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Recall a Fear
Let it go
- at least for now -
In the Midst of Fear
Br. David Vryhof
You may know what it is to be sailing through life in radiant sunlight when, swiftly and unexpectedly, a storm arises, and you suddenly find yourself swamped by mighty waves and tossed about by terrible winds. Perhaps it’s an unexpected calamity – a health issue, an accident, some kind of assault, or some other unforeseen suffering – that affects you or your loved ones. Or maybe it’s tragedy on a national or global scale that frightens you: the threat of violence, political upheaval, or environmental disaster. Or perhaps it’s something that hasn’t happened, but could happen. There is much to be afraid of in life, and at times our fears can seem truly great, and we can feel so weak and small in the face of them.
Fear is no respecter of age, gender, or social standing. Fear may be the most common experience we share with all of humankind: the consuming, crippling, sometimes irrational visitation of fear. Fear arrives when we face impending danger, pain, evil, confusion, vulnerability, or embarrassment. Whether the threat is real or imagined does not matter. What does matter is our sense of powerlessness. We don’t feel we can control this thing that threatens to swamp our lives and cause us to sink. Whatever its source, our fear is real.
Jesus speaks a great deal about fear and anxiety, which is quite revealing. He would have learned about fear in part from the Hebrew scriptures. The scriptures he would have known – what we call the “Old Testament” – are replete with messages about worry and fear. We are told very plainly that we do not need to be afraid because God’s steadfast love and unfailing faithfulness will provide for us. Fear’s tight hold on us is loosened, the Bible assures us, when we put our trust in God.
“I sought the Lord, and he answered me,” the psalmist says, “and delivered me out of all my terror” (Psalm 34:4).
Jesus would have known these words, just as he would have known the words of the prophet Isaiah: “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior” (Isaiah 43:1-3).
Jesus would also have learned about fear from his own life. I am not talking about the fear he observed in other people, but about his own personal fear, what he experienced. We don’t know the specifics of what Jesus feared, but we do know that Jesus lived a fully human life and experienced the full range of human emotions, and therefore he must have been acquainted with fear. We see him withdrawing to pray in solitude as he wrestles with his own calling and with the challenges he and his followers face. We catch a glimpse of real fear when he prays in the Garden of Gethsemane for the cup of suffering to pass him by (Matthew 26:36-46). We can trust that when Jesus talks about not being afraid, he is speaking about fear from the inside-out, autobiographically.
Jesus would have learned about
fear from his own life.
Jesus was able to speak reassuringly about fear because he had taken to heart the words of scripture and learned to trust in God. In prayer he received the assurance that he was not alone, that God would always be with him, strengthening him to face every trial. He wanted others (including us) to know the inner freedom and deep assurance that comes from trusting in God. Over and over again, his message was “Do not fear.” He promised his followers that his power, his provision, and his presence would be with them (and us) always, to the end of the storm, and to the end of life.
If your life now is swamped with fear, or if you are afraid about an incoming storm, remember this: our fear is not an obstacle to God but rather an invitation from God to take Jesus at his word. We need not be afraid. Jesus knows every reason why we could be afraid; he’s been there. For us, fear can seem such an immovable impediment. But it is no obstacle for God. Our fear presents an opportunity to experience first-hand God’s presence and power and provision by trusting in God’s promises.
Our fear is God’s invitation, and Jesus will make good on his promise to be with us always. Let Jesus have the last word: “Do not fear, for I am with you, always” (Matthew 28:20).
Our fear is God’s invitation.
What fears are storming in your life right now? Can you imagine that Jesus might have known a similar fear?
Can you recall a time when a particular verse or image from scripture helped you to face your fear in a difficult situation? What words comfort you?
When angels appear to human beings in the scriptures, their first words are almost always, “Don’t be afraid.” Who are the “angels of consolation” who have helped you face your fears in life? A particular friend or relative? A mentor or teacher or pastor? How have they been able to comfort you?
Set aside time this week for a period of prayer in which you speak aloud your deepest fears to God and listen for God's reassuring words and comforting presence within you.
Carry in your heart a mantra which you can repeat to yourself whenever you feel afraid, such as “Whenever I am afraid, I will put my trust in you” (Psalm 56:3:) or “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” (Psalm 46:1)