I hereby command you: Be strong and courageous; do not be frightened or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” - Joshua 1:9
In his first inauguration speech, Franklin D. Roosevelt is famous for saying this: “So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is...fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”
So, first of all, Mr. Roosevelt, with all due respect, let me assert my belief that fear is NOT the only thing we have to fear. There’s actually quite a lot of things out there in this world that provoke fear, regardless of how hard we try not to be afraid. Fear can be a helpful reaction for us sometimes. If I’m in a situation where I’m alone and I sense someone is stalking me and I begin to have this gut feeling that something isn’t right – it’s a good, healthy dose of fear that causes me to get the heck out of there as fast as I can, or to get prepared to fight if need be. Fear causes the adrenaline to flow and my body moves quicker and stronger for a necessary time.
Or, if I’m in a burning building, fear will move me to take action as fast as possible. If my beloved finds a lump in his armpit or anywhere else, I will feel some fear and I will be very persuasive and convincing that he needs to get to the doctor ASAP.
But I do understand what President Roosevelt was saying. Sometimes we let fear unnecessarily take over – fear that is unreasonable, unjustified – that can paralyze us before we really have a good reason to be afraid. I struggle with that fear at times. I have been accused of being a control freak, always needing to know every detail of what is going to happen. And, while I’ve learned to let a lot of that go, I have come to realize that when I’m needing details most, it’s because I’m feeling fearful of the unknown. Anxiety takes over and I have to intentionally focus on calming that down. I have to reason with myself and think things through – tell the story that MIGHT happen and what I could do in that story to have a good outcome.
I’ll give you an example. Last November I flew to Missouri to surprise my granddaughter, Natalie, who had just turned 16. I had never traveled to the Lansing airport by myself and was a little anxious about going there at 4:30 on a winter morning. I had my GPS on but I ended up taking a wrong turn in Lansing and I felt that fear rising. I talked it down, turned around and made it to the airport in plenty of time. While I was in Missouri, the weather turned icy and bad. My flight was cancelled and I stayed an extra night with my brother in Springfield. While I was happy to have some bonus time with family, it was tainted by my fear of flying home in bad weather, knowing that there was a big snowstorm at home. My new flight schedule had me getting into Lansing at midnight and I kept worrying about getting my car cleaned off and started. I was especially anxious about finding my way back home, since I had had trouble getting there in the first place. I was concerned about slick roads, black ice, etc., etc., etc. I was borrowing trouble before it was even there and in fact, the trouble I imagined never came to be. I got my car cleaned off easily and took an easier route home with no slick roads to speak of. I had myself worked up for no reason. In that case, President Roosevelt was correct. It was unreasonable fear and, while it did not paralyze me, it did hinder my ability to relax and enjoy the extra time with my family, whom I don’t get to see very often.
Growing up right on the Kansas/Oklahoma line we had plenty of tornado watches and warnings. Every night, before I could go to sleep, I would seek assurance from my mom that there were no tornados around. My mother used to say that if I didn’t have anything to worry about, I would worry about that. I have to admit she was mostly right.
There will always be something in our lives that can stir up fear. Right now, we are facing the very real concerns of a virus that is spreading throughout many countries in the world. The NOVEL COVID-19 virus has taken the lives of thousands so far, most of them in China and other countries, although it is spreading to and in the U.S. and there have been some deaths. Anxiety is rising across our country and once again, I think the unknown is what is the greatest cause of fear. We don’t have a vaccine and we aren’t sure about travel and how to protect ourselves. We seem to hear mixed messages because our experts don’t seem to be that expert in this case.
Our President and health officials are trying to keep the level of fear down among the public, and at the same time, give us important warnings and news updates. People are stocking up on things from paper goods to hand and room sanitizers (if we can even find any available). We just don’t know where this is heading or for how long – and that can cause fear.
So, what can we do to keep our anxiety level down, to keep fear from taking over?
Well, we could do what I sometimes do – paint in our minds a “worse-case scenario” and figure out a plan for how we would react and get through it. Or, we could just go ahead and quarantine ourselves from the public and become hermits for a while. (But then, we would eventually start being afraid that we would run out of necessary items such as toilet paper. And food).
Or – we could have faith. We could allow God to breathe into us some calm. We could focus on trusting that God is with us and will help us; will see us through the scary times. The Psalmist wrote, in Psalm 23, Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff— they comfort me. David wrote that affirmation of faith at a time when he had an army of enemies seeking to kill him.
The Lord says, through the prophet Isaiah (41:10), Do not fear, for I am with you, do not be afraid, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my victorious right hand.
Throughout history, believers have put their faith over fear and have found themselves encouraged, strengthened and at peace even during the most dangerous and frightening times. We are not promised life without trials and tribulations, without pain, sickness and heartache. But throughout the Old and New Testament, we have promises from God, and testimonies from God’s people, that God is with us, helping us through whatever comes our way. I love the song that follows this post titled “Where No One Stands Alone.” I hope you will listen and be blessed.
I like what Max Lucado said: “The presence of fear does not mean you have no faith. Fear visits everyone, but make your fear a visitor and not a resident.” We have a responsibility to follow the recommendations of our health experts so we can do our best to protect ourselves and all those we come in contact with. But rather than allowing fear to take us over and become a resident, along with practicing common sense, let us practice our faith in the One we proclaim to trust.
With God’s help, may this be our affirmation of faith: The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom (or what) shall I be afraid? – Psalm 27:1
Peace and Grace,