Fear. It’s pretty intense, and I do my best to avoid it altogether. The New Oxford American Dictionary defines it as “an unpleasant emotion caused by the belief that someone or something is dangerous, likely to cause pain, or a threat.” I’d like to summarize it as just an unpleasant emotion caused by a belief that something is impending.
I’ve commented several times on how last year was a difficult or bad one for me. I definitely took on way too much, but towards the end of the year, I realized what had been driving most of the difficulty. I was really afraid. I was terrified of the future, or of what was “impending.”
I had a lot of good experiences last year- getting a great internship, hiking in a beautiful area, and living in one of the nicest places on campus. Those things were great, and I wish I had appreciated them more. But instead of sitting back and praising God during such situations as the Leonid meteor shower, I was worrying. I was afraid in my deepest core.
I later jotted down a few of the questions that heavily flooded my thought process.
“Why am I…? Why don’t I…? What if …? What if…? What if…? What about when …?” The questions didn’t get me anywhere- they only fed the fear.
I think it’s because of this that, as I’ve been told, “Do not fear” is the most common command in the Bible. DO NOT FEAR.
Easier said than done, and maybe that’s why we needed to be told so much. God said it over and over in the Old Testament to the Israelites as they went through some tough, tough times. We know that when God exiled the Israelites somewhere, or had them roam the desert for 40 years, or let Joseph wind up in a well while his brothers plotted his doom, that everything was going to work out fine. I think we often forget that these things happened in real time. It wasn’t just a few pages in a book. It was real life often for years at a time.
Isaiah 43 is a great example of this. The passage I’m about to reference is bookended by passages scolding Israel for being “unfaithful,” “blind,” and “deaf.” In the midst of all this, God says “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are Mine,” and “Do not be afraid, for I am with you” within five verses.
Then Jesus repeats the same command over and over again in the New Testament!
Obviously, and unfortunately, we can’t eliminate fear on our own. But what’s really exciting is that the Bible explicitly tells us how we can do so. The Bible doesn’t always tell us exactly what we should do in that tricky relationship, how exactly we should go about telling our parents some news that they don’t want to hear, what exactly we should wear, or a number of other things.
What we do get from God’s word is: “DO NOT FEAR.” And in the seemingly inevitable event that we do become afraid? There it is in 1 John 4: “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear.” And in the same chapter, to further clarify, “This is love: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” (all emphasis added)
Perfect love drives out fear.
I know. At some point this summer, after months of praying for wisdom and peace, I realized that I wasn’t scared anymore. I was working at a wonderful summer camp, and on the last night, we often show a video presentation with pictures from the week. I almost always cry, but for different reasons. I was bracing myself for a good cry because that camp is truly my happy place and I didn’t want to let the peace that I’d found in that week go.
Then I realized that something was a little strange. I was going to miss camp, but I wasn’t scared of letting it go. I wasn’t scared to leave the place where I knew I was happy and content and to go out into the unknown future. What ifs weren’t bothering me.
“That was maybe the most content I’d felt in my life and there was NO FEAR. Probably because God’s perfect love had driven it out,” I explained later. “I’m sitting here now and I’m not scared. I can’t tell you how good that feels. I’m ready to charge into life and go where God wants me. I’m not afraid. I’m not afraid of [all of the things that hurt me so much before].
“It’s entirely possible that God is prepping me for what is going to be the worst year of my life. But I truly don’t believe that I’m just on a ‘retreat high.; This isn’t in my head. It’s in my heart. So even if this year makes last year look like a walk in the park… I’ve got the wonderful love of my blessed Redeemer way down in the depths of my heart.”
I’ve got good friends who will listen to me talk about my life for a long time. =)
Is fear holding you back? Are you afraid of death, or change, or loneliness, or abandonment, or failure? Are you scared of the unknown, distressed by the uncertain impending? God’s perfect love is the only thing that can truly, truly eliminate it. I’m sinful, and I know that fear will probably sneak back into my life. It has already tried.
(It’s sneaky! You’ll be thinking, “Oh, I’m just a little anxious because of blahblahblah,” or “I’m worried that suchnsuch will…” My preferred example came when I missed an opportunity to talk to a friend that I won’t get to see for a while. I was pretty upset, and was about to say “I’m just scared that I won’t get to talk to them for a really long time.” I only got through “I’m just sca-“ when I realized what I was saying. It wasn’t a blatant thought of, “I’m displaying fear now, which God told me not to do, because I’m concerned about the occurrence of something that isn’t certainly happening. I’m going to let it keep me from being content and purposeful in my current circumstances.”)
I know that fear doesn’t have to be there. It’s one of those things you just have to keep reminding yourself of and to bury deep deep deep in your heart.
“Do not be afraid… O little Israel, for I Myself will help you,” declares the Lord in Isaiah 41.
And hear God’s word, coming from John 14, shortly before Jesus’ death on the cross: “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”
p.s. There’s a great song by the band NEEDTOBREATHE called “Something Beautiful,” and it was my heartfelt prayer when I recognized what a huge role fear had started playing in my life. Here’s the music video!