Kayde Deveau, a member of Church on Mill who serves many women and children in our church family, writes about the crushing fear we all are prone to feel and what we are to do with it.
When my eldest nephew was just a toddler, he fell in love with a single animated movie: Tarzan. We would sometimes watch it multiple times in one day. In fact, we watched it so often we wore out the VHS tape. As I began thinking on the topic of fear, one exchange stood out in my mind from the beloved movie. Tantor, a young elephant in the early scenes of the film, is afraid to enter the water at the watering hole. “Are you sure this water’s sanitary? It looks questionable to me,” he calls out to his mother. “It’s fine, honey,” is her calm response, already floating in the center gabbing with some of the other parental elephants. “But what about bacteria?!” Tantor exclaims back.
We all have been at the edge of something unknown, unsure what to do next, frozen in fear, and in need of more information before we make our next move. Especially now, the question of germs that Tantor raises has an uncanny relevance.
Sometimes, these fears can feel like an elephant sitting on your chest. You’re immobilized—unable to make decisions or move forward. In our current cultural climate of a pandemic, tremendous isolation, and social movements, there are many things that may be burdening your heart with fear. On top of all these shared experiences, you might also have your own fears that are burdening your heart.
Last year, fear was a common emotion for me. I had to deal with it more than ever before in my adult life. In the spring, seemingly overnight, I watched my family as I knew it radically change due to anger and illness in my parents’ lives. After the official diagnosis came in the summer, my sister and I began asking the question “Who will have it next?” The disease is a genetic one of which there is a great likelihood that one of us has inherited it. The cherry on top the suffering cake was my own personal diagnosis with an autoimmune disease.
There were times when I felt like I could barely keep it together. Times when I was afraid for my parents, for my future, and even of the food I ate and the effects it was having on my body due to my illness.
I think I still have a lot to learn on the subject, but here are some of the things that I have learned so far while walking through my fear with God and my church family:
Acknowledge your fear to God and to others
We often read passages of Scripture that call us to “fear not” or “do not be afraid” and think that we just have to pull up our big kid pants, lie to ourselves, and say we are okay. Friend, God is the creator and sustainer of the universe. You can’t fool him, so don’t try to fool yourself.
It goes without saying that you should tell God your fears. However, it is worth saying that thinking about your fears and actively bringing them to the Lord are two very different things. There are Psalms that model bringing your worries to God in prayer, and you can use those as a blueprint for sharing these feelings with him. Psalms 27 or 56 are great places to start. Try to intentionally turn from thinking to praying when you see a pattern of fear.
Additionally, tell someone who you are close to the fears you are struggling with. This could be someone you are in a discipling relationship with, who is part of your GC, or who a friend or pastor recommends in the church. We are called to bear one another’s burdens, and quite frankly we can often make poor assessments of ourselves when left to our own devices (at least I know I do). So, invite someone else to ask you questions and encourage you with truth.
We talk to God and others about our fears because fear tells us something about our heart. Fear clues us in to ask the question, “What in this circumstance am I believing to be true about God? And is what I am believing actually true?” If we try to ignore it we are slowing down the process of getting to the root cause of the fear, and if we don’t know the root we can’t really treat the problem at its source.
Combat fear with truth
One of the fears I battled in the fall was fear in a 50/50 chance. Those are the odds for inheriting the genetic disease from my parents, and it was a crippling piece of data for me to process. Anytime someone would ask, I would talk about my coin-flip circumstances, and it felt so frightening and wildly unpredictable. What truth could combat this fear?
By God’s grace, an important collision of truths hit me one evening… God is in control AND he is good. I needed to pair those truths together and tell myself that God has already put in his plan for me whether or not I would get this disease. It’s not a coin-flip to him, and in either case God is still good.
This truth to combat my fear came from God’s Word. Church family, I don’t know what all of you are feeling fearful of at this time, but I can tell you that God’s Word is the place to find the answer. The answer isn’t in better leaders, or more trustworthy news sources, or the opinions of your “friends” or the influencers you follow on social media. The answers are in God’s Word, because it is there where God, through the work of the Spirit, reveals himself to us. “…These things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him?… But we have the mind of Christ,” (1 Corinthians 2:10-11a & 16b).
What great news is it that God would equip us with what we need to combat fear? He provides not only his Word but the Spirit, a functional decoder ring to the Bible who lives inside of us. Read God’s Word, ask the Spirit to reveal greater understanding of its words to you, and hold onto those truths as intentionally as you can.
I also recommend seeking out worship music that you enjoy that faithfully addresses the truths that you are trying to remind yourself of. One in the midst of fear and suffering I have listened to over and over again has been: “Lord from Sorrows Deep I Call (Psalm 42)” by Matt Boswell and Matt Papa. This song honors the text of Psalm 42, where the author calls out to God in great suffering, but still holds fast to God being good and praiseworthy.
Have patience with yourself and with others
We often fear that which we don’t understand. A child stands at the edge of the pool as their parent cheers them on to make their first leap, and in that pause several questions they don’t have the answers to are running through their head. Have you ever noticed that most of the time after experiencing that first jump and landing in their parent’s arms they want to do it again? Sometimes fear seems to vanish as quickly as it came, but other times fear can feel like a slow burn. Don’t give up on dealing with your fear. Understanding can take time with certain circumstances.
However, not knowing all of the answers shouldn’t be your scapegoat for continuing to sit in fear. Regardless of whether you know how something will play out, you do know that God knows in complete detail what will happen. Put your trust in him, and hide under his wing.
Remember, you are not the only one struggling with fear. At the same time that God has you working through your own fear, you might be called to help a brother or sister with theirs, too. They may need the same patient and tender friend asking questions and encouraging them that you need. Fear can tempt us to only look inward and cause us to lose the fear-defying joy that loving our brothers and sisters provides.
Jesus is Better
This series is all about how Jesus is Better. With all my heart I say to you that Jesus is better, stronger, more powerful, and in control than whatever you fear. Jesus was with God the Father at the formation of the world; the Old Testament for thousands of years pointed to him coming; he lived life without ever sinning, experienced pain and rejection, and died in our place purchasing our freedom.
Brothers and sisters, Jesus is better because the thing that we should be most afraid of, the final and eternal judgement of God, was experienced by Christ so we will never have to face it. Think on that just a bit and soak it in… Jesus willingly chose to be separated from God so we never will be. Within the confidence of knowing God did not spare even his own son for us, it is possible to acknowledge our fear, combat it with truth, and endure together. Rest in the reality of our great, glorious, in-control God. Jesus is better because nothing of this world can undo the eternal assurances his work has accomplished for his people. That is the truth our fear needs to hear.