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“I’m afraid. Like, of everything. Afraid of the dark. Afraid of people looking at me. Afraid of being home alone. Afraid of not being enough. Afraid of my fear. Afraid of your impression of me after you read about my fear.”Helen Maroulis won a women’s wrestling gold medal at the Rio Olympic games, but that’s not the defining moment of her life. In fact, as indicated by her article for Sport’s Illustrated’s The Cauldron, it doesn’t seem that her life has a defining moment as much as it has a defining characteristic: fear. She’s afraid. Like, of everything. She’s not being hyperbolic. She sleeps with a knife. When she’s home by herself, she leaves the lights on 24 hours a day.
There are some who will read her story as a triumph of the human spirit, the tale of a young woman overcoming crippling fear to achieve greatness on the highest of platforms. But that’s not how Maroulis wants you to read her story. When she was brought in to inspire the Baltimore Ravens, their coach introduced her as “a legend.” But her words to the team were, “You don’t have to be the best. You just have to be enough. And on that day, I was enough.” Not exactly the stuff of Walt Disney screenwriting, is it?
But the incredible thing is this: I don’t think Maroulis (by her own assertions) believes even that! She was enough to win that wrestling match, yes…but she would never say that she was enough, period. And that’s what she tried to communicate to the Ravens that day. She writes that she hopes they went into the game “carrying their fears with them.” In other words, she hopes that they went out onto the field like she went out onto the mat: terrified. Her journal from the day of the Olympic opening ceremony read:
I can’t stop crying. I’m making myself sick. For the first time in my life, I explained to Terry [my coach] what my anxiety was like. What it felt like to be afraid of irrational things. I was always afraid to tell him, because I was afraid he wouldn’t think I was mentally capable of a gold medal. And at the Olympics, I didn’t want to look weak.Helen’s weakness and fear remind me of Psalm 121, in which the Psalmist understands that he, in and of himself, is not enough:
I lift up my eyes to the hills—from where will my help come?The kind of fear that Maroulis is describing is typical of the human who experiences themselves as responsible for their own salvation. When Isaiah has a vision of the throne room of almighty God, he is terrified. His first emotion is outright horror and his first thought is that he is going to die: “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” (6:5) But, like the Psalmist, it turns out that he has a helper who is not him: “Then one of the seraphs flew to me, holding a live coal that had been taken from the altar with a pair of tongs. The seraph touched my mouth with it and said: ‘Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out’” (v. 6-7).
My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.
He will not let your foot be moved; he who keeps you will not slumber.
He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.
The Lord is your keeper; the Lord is your shade at your right hand.
The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night.
The Lord will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life.
The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time on and forevermore.
In Jesus, we have a helper who is not us. But, crucially, he is so much more than a helper. He is not like Maroulis’s coach, who helped her overcome her fears to become a champion. He is not like Maroulis herself, who told the Ravens that they just had to be good enough. He is like no one other than who he is: Jesus Christ, savior and redeemer of the world.
We are the fearful; he comes to the fearful. We wonder where our help comes from, and then lift our eyes up to the hill of Calvary and see that his work is finished. Jesus doesn’t promise that our lives will be without fear; in fact, he promises that our lives will be difficult. But he promises to be with us, even to the end of the age (Matthew 28:20). Remember how Helen Maroulis has to have all the lights on in her house when she’s alone? A Christian need never suffer this particular fear, for we are never alone. A live coal has been touched to our mouths, and our sin has been blotted out. Our help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth. All our fears can be cast upon him. His shoulders can bear the load.
So take comfort: The Lord is your keeper; the Lord is your shade at your right hand. The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night. The Lord will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life. The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time on and forevermore.