During the quarantine, I’ve spent many afternoons sitting quietly on the trunk of a tree that had fallen across the neighborhood creek—a small body of water that meanders through the woods behind my home. One recent afternoon, as my three young children splashed, I watched the sunlight in the treetops render the green leaves almost translucent and listened with delight as my children pretended to be dinosaurs.

Then, my four-year-old son raced through the creek in tears. He thought he’d been buzzed by a wasp.

“I’m scared, Daddy!”

I put my arm around him and we sat in silence on the tree trunk. After a bit, he asked me to spell “scared.” (Since school’s closed, he’s been privy to his older brother’s spelling lessons.) I accidentally began, “S…a…c…r…”

Instead of a mistake, what if that was a moment of insight?

Consider the close spelling of the words “scared” and “sacred” in terms of Jesus, the crucified and risen one. We label the Friday on which our Lord was executed as “good” because we look ahead to the empty tomb on Easter morning. But in light of Good Friday, “sacred” may look and sound a lot like “scared.”

Many fears are good and healthy fears (such as of wasps). There’s also such a thing as having a healthy relationship with your fears.

In her book about the creative process, Big Magic, writer Elizabeth Gilbert personifies Fear as a passenger with her on the journey of life. Gilbert is not going to let Fear take the wheel and drive. But neither does Gilbert pretend Fear doesn’t exist. Gilbert tries to be friendly with her companion. Fear comes along for the ride and hangs out in the backseat. Fear does not get to change the radio station or turn up the heater.

Yet, Fear is still her co-passenger. Ours, too.

Certain fears should be trusted to guide us along life’s journey. Fear is a source of wisdom if we learn when to ask for help. Or to quote Proverbs, we learn to lean not on our own understanding, but trust in the Lord with all our heart (Prov 3:5–6). That heartfelt trust is sacred—being scared can draw us to God like a child to a loving parent. Acknowledging our fears may actually be an act of courage.

I think of an interview given by Representative John Lewis about the march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge on “Bloody Sunday” in 1965. Lewis was candid: he saw the police and thought he was going to die. Fear was definitely his co-passenger; Lewis still put his faith into action. I believe the same may be said for many of the protesters today. Few of us are called to be like John Lewis, yet though we may be scared, we are called to step out in faith.

I love the quiet trips with my kids to the neighborhood creek. As they grow, I hope to teach them that, as followers of Jesus, there are times when we are called into the streets, to embrace their fear and venture out into this adventure we call grace.

The fearful events of my life have so often reveal God’s grace. When my children were born. Watching them learn to ride their bikes. My first day of kindergarten, then watching my firstborn walk into his classroom without me. The monotone of a flat-lined heart monitor in a low-lit ICU. Picking up the phone to talk to an inmate on the other side of impenetrable glass. Praying with a COVID patient gasping for breath over the speaker phone. Hitting “send” on that email.

I know I’m still learning how to ride with my fear and still move ahead. Being afraid does not mean that we are cowardly; fear can drive us to the God in whom we trust. On the journey through life, the Sacred One summons us to follow. The road may look scary, but we never walk it alone.