There are magical moments when thoughts that have been swirling, somehow, with little effort, write itself. Then there are other occasions when it’s simply, drudgery. My pen hovers over a blank page or my fingers queue on “F” and “J” with no where to go. Writing on fear feels like the later and I wonder if in part, it’s because the threats that drove us into our homes earlier this year and later brought us into the streets are not over yet.
Lingering in our memories are images of isolation, confusion, violence, loss, grief, and fear. Words like pandemic, quarantine, shelter in place, lock down, distance learning, social distancing, twenty seconds rule, and facial coverings remain relevant. And the wave of unspeakable racial violence (and yet imperative that it be spoken of) that ensued good, needed disruption is only the beginning. While we have made some strides one, back to familiar routes and routines and two, toward more honest conversations about private and structural and systemic racism, the unknowns are pressing.
Furthermore, fear seems relentless when one news trails another of family, friends, acquaintances and their economic crisis, chronic and fatal medical diagnosis, incurred injustices, and devastating losses. We are hurled into trauma again and again.
In writing on fear, I hope to put words to how we can be afraid and hear well the One who says, “Do not be afraid”.
Do not be afraid is uttered repeatedly in the Bible as a prologue and warning to a future event. But more importantly, it bears witness to what is plain: the alert big eyes, clenched or gaping jaws, broad frozen stance or curled hunched posture. It recognizes that fears have the ability to be merciless, haunt sleep, taunt our attention, and rob breath from our frame. And it validates fear as a fitting human emotion that can be seen, named, and known.
The effect is goodness. We are not guilted or shamed but cared for and honored. Our internal mayhem is lullabied; our fight, flight, or freeze systems are yielded to thoughtful considerations; we feel grounded and connected.
Sometimes however, we don’t connect to the kind intent behind “Do not be afraid”. We hear belittlement, judgement, ridicule, reprimand instead. Triteness, annoyance, dismissal. Or, the primitive script that no one cares, no one sees, no one will act appropriately even if they see. But God, in his words, does not turn away, evade our fears. He looks straight on and asks, “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?”. 1
Do not be afraid is meant to evoke a history of God’s presence and promises and when the situation that elicited such instruction is followed by reassurance and remedy, “I will ________________” 2 our hearts are assuaged. Furthermore, when we confess that we are inadequate to face the hardship, trial, odds without Christ, we are invited into rest.
Do not be afraid is a gracious, generous response to our traumatized body. It protects us from numbing, fragmenting, not being present, escaping into harmful pleasures, shutting down and shutting off from creating beauty, goodness, and glory. It keeps us whole and integrated.
It speaks life into the horrid and hopeless, just as it did when those very words were first spoken. Thus, it is not a truth to be merely recited as a repertoire for self talk but it is to be spoken audibly. Because the message embodied in the messenger helps us believe it; the presence of another can change how we make meaning of the world and the events we encounter.
We then can avail to faith, hope, and love. We then can dare to risk trusting that the object of our fear will be addressed, sometimes in its removal, but even if not in the way we desire, always in the presence of Jesus. We are not alone. Do not be afraid.
Psalm 46 (ESV)
God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling. Selah
There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High. God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved; God will help her when morning dawns. The nations rage, the kingdoms totter; he utters his voice, the earth melts. The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah
Come, behold the works of the Lord, how he has brought desolations on the earth. He makes wars cease to the end of the earth; he breaks the bow and shatters the spear; he burns the chariots with fire. "Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth! ” The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah
1. 1Corinthians 15:55 2. To name a few: Deuteronomy 3:2, 31:6, 2Chronicles 20:15-17, Joshua 1:9, Isaiah 41:10,13-14, Luke 1:12-14, 29-31, 14:27, 1Peter 3:14