I am hopelessly claustrophobic. The back seat of a 3-door car is an impossibility. I sit on the end of the row in any large gathering – church, cinema, lecture theatres. And I sit near the front not because I’m a geek (though I totally am!) or extra holy, but so I can’t see the sea of people around me, encroaching on my space.
I blame my brother. Two years younger than me, he delighted in reducing his bossy older sister to hysterical tears by holding the duvet tight over my head whenever we got into one of those lion cub play fights at the ages of 6 and 4.
I don’t get in lifts. Except by accident. This happened recently. I was too polite (and too busy chatting) to argue as my friend headed for the first floor lift. We were only going to the ground floor. Totally unnecessary use of an enclosed metal box; but at least we just had to go down one floor. Except that when we got in someone else pushed the button for the fifth floor. Nightmare. Especially because the building we were in was pretty shoddy and I wouldn’t have been surprised if the lift did break and we got stuck, or if the emergency button was broken. I started to talk to another risk-taking lift traveller, distracting myself. The door opened on the fifth floor. Wrong one, he’d wanted the eighth floor. So he hit the button. However, I’d hit the ground floor button first (phew!) so it would all be over soon. The doors closed. I was still talking incessantly, trying not to think about my entrapment… But we didn’t go anywhere. Nowhere. No movement. Panic rose. The walls closed in… Everything went a bit blurry. Until my ever-helpful friend pointed out that I actually hadn’t pressed the button at all. Oops.
The idea of being trapped, enclosed with no exit renders me to a quivering wreck.
I have always said that being asked to have an MRI scan would be one of the worst things that could happen to me. Except that it wouldn’t, cause I just wouldn’t have one. I’d rather succumb to whatever the problem was that necessitated the scan in the first place. I’m definitely less afraid of death than of small spaces.
And God has a way of working in our biggest fears. I often find that when I put my foot down and say ‘never’ to something that that thing is exactly what happens. Not because He’s cruel or mean, but because He won’t stand for His children being afraid or held back. And it’s usually through the shattering of these fears that greatest freedom and experience of His love comes. He is bigger than those fears. I’ve known that for years and years… For the big fears. But is He interested in my irrational fear?
So I was sent an appointment for an MRI scan. Oh joy. The background reasons as to why it was felt necessary are not important. Please don’t worry or even think about those. I didn’t.
But I did stress about the scan quite a lot. Thankfully, it came at lunchtime on the day I finished a week of nightshifts, so I was up to my neck in emergency Caesarean sections, maternity triage and post-op reviews right up until the moment I got in the car to go. Immersed in my beloved world of delivering babies, I didn’t think about it. But I did worry that the fact I was pretty dis-inhibited due to being entirely sleep deprived would lead to a complete nervous breakdown on hitting the scan room.
And suddenly there it was. The tunnel of doom. It’s okay. I can do this. It’s going to require a lot of praying. And I’m going to close my eyes. I hope Jesus shows up. They said He would… But can it happen for me? Will He show up for me? Surely that kind of experience only happens for other people…? I’ve met Him, I know Him. I trust Him. But surely He’s got bigger things to worry about than my petty fear of enclosed spaces?
I lay on the bed. It would be okay. Then before I had the chance to shut my eyes, the radiographer was fastening an almighty solid plastic cage over my head, centimeters from my eyes. I could just see out. Just.
“No. No, I can’t do this. Wait a minute…. No.”
“Are you okay?”
“Yes, give me a minute. Maybe don’t talk to me if that’s okay.”
I shut my eyes. I took a deep breath and there He was. Actual Jesus. And the next fifteen minutes were so amazing I didn’t want to get out. Honestly.
And later I lay still again. And I reflected on my experience.
I am a person who moves. Never still. All week during my nightshifts my colleagues had commented on my relentless need to be doing. “You don’t sit still.”
The conversation between me and God about sitting still versus ‘doing’ is an ongoing one. It’s a beautiful dialogue, if painful at times. It’s not over yet… But I can’t help but think that meeting Him in the jaws of an arch nemesis has important lessons. I had to be still. Literally, physically still. No movement. There was nothing I could do but rely on Him. No one to talk to, nothing to look at, no distracting thoughts. Held tight in a tiny space. Nowhere to run to.
And in that tightest, most trapped space was the greatest, most wide open space I have ever known.
But most importantly, He cares enough for me to show up to conquer my most petty fear. He wants every part of my trust. And He doesn’t disappoint.