My daughters give me good practice in working with this emotion. A number of years ago, my eldest daughter, Erin, called from France where she was living at the time and shared some information about her next living situation in New York City. She started the conversation with these words “Now mom, don’t say anything until you’ve heard the whole thing.” Hmmm, those words certainly raise the radar. She then said, “I found out about my situation in NYC. I’ll be living in Harlem and working in the Bronx.” Ha! She was right to warn me, I was ready to jump in and save her. She then went on to share all the benefits to the situation, precautions that were being taken, etc. I listened, lifted her to God and spent a lot of time praying for her in the next year. My fear for this 24-year-old naïve young woman was warranted, but I knew she is intelligent and would be wise about her actions. It was a tremendous time of growth and learning for her and in retrospect, she was absolutely right to go there. What a shame it would have been if I had prevented this adventure because of my fear for her.
Daughter number two also elicits my fear at times. A number of years ago, my husband, Randy, began having heart arrhythmia right before I was scheduled to travel to Africa for a week to work with a team of missionaries. We talked with the doctor and he assured us that Randy was fine. He and Randy both encouraged me to go on the trip. I took Ashley aside (she was fifteen at the time) and told her to keep things calm for her dad while I was gone. She assured me that she would take good care of him, and I left him in her capable hands. Sunday arrived a couple of days after I left and Randy felt poorly, so talked with the doctor who attended our church. The doctor told him to take it easy that afternoon and spend the day on the couch. Ashley was tiptoeing around to allow for his rest and decided to quietly work on an art project in her room. She saw that the label of the rubber cement said, “Caution, fumes are flammable.” Being a curious sort, she held the bottle close to a lit candle to see what would happen. Suddenly, flames were shooting out of the top of the jar. Not wanting to startle her dad, she ran into the bathroom and threw the jar into the bathtub. She then turned the water on. This didn’t work and, in fact, spread the fire all over the tub. She next ran to the kitchen and grabbed some oven mitts to try to pat it out. At this point, she yelled in an increasing crescendo daaaaaaAAAADDDDDD, THE BATHTUB’S ON FIRE!!!! Randy jumped up and ran in and threw a towel on the fire to put it out. It was not exactly what I had in mind, but no damage was done. By the time I was able to talk with them, all was well and we had a good laugh.
These are humorous situations yet not all fearful situations are funny. We are all familiar with fear. Fear, as all emotion, is a God-given gift. It serves a protective function. We learn as children to fear the hot stove and the fire and the street. We fear a growling, snapping dog or a snake in our path. We fear swimming too far out into the ocean or lake. We fear people who we believe to be unsafe. Or we may learn to be cautious in our relationship with a person who cannot be trusted or to a person who has behavior that is harmful to others. This emotion is given to us to keep us safe.
There are other reactions to fear that may be less than healthy. We may live our lives being paralyzed by fear or another extreme of being driven by fear. Fear can become a primary motivator for our belief system. When we have been raised with the image of an angry God, we may not want to risk the wrath of God. It may encourage us to avoid thinking about issues that arise because they do not align with that to which we are familiar. This is different from the manner in which we are encouraged by the Apostle Paul to “take captive every thought to make it obedient to God. (II Corinthians 10:5)” We, of course, need to keep our thoughts pure, but that is a different issue than avoiding thoughts because they frighten us. It is a situation in which we are afraid to think about issues because of where they might lead us. We retreat to a stance of security–of “not thinking.” We squelch thoughts even as they emerge. One example is being unwilling to converse about other faith religions. It is almost as if the mere act of talking about it can lead to our conversion to that faith. Fear can be a powerful inhibitor.
But, God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power! This does not mean we will not experience fear. It means that we will not allow it to bind us. This has come home to me recently as I asked God to release me from a certain fear. I felt paralyzed in moving forward with a situation to which God had called me and was certain that I could not get past this stall until my fear was removed. Rather than removing it, I sensed God saying, “No, I’m not going to remove it. Obey me anyway.” I realized I could act even though I was afraid. It gave me the freedom to move forward. As Paul asking for the thorn to be removed and God responding, “My grace is sufficient for you. My power is made perfect in weakness.( II Corinthians 12:9)” I trust that God will give me what I need for kingdom purposes and in this case, that does not mean I will not be afraid.
In his letter to the church in Philippi, Paul tells us “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.( Philippians 4:6-7)” In this season as the world remembers Christ’s death and resurrection, we allow Jesus to speak to us through his example. He was afraid and yet moved forward. He pleaded to be released and sweated as if it were drops of blood and yet he was obedient to what God was calling him to do. We recognize our fear for what it is—a God-given gift and we do not allow our fear to control us. Or in other words, we do not believe fear to be more powerful than God. The victory is won! God has overcome the world. I am resting in God’s embrace and God is in control. I place one foot in front of the other with the knowledge that God is with me in each step.
I will close with a meditation by Fr. Luis Espinal, SJ. He was assassinated in Bolivia in 1980. This was written shortly before his death.
There are Christians who have hysterical reactions, as if the world would have slipped out of God’s hands. They act violently as if they were risking everything.
But we believe in history; the world is not a roll of the dice going toward chaos. A new world has begun to happen since Christ has risen…
Jesus Christ, we rejoice in your definitive triumph… with our bodies still in the breach and our souls in tension, we cry out our first “Hurrah!” till eternity unfolds itself.
Your sorrow now has passed. Your enemies have failed. You are a definitive smile for humankind.
What matter the wait now for us? We accept the struggle and the death; because you, our love, will not die!
We march behind you, on the road to the future. You are with us and you are our immortality!
Take away the sadness from our faces. We are not in a game of chance… You have the last word!
Beyond the crushing of our bones, now has begun the eternal “alleluia!” From the thousand openings of our wounded bodies and souls there arises now a triumphal song!
So, teach us to give voice to your new life throughout all the world.
Because you dry the tears from the eyes of the oppressed forever… and death will disappear…