Over the next few months, almost everyone on the planet will be coming to terms with their own fears. With each new development in the news cycle, some will be triggered with anxiety and immediately feel panic, some will self-righteously “rise above it”, and others will be more afraid of what people think of their response to fear than actually being afraid of getting sick. The question is, what do we do with the fear in front of us? It may be a friend’s fear, it may be our own, but how are we to respond to fear in a broken world?
Fear isn’t always a bad thing. It saves our lives more often than not. It can be directed well, and if utilized correctly it leads to wisdom. “The fear of the Lord leads to wisdom” the Proverb goes. So we see if we fear (revere/respect) that which is most worth fearing (the Lord), than our priorities will be aligned and we’ll be wise. We can apply this on a much smaller scale as well. When we correctly asses what is worth fearing, it leads to wisdom. If we have no fear than we become stupid and will live a short life (see Proverbs again). If we have too much than we’re paralyzed with anxiety. Fear can be well directed for God’s glory, but how?
Brazenly proclaiming ”I ain’t scerd” doesn’t cut it (like the man in the above picture about to get hit by a tornado). Telling someone else to “get over it” is lazy friendship at best and harmful at worst. Suppression is never a good life choice for any emotion, and fear is no exception. Instead of suppression, we must work to draw out the fear. This seems counter-intuitive at first, but we must deal with fear out in the open if we’re going to make any progress. When confronted with your fear ask yourself, “What does this fear say about me and my desires?” When you’re confronted with fear inside of others ask, “does my response to my friend’s fear show the heart of Christ or that of my own insecurity, judgement and frustration?” Fear, whether it be external or internal, often exposes our vulnerabilities. In our fallen nature we are allergic to vulnerability, and thus we’ll be tempted to put a lid on it and walk away. Let’s look at how fear manifests itself in us and others, and our appropriate response to it.
Fear in Us
We suppress fear in ourselves when we don’t take time to invite God into the fear to learn about our own brokenness and the wholeness he provides. Suppression doesn’t work because when there’s smoke there’s fire. We’ll still see the effects of fear in our lives whether we’re short tempered, overly-sensitive, self protecting, or defensive. When we predictably sin out of fear we feel ashamed of our foolishness, and spiral more. We revert to judging ourselves and being even more frustrated, and the gospel is nowhere in sight!
Instead of suppressing, inquire into your heart’s desires at that time. What do you really want? Is it worth it? Whose kingdom does it benefit? See if there is anything unstable that you’re putting your hope in. Are there past hurts that are being triggered by present reality? Get to the root and invite God and others into that place of fear. Meditate on passages that speak of God’s love for you (Romans 8, Psalm 23, Ephesians 1, etc) Ask God to help you see what steps of love you risk taking by faith in this fearful time. Remember that “God has not given us a spirit of fear, but one of power, love, and a sound mind” (2 Tim 1:7). In other words, direct fear through the lens of the gospel to obtain wisdom about yourself, your world, and ultimately God. That’s what leads to a sound mind.
We’re also afraid that others will see through our stoic masks. We want people to think we have it together, so we don’t panic-buy toilet paper and we laugh at what the CDC recommends. The next week we don’t have toilet paper, blame crazy apocalyptic preppers for making us use paper towels in our bathroom, and worse we possibly spread disease. Fear of others leads to foolish behavior. Maybe we’re not afraid of COVID-19, but we’re terrified of people finding out that we’re just a poser under our fancy stoic armor we wear.
Fear in Others
We suppress others when we shut them down. Maybe we think we’re justified in doing so since “they’re so irrational”, but really our own insecurity is exposed. Let’s face it, we feel inconvenienced by their fear on the surface, but maybe beneath our response is a very real sense that we are not enough to handle frightened people. It becomes about us and not them. I’m inconvenienced, I can’t fix you, I can’t handle you, I can’t convince you, I can’t love you. When I view myself as the savior, those messages are especially frustrating.
Instead we must embrace the truth about ourselves. We cannot control anyone but ourselves (and even then only on a good day). You are not enough in your brokenness and insecurity to handle that person. Jesus is enough, and Jesus is in you! You can sit with them patiently because of Christ in you. You can hear them, maybe not fix them, but be a faithful presence of Christ to them. Be curious about their fear, lovingly help them see their heart, and be aware of your own insecurities. This is really hard, as someone who lives with an anxious person, I’m trying to pry the 2×4 out of my own eye right now! But, we need to do our own work first. Telling them “all fear is sin so stop sinning and trust God” is incompetent and lazy counsel, and just makes an anxious person more anxious. Sugarcoating your judgment of them with a Bible verse won’t get you too far either. Take the difficult and long road of bearing another’s burdens, not adding to them. This is the way of Christ-like love.
Honestly we’re in need of long term solutions right now with COVID-19. Suppressing fear isn’t a long term solution, but driving it out with the gospel is! Because of the gospel we can act with wise love in a scary, broken and sick world while avoiding the downgrade into a stoic robot-jerk or a hot mess crumpled in the fetal position. “There is no fear in love; instead, perfect love drives out fear” (1 Jn 4:18). May Jesus drive out fear in us and through us by his love!