My husband was to fly in that night. No problem. I’d gladly meet him after a week’s separation. However, I was running late (never answer the phone on your way out) and had misjudged the travel time to the airport.
Rain meant slippery roads and slower-than-usual traffic. By the time I pulled into the arrival level, I was anxious and he was frustrated. No hug or kiss, just, “How come you’re late?” My body shut down as I slid over to the passenger side. I gasped for air. I could barely whisper. I had just joined the millions who experience panic attacks.
The list of what we fear is endless. What if my children are bullied at school? What if my teen is gunned down? What if my adult children leave the church? What if my friends don’t like the real me? What if I fail the exam? What if the prognosis is cancer? What if I lose my job? What if my flu-like symptoms are from a deadly strain? What if a bomb explodes while I’m in the subway? What if? What if?
It doesn’t help that dangers are exaggerated and even exploited. Why are there more tragic stories than positive ones on the news? Why a show like “Fear Factor”? Are we being manipulated by politicians, media, and industry?
A recent fad had us sporting WWJD bracelets. Well, what would Jesus do? He certainly wasn’t immune to stress. At the beginning of his ministry, Satan approached him in the desert. Although hungry and weak, he resisted Satan’s temptation, didn’t succumb to the fear that God wouldn’t care for him. Instead, Jesus responded with Scripture (see Matt. 4:1-11).
You may be thinking, “Jesus was the Son of God, and I’m not. God demands too much when he says, ‘Do not worry’ or ‘Fear not.’” But we are God’s adopted children because of Jesus’ work on the cross. Just as Jesus drew his strength from his identity as the Son of God, so peace comes to us in our identity as children of God. Just as fasting and prayer helped Jesus resist Satan, so the practice of spiritual disciplines will enlarge our capacity to handle anxieties and let them go.
Would it be easier to experience God’s presence if we isolated ourselves forever in a retreat center? I don’t think so. God cares about the minute details of our ordinary lives. He desires to meet us where we are, even in our world full of fear and uncertainty.
When the grip of fear is so crippling that we can’t pray or pick up the Bible, the community of believers can provide support and encouragement. God designed it so that when we are weak, his family holds us up. When a group prays for me, I feel the peace of God filling me as beautiful music fills a room. In the days following a funeral, the pot of soup tastes more delicious because it has been prepared and delivered with love. The body of Christ will help us to say with peaceful but victorious confidence, “When I am afraid, I will trust in you” (Ps. 56:3).
When fears overtake me, I try not to numb myself with work, meaningless TV, or too much food or shopping. I feast on the Word of God. Its transforming power frames my reality and provides the support and the strength to let my fears go.
Just as Jesus knew he was in the palm of his Father’s hand, so all of us can have the assurance that God’s perfect love casts out all fear.