I remember a cerulean, cloudless sky. It was an extraordinarily beautiful fall day, unusually so for a city with poor air quality most days of the year. The air was still warm, but the cloak of heat and humidity so common in the south, had been taken off and hung up for repose during the season of cooler weather. It was a day much like other days until the unimaginable happened.
At first, rumors circulated quickly about planes, buildings, and New York City. I assumed a private plane had lost its way and flown into the side of the Trade Center tower. But, then, our normal workday routines ended. We all ran to the youth building at the church and watched on the big-screen television, not one, but two planes crash into the Twin Towers. The rumors continued… there were other planes. I panicked—what if we were under attack? What if countless commercial airplanes had been co-opted as weapons of mass destruction? What if my city was next?
Like many others, I watched the Twin Towers collapse and fall to the ground. Like others, I went home that day and sat in my backyard and looked into that same cerulean sky and was scared by the silence. I did not know if I would ever have another restful night of sleep again, and I felt regret over taking for granted something as simple and as lovely as peaceful sleep. At the end of the day, more than three thousand persons, representing countries all over the world, were dead, including one of my high school classmates. I remember the numbness that I felt, followed by a heightened sense of caution, and then outright fear at every stranger, in every public place.
Most historians and commentators agree that the world changed as a result of the events of 9/11. My response is but a microcosm of a macrocosmic sentiment. Our national nerves prickled with suspicion at the stranger in our midst. Airplane travel, no longer a joy, now aroused fear at each and every security checkpoint. The more that we saw all that needed securing, the more our fears and anxieties increased.
Remembering the events of 9/11 as well as hearing daily news of conflict that heightens alarms serves to remind me of my own propensity to allow fear to rule my life. And while it is a natural response in the face of danger, too often it rules my life and narrows my vision.
What do my fears say about my faith or lack thereof? Often our lives bear more witness to what we are afraid of, rather than to the assurances on which faith rests. Oh, there are real fears—situations, issues, and trends—that keep us all awake at night. The issue is not the absence of fear, but whether or not we are building the way we live on a memorial to fear, or a memorial to trust. Indeed, as one who claims to be a follower of Jesus, is my posture toward the world one of fear or faith? The epistle of John encourages me as I strive to build a life on faith: “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out all fear.”(1)
This is a particularly poignant reminder as I think about all those who ran into the buildings to save others, rather than run away; or those who took heroic action on one of the hijacked planes, even as it plummeted to the earth. The way of faith doesn’t always lead to safety, but it surely leads to life. With a similar cost, Christians around the world walk towards the cross during this Lenten season; they walk toward Jesus, who set his face toward Jerusalem, toward death itself for the sake of the world, who offered a way toward faith, a love stronger than fear.
Margaret Manning Shull is a member of the writing and speaking team at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Bellingham, Washington.
(1) 1 John 4:18.