We live in a scary world. Every time we turn around, we discover something new that causes us to fear for ourselves, our families, or our friends.
At the same time, there’s no shortage of cheesy Christian memes on Facebook reminding us to “Fear not, for I am with you always!” and chastising us any time we feel anxious.
The idea that we don’t have to fear anything because we have God the Mighty Warrior on our side sounds great on paper, but it doesn’t feel real when we are face-to-face with the dark sides of life.
- For the single mother who has no job and a growing pile of debt...
- For the parents whose child is laying on a hospital bed awaiting surgery…
- For the driver gripping the wheel for the first time since the nearly-fatal accident…
- For the student whose ability to afford college hinges upon one exam...
...for them, in that moment, the understanding that God cares for them feels superficial. Fear is what feels real.
I cannot sit here behind my computer and tell you that I have this fear/faith thing figured out. I don’t have any answers. But I think that as we grapple together with what fear is and how it relates to faith, we learn how to keep fear in its place and nurture faith instead.
I’ll lay out some of my thoughts, but I hope that you join in the conversation via the comments section at the bottom of the page so we can work through these questions together.
Fear is not the same as caution.
This is an excuse we use all the time. “It’s not that I’m scared… I’m just being cautious.” Ninety percent of the time, that’s a load of bull. Caution, we all agree, is important. It’s the preparation that enables us to live full, confident lives. For example...
- We lock our doors at night.
- We buckle our seatbelts when we get in a car.
- We check our blind spots before we merge.
- We get vaccinated against deadly diseases.
Living cautiously simply means that we’re able to actively engage with our community because we are using common sense to avoid unnecessary disaster.
Fear is a natural emotion.
A friend of mine described fear this way: “Fear is about my perceived lack of control. Life has messed with my circumstances. I feel out of control.“
Being afraid is an emotion that, at its foundation, is no different than happiness, sadness, or excitement. When we find ourselves in certain circumstances, our bodies and our minds respond by making us feel scared.
When we are in situations in which we don’t feel we have control, it is entirely natural for us to be scared. I don’t want to gloss over that, because I think it’s vitally important for us to understand that it’s okay to feel fear. We should never be ashamed of it. In this crazy world that we live in, fear is real.
A couple of months ago, Shannon had a terrifying experience while driving. It was pitch black and raining in the early morning while she was heading to work. When traffic started slowing down, she tapped her brakes at the same that that her tires hit a patch of water, and her car hydroplaned, spinning through the fast lane and stopping against the barricade that separated her from the cars heading the other direction.
When she looked up, she had only rotated halfway - she was facing oncoming traffic. Even that early in the morning, there were a lot of cars on the road so she was unable to turn back around or even get out of her car to safety. For nearly ten minutes she was forced to stare at cars bearing down on her at 60-70 miles per hour.
The emotion of being afraid is a natural human response and, in many situations, is completely justified.
Fear quickly escalates.
H.P. Lovecraft wrote that “The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear,” and I don’t think he’s too far off. Fear can quickly become incapacitating, freezing us from being able to live full, productive lives.
When Shannon had that terrifying experience on her drive to work, she was traumatized and was completely incapable of driving in dark, rainy weather for a while.
That fear that she felt initially was real and justified, but it took root in her mind and grew until it was more than just an emotion. It was a powerful, crippling presence in her life for a time, and the effects of that fear linger to this day.
Fear is rarely productive.
When fear grows beyond a basic emotion - when it begins to dictate the way we act - it becomes unhealthy.
Living cautiously is a positive thing for many of us, but living under an umbrella of fear leads us into constant worry. It has us continually watching our backs because we cannot trust those around us. And when we’re so busy protecting ourselves, we have no time to care for those around us.
As I write this, we are in the second week of Advent - the candle we lit at our church this week was the candle representing Love. The message centered around the love that God expresses toward us and how we are to mirror that same love to the world in which we live. But it is impossible for us to love those around us when we are solely focused on protecting ourselves.
Fear wants to bind us into this perpetual cycle of self-preservation, but the gospel of Christ - the model by which we are to live - is a message of turning the natural instinct of self-preservation on its head and pouring ourselves out for the good of others.
Fear will never win.
I know that you already know the end of the story. With God for us, what do we have to fear? Who, or what, can stand against God?
In the middle of terror, that assurance sounds trite and does little to keep us from being afraid - and that’s okay. There is nothing wrong with feeling afraid. But when we let that emotion grow and take root in our lives, we give it power over us - and that's not okay.
When we give ourselves fully to God and trust in him to guide and sustain us, we are able to focus more on demonstrating Christ’s love to the world. And, speaking from personal experience, when I spend time intentionally loving those around me, the fear in my life begins to melt away.
Faith illuminates fear.
Living a life of faith shines a spotlight on the fear that we’re living with. Being faithful doesn’t mean that we never feel that emotion of being afraid, but it means that we are able to keep it in its place.
Faith reminds us to live selflessly, loving others instead of protecting ourselves, and remembering that God is the one who always has and always will take care of us. Faith means letting God lead us and trusting that his Word is sufficient to direct and protect us.
Practical Steps to Reduce Fear
In my life, I’ve taken some intentional steps to reduce the impact that I let fear have.
- I confront fear head-on. When I feel it rising, I pray: “God, I’m not in control here - you are. I completely trust you to take care of me as I’m going through this. I admit that I’m afraid, but give me strength to rely on you.”
- I have stopped watching television news. The networks make money by highlighting or fabricating drama, so they prey upon our emotions. I can’t emphasize enough how impactful this step has been in my life.
- I keep an eye out for fear-mongering and refuse to listen to it. The propaganda of fear is everywhere on social media. If a friend endlessly posts depressing updates and articles about how the world is going to hell in a handbasket, I don’t feel bad going to their profile page and unfollowing them.
What do you do to defeat the grip of fear in your life? I'd love to hear your tips, so please share your thoughts in the comments below.