“All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.” – Gandalf
Yes, but to decide wisely, I’ll need to give an eviction notice to that squatter who takes up residence in my soul again and again. He comes in uninvited, and his presence casts a shadow over everything, but especially over tomorrow. Staring into the darkness that is the future, or even pondering what’s happening in the present, out there in the shadows, he paralyzes us. He settles in and then slowly, silently, begins choking us, rendering hope, boldness, love, and generosity impossible.
His name is fear, and until we evict him, we’ll live in a shrunken world, far smaller than the one God has for us. He’s there, whispering lies about what could happen – terrorist attacks, job loss, injury, relationship meltdown, theft, assault, rejection, sickness. We ponder the problems, paralyzed by the possibilities of darkness encroaching even further in our lives, our hearts. The result? We crawl into the bomb shelter that is our heart, afraid to love, afraid to risk, afraid to speak the hard word, afraid to give.
Before we can show fear to the door, we need to be honest in saying that fear, like most lies, is a cocktail of truth that’s spiked with lies. The truth is that we might be attacked by terrorists today, or tomorrow, or next year. We might lose our job, or maybe we already have. We might get sick, or maybe we already are. Relationships do melt down. Assaults do occur. Stuff happens, and no amount of praying is going to grant us 100% immunity. I was reading the obituaries the other day and saw the story of an 89-year-old woman who failed to stop at a stop sign, and plowed into another car. She died, and so did someone in the other car. There’s no magic pill to protect against these remote possibilities.
So stuff happens; that’s the dose of truth in fear’s cocktail. The lies? 1) If you crawl in a hole, nothing will happen to you; 2) If you crawl in a hole, life will be better; 3) If some of these things do happen to you, you life will be ruined; 4) If you are rejected, it will prove that you’re unlovable.
This is giant pile of dung, and the sooner we shovel it out of hearts, the sooner we’ll get on with our movement towards the spacious, generous, joy filled lives we’re intended to live. Here’s a shovel for you:
Nobody’s promised immunity in this fallen world, so believing that we’re here to creating a pain-free life is a lie, and believing we can pull it off is an even bigger lie. This lie saturates our culture, but the truth is that no amount of safeguards can prevent suffering from intruding into our carefully constructed houses of cards. Way back in Genesis 3, God promised that all humans would feel the effects of living in a fallen world – our work would be hard, our relationships would be strained, and we’d die. There’d be lots of grace, and hints of glory along the way as well, but there’d be suffering. One European theologian says that the biggest problem in the west is our inadequate view of suffering, and he says that because he says the depth of faith that is always forged when we walk through the fires. As a result, we can learn to consider the joyful side of trials. This isn’t some sort of call to a sick masochism that invites trials. It’s a call to learn how to see the good that God is trying to form in us, right in the midst of all the suffering.
All my heroes have suffered. Joseph? Sold into slavery by his brothers, framed for rape in a foreign land, and forgotten in prison. Moses? Called to lead the Guinness’ World Record’s largest and loudest group of whiners for forty years. David? A hunted man with a price on his head for years, and the victim of a coup by his own son at the end of his life. Time will fail me if I go on to talk about Sophie Scholl, William Wilberforce, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and Elizabeth Elliot, but the here’s the truth of it: all of them walked through the fire – and they all exuded joy. Of course they wept – no doubt they had their moments of doubt and discouragement (many of which are recorded for all to see) – but in the end they’re people of confidence. We can be too.
We are deeply loved. This little all-star line-up of mine come from a wide theological swath, yet they all share one thing in common: they know that they are deeply loved, and this is their starting point. It needs to be ours too if we’re to give fear the boot. Paul says that we’re loved by God, no matter what happens – even if others reject us, even if we lose our jobs, even in we’re tossed in prison, even if, as David says, everything around us collapses. Joseph says that even when people plot evil against us intentionally, God has the capacity to turn the situation around and make into something good. Bonhoeffer says that “the essence of optimism is that it takes no account of the present, but it is a source of inspiration, of vitality and hope where others have resigned” This is the road I’ll choose.
“No Mr. Fear. I reject your lie that I can build a life free from suffering, so I’m done trying. I’ll not live carelessly, but I’ll live out my days in obedience to Jesus – knowing that nothing which comes my will can rob my capacity for living richly, generously, joyously. I’ll stand with Joshua, and respond to God’s invitation: “Be strong and courageous, and do not tremble or be dismayed”
Good bye fear… don’t let the door hit you on the way out.
What have you found helpful in dealing with this ugly intruder?