My husband and I zigzagged up the side of the mountain in Zion National Park, Utah. We pulled to a stop behind a long line of cars waiting to take their turn through the Zion Mt. Carmel Tunnel. Just over a mile long the narrow tunnel was built in the late 1920’s and completed in 1930. Waiting in line behind the other cars I could see the smaller than usual entrance to the dark tunnel. I felt the fear building up. I looked longingly at the turn-around right before the tunnel. But, my husband seemed thrilled to be showing me the tunnel so I squelched the fear. I had driven through many tunnels, this one would be no different. For once I didn’t mind waiting in line, but too soon we pulled forward behind the car ahead of us and began inching through the tunnel. Fear pulled at me, I pushed back. I could do this. The light at the end of the tunnel brought a little relief and soon we drove out into the open. We crawled past the line of cars waiting to return the opposite way through the tunnel looking for a place to turn around and join the line going back through the tunnel.
Thinking of my husband, who I know doesn’t like to wait in lines, I suggested we find another way back to our camp site. My husband pointed out that it would take two hours to return by another road, it would make the most sense to go back through the tunnel. I agreed. It made no sense to spend two hours driving when we could make a quick turn around and drive through the tunnel. Fear came at me again, I fought back and he retreated, but taunted me from his corner.
Brett found a place to turn around and joined the end of the line of cars waiting to go through the tunnel in the opposite direction. The park rangers directed the cars through the entrance of the tunnel. Once again it was our turn too soon. Brett pulled into the darkness. I lived for the small windows built into the side of the tunnel that over looked the edge of the mountain. The added light and space it created kept fear just far enough away to keep me emotionally stable. We pulled out of the tunnel into the sunshine and I had just begun to mentally congratulate myself on holding it all together when a raging storm hit me and engulfed me in its downpour. I sobbed along with it, I shook and huddled in the corner of the front seat. My poor husband pulled over to the side of the road and did his best to comfort me. He didn’t know what was wrong and having never experienced a full blown claustrophobia episode before I hardly knew how to explain.
Road trips now presented a new challenge. Avoiding an upcoming tunnel was not always possible, but my husband did his best to alleviate my fears. Once he backed up onto the freeway from an exit just to avoid a tunnel. Another time a hotel we had reservations at was just the other side of a long tunnel, but since I couldn’t pull it together enough to get through it he looked at the map and drove an hour out of our way. After checking in at a hotel I could either decide to ride up to our room in the elevator with my husband and daughter or take the stairs.
We live on the east coast, my daughter lives in Seattle, WA. She planned a wedding which I needed to attend, but I couldn’t fly due to my claustrophobia so I would need to drive. The wedding was planned for a date just after school started so my husband, a teacher, would not be able to take much time off from work to attend. I would need to take our seven-year old daughter and make the 3000 mile road trip alone. He would fly out later and drive back with me.
My sister lives in Colorado so I planned to cover the 1600 miles from my house to hers in the first two days on the road. I planned to leave early my first day of driving, but was not pleased when I woke up at 3:30am unable to go back to sleep. Annoyed, I finally got up, picked up a devotional book by Sarah Young and read a short devotional that encouraged me to remember the constant presence of Jesus through out the day and suggested saying, ‘Jesus is with me’ when surrounded by the trials of the day.
Right on schedule at 7am Brett loaded my stuff into the car, said a prayer for us, and we began our journey. Just a month before we had made a trip to Michigan and inadvertently driven through a long tunnel which had caused me to pull over immediately after the tunnel while I got out of the car and sobbed, shook and hyperventilated. I looked at the map and knew I would be going the same general direction, but since I couldn’t remember exactly where the tunnel was located I assumed I was not traveling on the road with the tunnel. Unfortunately, I was wrong. A few hours down the road and the tunnel loomed in front of me. With nothing else to do I headed into the tunnel expecting the fear to envelop me. I felt nothing until half way through the tunnel. I remembered my morning devotional and began to repeat, “Jesus is with me.” The fear dissipated and I pulled out of the tunnel slightly shaken, but amazed at the lack of an emotional reaction. That night at the hotel, I stepped onto the elevator and watched the door close while Aspen pushed the button for the third floor without giving it a second thought outside of, “Wow, this is great!”
I enjoyed a two days visit with my sister and spent another two days of marathon driving to Seattle. After nearly 3000 miles on the road I headed into Seattle. I saw a tunnel loom ahead of me. Almost excited to see if I would make it through without suffering a claustrophobic reaction I drove into the tunnel. Traffic moved slowly at 5pm. I sighed with relief when I reached the other side in one emotional piece. The tunnel exited out onto a long bridge. Driving slowly with the traffic I looked out over the water and watched the boats in the mist. I was nearly across the bridge before I saw another tunnel at the end of it. Traffic moved faster this time and I exited the tunnel in complete amazement. I no longer felt fear driving through a tunnel, I felt peace. I felt the presence of God with me.
My husband called me at bed time. I told him about the tunnels and he felt bad he hadn’t been there for me. I told him about my experience. He said, “You must have prayed about that a lot.” I said, “Well, I did mention it, but not often and not at the moment that my claustrophobia disappeared.”
I don’t know why God chose to answer this prayer now. I have other prayers at the top of my list and other prayers that come after those. The prayer request for my claustrophobia to disappear didn’t make either of those lists, and I only recall randomly mentioning it a few times. But God in His perfect timing, which I don’t understand, chose to answer it ahead of my most pressing prayer requests.
It has been almost three months since my claustrophobia disappeared. I didn’t realize until then how claustrophobia had affected my life, even though I did not have a full blown claustrophobia experience until I was 45. All of my life I had felt uncomfortable in elevators, airplanes, rooms without windows, being downtown in a large city with tall buildings, small rooms, dark rooms, tunnels, any room crowded with people, riding in the back of a bus or van. It made meeting people and carrying on a conversation in a crowded room next to impossible as I was just trying to cope with my unexplainable fear and my need to get out of the room. Now that I am no longer claustrophobic, I feel as though I have been set free. I marvel at being able to step on an elevator with out a feeling of dread. I have been set free.
I do not have an answer to today’s title. I have no magic formula to have your prayers answered. God is so big we can’t reduce him to a formula. But, I do believe that when you are in the presence of God, His perfect love casts out all fear. God’s perfect love casts out all fear and replaces it with perfect peace. I have read plenty of self help books. I spent my entire life squelching down the fear myself. But, nothing compares to not having the fear. Nothing compares to that kind of freedom. All my knowledge, all my working to keep the fear away, did nothing to make the fear go away. When I drove through the tunnel and repeated, “Jesus is with me,” I was looking to Jesus, not myself. It is only in the presence of the love of God that we can have peace in every situation.
15) If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God. 16) And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. 17) This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. 18) There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear: because fear has torment. He that fears is not made perfect in love. 1 John 4:15-18
“Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us.” Ephesians 3:20