Some version of “Do not be afraid” or “Fear not” appears in the Bible 365 times, I’m told. Enough for each day of the year. I imagine the source of this statement is someone with a lot of time on his or her hands and in need of a hobby.
But in spite of that glib comment, there is no doubt that fear often governs our outlook and our decision-making. There has been significant focus on hate as our enemy, but as Mahatma Gandhi observed: “The enemy is fear. We think it is hate; but, it is fear.” Our national ethos and worldview is about guarding ourselves from “the other” because we are afraid. We must protect ourselves—physically, emotionally, financially, spiritually—because we fear what may happen if we don’t. It can be paralyzing, making us unable to see and claim the life God wants for us and the work for which God needs us.
I’m deeply aware of fear’s impress on my life and I invite you to think about its role in your own story. I am one of many women who stayed too long in an unhealthy relationship, fearing unworthiness and inability to survive on my own. Then there are present fears: being afraid for my grandchildren growing up in a sad world that is so alien from what I’d hoped for them. And now I face this “growing older thing,” with all that it encompasses. I’ve been saying for years that I want to, need to, get ready to be old. But it happened, while I was afraid of not being ready.
Sometimes I imagine that Jesus must be banging his head against the wall, looking out at me and you and the rest. Didn’t I come to you to bring hope? Didn’t I give my life to forgive your fearful souls? Didn’t I painfully die so that you need not fear even death? What’s going on?!
There are whole industries and trainloads of drugs that are supposed to make us less afraid, and indeed, sometimes we need some help. Some churches try different approaches; Rich and I visited an Episcopal church in Los Angeles a few years ago, and the postlude was Bobby McFerrin’s “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.” Really.
I have some favorite Scriptural reminders to help me not to be afraid when things get dark. You might want to collect your own.
If I take the wings of the morning, if I dwell on the far side if the sea, even there your hand will guide me. Your right hand will hold me fast. From Psalm 139
For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither things present nor things to come, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. From Romans 8
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid. From John 1
Take heart. I have overcome the world. From John 1
There is more help for us. Since we are created to live in community, we have each other. When we are afraid, we have the reassuring presence of a church family, with its shared prayers, wise leaders, renewing sacraments; with its safety, its certain promise of God’s radical love and life-giving hope.
There is so much that can make us afraid. There is so much more that can make us strong and of good courage. Much of it is right here.