It wasn’t my first time through a haunted house.
It was Halloween weekend and some friends and I had decided to visit a local scare house, one that promised to scare our socks off, if we followed the course, of course. We walked past caged monsters and shrieking zombies, mummies with searching arms and mazes determined to separate our pack. It was enough for a few yelps, jumps, and spooks, but nothing that truly frightened us; it was more the stuff of “Goosebumps” and less the stuff of nightmares. But the exhibits did succeed in dividing our group of friends so that after a while, I found myself with one other person, unsure of where everyone else was.
Then we saw it: the door that led out into the crisp October night sky. We hurriedly walked toward the door, certain that we were in the clear, when we both suddenly jumped in surprise. A deranged, bloody farmer wielding a chainsaw walked menacingly toward us, chainsaw loudly buzzing. And as soon as our feet landed back on the ground, her hand reached out and found mine.
And the world fell away and the scene popped into focus with electric clarity.
It was the most natural thing, to reach out and find a hand of safety in a moment of fear, but in that moment, it was as if a jolt ran through me. It was as if there were explosions in the sky. I hardly noticed anything else; the only thing I cared about was saving my friend from the maniac farmer. I shielded her from his threatening advances (and may have back-handed him with my left fist) and we rushed into the safety of the open night. As we rejoined our friends, I let go of her hand, but still clutched onto the memory. I’ve never been able to let it go.
It’s a memory that has resurfaced from time to time simply because of how vivid it was. Her hand in mine. My hand in hers. Instinct displayed in the most innocent form. You don’t want to face fear alone.
I’ve been re-reading some Sherlock Holmes and found in a brilliant piece of prose that Watson experienced something similar:
“Miss Morstan and I stood together, and her hand was in mine. A wondrous subtle thing is love, for here were we two, who had never seen each other before that day, between whom no word or even look of affection had ever passed, and yet now in an hour of trouble our hands instinctively sought for each other. I have marvelled at it since, but at the time it seemed the most natural thing that I should go out to her so, and, as she has often told me, there was in her also the instinct to turn to me for comfort and protection. So we stood hand in hand like two children, and there was peace in our hearts for all the dark things that surrounded us.”
— John Watson, “The Sign of the Four” (written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle)
There is something so basic about looking to someone else in a moment of crisis, in a time of trepidation. We instinctively know there is strength in numbers, and two is better than one, but more than that, there is the silent acknowledgement, “I’m with you on this. We’re facing this together.” There is solace knowing that someone else is there.
I was able to protect my friend from a masked actor in a haunted house, and in a display of chivalry, could probably protect her from a host of other physical things that threatened her. Watson was able to offer comfort and protection to Mary Morstan in light of her father’s death and the strange mysteries behind it. And when I get married, I hope to guard my wife’s heart and keep her safe and comforted to the best of my ability. But if I’m honest, there are many terrors where my cold and clammy hands would provide little help because “the dark things that surround” are often more than just physical fears. Sin, death, depression, anxiety, a broken past, guilt, all these and more are shadows that stand menacingly over us, things which we often have no power over. My comfort and my protection have their limits, and as much as I try, I make a shoddy savior. So where do we turn in our fear?
In the midst of the dark things that surround, what do we grasp?
God the Father, who promised from the beginning that he would never leave us or forsake us, sent his Son Jesus to the earth so that the dark things could be overcome and shown to have no power. Jesus overcame temptation in the midst of his weakness, cast out demons from the afflicted, and even conquered Death by being raised back to life. This Jesus, who promised to be with us always, even to the end of the age (Matt. 28:20), is our source of comfort and hope, our God victorious. He who faced suffering and death for our sake promises that he is trustworthy and in control. We can rest in his shadow because he makes the shadows of darkness disappear. We have the promise that we can turn to him and not be disappointed, and so when fears assail and tragedy strikes, we can slip our hand in his.
We don’t have to face fear alone.
We never face anything alone.