My son Sean and I were walking to the library recently to drop off some books and passed a small group of people on the sidewalk. We exchanged pleasantries “hello,” “lovely day for a walk” and “gotta’ love Wisconsin in the fall!” and kept on walking. I noticed Sean, ordinarily a very social child, was much more reserved than usual. In fact, I noticed when we passed the group of people that he seemed to stiffen up. “What’s going on son?” I asked him. “You seem very quiet.”
There it was. Fear.
In our home we strive to have prudent and age-appropriate conversations with our children and work hard to protect them, as most parents do, from conversations, events and experiences that can cause them to be unnecessarily afraid and upset. But somehow, my 5-year-old, in the midst of this pandemic, was learning to be afraid, not just of the virus but of people. My heart was heavy.
Let’s face it, 2020 has been a rough year. Wildfires, tornados, rioting and increased rates of suicide, depression and alcoholism are familiar stories on the news.
We have one pandemic caused by a virus, and it seems, another one accelerated by fear.
Being fearless has become a catch-phrase in recent years — associated with seizing the moment and throwing caution to the wind — a “you only live once” mentality, if you will. While fear is impossible to avoid, sometimes a healthy sense of fear can actually keep us safe. For example, we might be afraid to walk down a dark alley at night, and for that reason avoid it. That is understandable and weighing risks plays an important role in keeping us safe. But while we all experience fear at times, giving in to fear means that fear will tighten its merciless grip on us, holding us back, diminishing our voice and even making us sick.
So how can we fear less with Jesus? Here are three lessons:
Do not give in to fear
“Say to those who are of a fearful heart, ‘Be strong, do not fear’” (Is 35:4).
Fear is a weapon that the enemy uses to paralyze and imprison us in our thinking, seeing and being, affecting our ability to be present to others, to listen, to dialogue and to love. Fear prevents us from welcoming the new life and opportunities that are unfolding all around us, opportunities that God wants for us. While we all feel afraid at times, do not allow fear to be a chokehold on your life. Jesus himself tells us, “do not fear, only believe” (Mk 5:36).
Let God be your refuge
“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in time of trouble. Therefore we will not fear” (Ps 46:1-2).
Many times in life we live as if God is not the source of our strength and our foundation and we suffer for it. During times of fear we have to remember what God tells us, that he is our refuge and strength — not the stock exchange, not the government, not professional sporting teams. We need to start living like God is our refuge and strength and not living for the fleeting, passing things of this world. We are made for eternity, not just the here and now.
God is in control
“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you” (Is 43:1).
When fear casts its long shadow in our lives, sometimes we are tempted to shut down and hide away. But God reminds us that he has redeemed us as his beloved children. In the Bible fear can also mean “respect” such as when it is used in this statement “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom”(Proverbs 1:7). In this context the Scriptures are reminding us of who is really in control in life- God. So relinquish control and let God be God. Trust him. He is much better at this than you or I.
We might not always be fearless, but we can certainly fear-less. The difference? When we rely on ourselves we often give in to fear, but with Jesus we can be fear-less in life knowing that he is in control.
Stanz is director of parish life and evangelization for the Diocese of Green Bay and author of “Start with Jesus: How Everyday Disciples Will Renew the Church” (Loyola Press).