always the same thing. (You can find a lot of facts on WebMd but it’s not necessarily true that your symptoms are a sign of a deathly illness.)
The first time we saw the snake, the kids and I decided we’d get some books from the library about snakes and learn about them. The next day, my daughter brought home a book about black mambas. (They live in Africa.) And my son picked out a book about green tree pythons. (They’re found in New Guinea.) We did eventually find some information relevant to our snake, and we talked to a few people who have more hands-on knowledge than we do, so we’re feeling less fear about our snake.
One Facebook comment from a friend warned me to not let the snake sell me any fruit. (Referencing Eve in the Garden of Eden, in case you don’t know.) I laughed.
And then I realized something I’d never thought about. Yes, Eve was tempted by the snake and she fell for his trap. But she wasn’t afraid of the snake when he first started talking to her.
I don’t know many people who approach snakes calmly, so it’s hard to imagine living in a garden and not being afraid of any of the creatures that live there, not even a snake.
What must it have been like to live completely without fear?
I literally can’t imagine it because there are so many things I fear. (And yes, we are going to Kenya and that fills with me fear as much as it does excitement.)
Sometimes I don’t want to leave the house because there is evil and potential for harm OUT THERE. Not to mention the problems in my own heart, in my own home, but still, it’s easier to believe sometimes that the world is scary and my house is safe so I will not leave it unless absolutely necessary.
But then something happens to bring the fear inside, like your husband finding a tick on his leg a full 24 hours after he’d been outside working and you begin to imagine that everyone in the family is covered with ticks and we’ll all have Lyme disease any minute and there must be ticks in our bed.
That’s where fear leads. And it’s no place good.
And I’m no expert on overcoming fear, but I can tell you one thing I’ve learned about fighting fear:
You take it one step at a time. Sometimes literally.
Every time I leave the house or sit outside on the porch or take a hike in the woods, I’m fighting fear. I’m declaring that fear is not the winner today because snakes and ticks are a part of creation and I will trust the God Who created, whether He keeps me free of snake bites or Lyme disease or any other “bad” thing that might come my way.
Living a fearful life is exhausting. I know this from experience and I still fall into its trap.
But even if the fear doesn’t go away completely, it fades every time I bring that fear out of the darkness and into the light. We talk about. We read about it. We face it. And sometimes we do all of that with a side of fear, still.
How about you?
What do you fear? And how do you fight it?