There are extreme emotions everywhere we look right now — anger, distrust, contempt, frustration, and so much fear. COVID-19 outbreaks, financial stress, uncertainty with school, murder hornets (come on now!), all dominate our thoughts.
There is no question that fear is as contagious as any virus, and this is all on top of the myriad of ways we face fear in normal, non-pandemic life circumstances.
Fear is not sin. Like all emotions, fear is a God-given response to the reality of our world. However, we can — and often do — sin in our fear when we lash out at those around us, numb ourselves with alcohol, drugs, or Netflix, or hide from life and people. When we place our trust in something other than God, our fear can master us, and then fear turns from a real (and helpful) emotion, to a source of pain, destruction, and isolation.
So what can we do? How can we, as Christians, approach and respond to fear in a way that honors God and edifies our community?
Search Your Heart
So often we experience anger, anxiety, contempt, and other powerful emotions that give us a sense of control over what’s really going on – the fact that we’re afraid. Doing this allows us to focus, often in a negative way, on other people and situations instead of what is happening in our own hearts.
This is when fear moves from a common and natural response, to something that cannot be controlled and can cause devastating harm. Instead of denying our fear, we must learn how to recognize the reality of fear, so that we can bring it into the light and respond in a way that honors God.
Recently my child was diagnosed with COVID-19. My initial response was anger at the place where she was exposed, frustration concerning how on earth we would manage our family of six for the next few weeks, and contempt toward the way others were responding to our situation.
But, what I finally had to acknowledge was a deep fear of what was happening – that my child was sick, that we all might be sick, and mostly, that someone else I love might have contracted COVID-19 and be put in serious harm because of us.
And there was nothing I could do about any of it.
I had to stop, breathe, and ask myself What is really going on? What am I reacting to and why? And then, I had to be willing to honestly discover the answer.
Allow Others In
The simple act of speaking your fears out loud to another person has a transformative effect.
When I call my friend whom I can trust with my fears, a weight is lifted. Even if the threat isn’t gone, and even if I still am afraid, I am no longer carrying my burden alone and so the power of fear dissipates.
Reaching out to others with our fear takes courage. It requires vulnerability to admit that we are afraid, especially if we are the type of person who feels the need to be strong and in control, or maybe has been taught that fear equals weakness. But the truth is we are weak and we live in a broken world that we can’t thrive in alone. God created us to live in intimate relationship with each other. Neurobiologists calls this the “neurobiology of we,” describing the brain as a social organism. 1
We need each other to walk through valleys of fear.
When I finally acknowledged all of the fear in my heart, I immediately contacted my best friend. Describing all of the emotions I was feeling and admitting to the fear building in my heart left me feeling exposed, but immediately lighter. She was able to speak truth into my life, and she took on some the burden of my fear simply by loving me in that moment.
We need each other, always, but especially in difficult moments. If you can find the courage to truly be honest in community, facing fear can transform isolation into a pathway to intimacy and love.
Does trusting God mean that you will never experience fear again?
There are real dangers in this world, and emotions are a gift, not a curse. Instead, trusting God means that we have learned to take our fear to him — that we can trust God with our fear and everything that causes fear. Only when we cry out to God in these times can we find peace in his presence and learn to trust in his promises — promises that really are greater than any circumstance we will ever face.
In the difficult moments in life, we can choose to run away, or we can choose to run toward our Father.
Choosing to step into God’s presence, be filled by his Spirit, and pray to experience the peace of Christ has allowed me to not just make it through fear, but to find rest and purpose in the midst of it.
He is good, he is faithful, and he is present — and truly, that changes everything.
Run towards God with purposeful time in his word to remind yourself of his promises, and purposeful time in prayer to find rest in his presence.
God is for you, he is with you, and he is faithful to rescue you.
There is no reason to be ashamed of fear. To experience fear does not mean you are failing in your faith — don’t let anyone convince you otherwise. But fear can twist our hearts and minds in ways that hurt ourselves and others, and can lead us away from God instead of into his arms.
Like anything else, how we respond to fear is far more important than whether or not we experience it. Fear can rule us, or we can learn to respond to it well and lean on the one who rules over all.
1 – Siegel, Dan. Mindsight: The New Science of Personal Transformation, 211.