Unravelling Fear

Don’t tell us what to believe, what to fear.

Show us belief’s wide skirt and the stitch that unravels fear’s caul.

-Toni Morrison

I think of my Nana when I read this quote. She loved to make things. She sewed and cooked and made cards. She owned a knitting machine and made her own bread and jam. She made me and my siblings matching outfits when we were children. Nana also loved embroidery. She spent years of her life cross-stitching beautiful pictures, having them framed and hung all over her house. Long before her death, she’d labelled each one with the name of the child or grandchild who was to inherit it. Mine is a picture of a grandmother surrounded by her grandchildren. It’s a cherished keepsake, something my Nana handstitched with loved and left me to remember her by. 

I have not inherited Nana’s passion or skill for sewing, but she did show me how to cross-stitch when I was younger. She taught me that when you begin, you keep the end of the thread tucked away, held fast with your finger. That way, it’s easy to unpick your work if you go wrong.


I sometimes feel like fear has been stitched into the fabric of my life. As one of our most primitive emotions, fear is essential for our safety and survival. We are right to trust our gut instincts that protect us from harm. But left unchecked, fear becomes heightened and distorted; it morphs into anxiety, worry and insecurity.

I fear being abandoned and misunderstood. I become afraid to tell the truth about how I feel or what I need in case it leads to ridicule and rejection. 

I have nightmares that terrible things will happen to my family. I fear my friends will see through me and realise I am a horrible person, no longer welcome to be part of their lives. 

I am afraid there won’t be enough room for me at the table. Other people will take up my place and there will be no space left for my contribution. I’m afraid of being silenced and ignored. 

I fear my life will have no meaning and I will be exposed as an imposter who never lived up to her promise. I’m afraid of failing.

I fear that I am both too much and not enough.

I am afraid I will never have children. I am afraid of being alone.


I have grown up hearing the biblical assertion that ‘perfect love casts out fear,’ and never really understood what it meant. If I am perfectly loved, then why am I still afraid? But I am beginning to see that love is the lose thread we can pull at to unravel stitches sown by fear.

Because at the root of everything I am afraid of, the fear behind every other fear, is the fear that I am not loved. But the truth is, in the words of Jan Richardson, ‘beloved is where we begin.’ Our starting point is always love. We are loved completely by God before we speak a word, serve another person, or accomplish anything at all. There are no expectations that we leave our needs at the door or act in a certain way. We are held in the presence of God’s unconditional love, exactly where we are, right at this very moment.

It’s also true, of course, that the things we fear sometimes happen. We experience rejection or pain. We stumble and fall. We face trauma and trouble. But the thing that grounds us and keeps us —‘the root of the root and the bud of the bud’ as e.e. cummings puts it—is the love of God. 

God’s love is high and deep and more inclusive and all-encompassing that we could possibly imagine. It is the kind of love that sings over us and calms our fears. It is the wide skirt the Holy Spirit stitches together to cover our vulnerability. It is our stake in the ground, tethering us to God’s good earth. It is the arms of Jesus, spread wide in welcome, offering our hungry and thirsty hearts all we could ever need.

Abby Ball
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