Not all things that make noise beside the path come down the path.
—Traditional African proverb
He called it the Wampus Cat. My grandfather loved to talk about it. We would listen wide-eyed as he wove tales of the massive, mythical, predatory cat. I learned that it’s big: “Once, I heard about a Wampus Cat carrying off an adult cow.” It’s fast: “He can outrun cars, so you can’t get away in one.” And it has some kind of special power over its prey: “If you look at his eyes, he will hypnotize you, your feet will stick to the ground and you won’t be able to call for help.” As a small child, I had a healthy fear of the Wampus Cat because of the powers it was said to possess, but that wasn’t the most terrifying aspect, not at all. The one thing that gave that sick feeling of being cold and hot at the same time was the habitat of the Wampus Cat. It lived everywhere. If a softball rolled far under the porch, a warning came from the rocker with the squeaking runners, “If you climb under there, the Wampus Cat will get you.” I couldn’t stray too close to the woods, go into the old barn, or wander around after dark (or in daylight for that matter). Wherever I went and whenever it might be, the Wampus Cat was watching, waiting.
One warm summer evening all the years of the stories and the resultant wariness funneled into a single defining moment. My brother and I were playing at twilight near the edge of my grandparents’ yard near the rusted barbed-wire fence hanging heavy with twisted honeysuckle vines that blocked a clear view of the pasture. As my grandfather, returning from fishing, heard our voices across the fencerow, he crept over to the fence and gave the honeysuckle a shake. We froze. “What was that?” my brother asked. We moved slowly toward the noise. He shook the vines again. We took a few more careful steps. With each shake, we drew nearer and nearer. Finally, when we were squinting in the dying light, trying to make out any detail of the source of the noise, my grandfather gave a loud “Wampus Cat yowl.” Instantly, I yelled, “It’s the Wampus Cat!” (Boys often brag, “If I found myself in such-and-such a situation, I would do so-and-so…” We like to think that we would be heroic and brave, unwavering and sacrificial, but when true terror sweeps over you, you tend to forget all of that.) I left my brother and ran as fast as I could go.
I covered the distance of the yard with the speed that comes from knowing that if you are not fast, you will be eaten. I threw open the screen door so hard that it never closed quite right ever again. Running screaming through the house, passing my mother and grandmother, I found a suitable spot in the kitchen between the stove and the countertop that you wouldn’t think that a 18-year old boy could fit into…okay, seriously, I wasn’t 18, but I’m sure that I aged greatly in those few moments. It was one of the most frightening experiences of my young life.
I’ve been scared since. I was fearful when I finally stepped out in obedience to God and left the only place I had ever known as home to move to a new state where I knew no one. Terror gripped me again as I fell off a cliff face in a rock climbing accident. And, every time I stand to preach, waves of absolute, perfect fear wash over me. It’s my greatest joy, yet my greatest fear. These fears are real; you may have fears too. Relationships, health, job situations, financial concerns…each and all may snap at your mind with the teeth of panic and worry. Each person faces a personal Wampus Cat.
The good new is this: we are not left without encouragement or defense. “Fear not“ is a command found often in the Bible; God understands that we can be fearful people. Living under the cloud of worry may overshadow life to the point that any fleeting ray of light will not be enjoyed, but rather anxiously watched in the fear that it will dim far too soon. “Do not fret, it only causes harm,“ wrote the Psalmist (37:8b).
How can we face fear? First, by the gift of God: “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind” (II Tim.1:7); He has equipped us in Christ with power. As a Christian, you can face your fear because He is with you; “For He Himself has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’ So we may boldly say: The LORD is my helper; I will not fear. What can man do to me?” (Heb.13:5b-6). But the key that makes both of the above possible, and enables a person to avoid unnecessary fear, is a necessary fear…the fear of the LORD. It is the beginning of wisdom and knowledge (Prov.9:10), it keeps us from sinful ways (Prov.16:6), and brings satisfaction and life (Prov.19:23). “The Angel of the LORD encamps all around those who fear Him, and delivers them” (Ps.34:7).
This isn’t to say that we won’t face hardships, loss, and fearful situations; we will. But in the midst of the storms, I must remember the focus: “Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is man’s all” (Ecc.12:13b). Christ is present, and you are to approach Him with fearful reverence.
So let the Wampus Cats yowl as they may, The Sovereign King of the Universe will bring you through.