I am an amateur, but very enthusiastic, and pretty successful gardener. It is an absolute thrill when spring comes around and little green sprouts of poppies, gladiolas, and multi-colored lilies begin to pierce the surface of the soil. Sometimes, the sprouts are more red, like the peonies. Sometimes they’re pale yellow. Whatever the color, they are the harbingers of hope for a new, fresh season of growth and beauty. It’s not a time when one might think about fear, let alone naming fear.
One late, sunny spring morning, I was out amongst the sprouts of poppies and irises pulling weeds next to the foundation of the house. All of a sudden, I realized that there was a large snake coiled up just where my hand was reaching. Fear shot through me like a bolt and I hopped out of the flower bed (backwards). Interesting, what agility an old lady can display when confronted by an unexpected reptile.
I stood there in a kind of horrified fascination until the snake started to move. I watched him slip between the bricks of the wall by the basement stairs. Snapping out of my stupor, I went in to tell my husband what I had seen. He was unconcerned.
I probably went down to the basement 50 times before I went to bed that night, checking behind the washer and dryer, inspecting the rafters, stomping around with a ball peen hammer clutched in my fist to scare the snake in case he was watching me. No sign. I finally gave up and went to sleep.
The next day was sunny again. I went to the same flower bed. He was back! With a little more composure at work, I ran inside to grab my phone to take a picture. Maneuvering around, I captured the correct angle for the body, but couldn’t quite get the face. Closer … closer … there! Decent photo of … hmmmm … Fred! I named him Fred (no idea why).
Funny, after he was “Fred,” he wasn’t so scary any more. I went out looking for him every day and we would have a talk about how big the flowers were getting and oh, “there is a chipmunk problem out front that maybe you could do something about.” After a few weeks, he disappeared, and I missed him.
So, if I may borrow a question from the Bard, “What’s in a name?” Well, first and foremost, a name establishes identity. As Bible readers, when we hear the name snake, it might automatically bring up the Garden of Eden and the temptation of Eve by the serpent, and we know those results:
A Snake, But Not Fred
“The woman said, ‘The serpent deceived me, and I ate.’
“So the Lord God said to the serpent, ‘Because you have done this,
Cursed are you above all livestock
and all wild animals!
You will crawl on your belly
and you will eat dust
all the days of your life.
And I will put enmity
between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and hers;
he will crush your head,
and you will strike his heel.’”
If that’s all one knows about snakes, fear may be understood. However, reading from the point of view of a herpetologist “having snakes around is not only great for the environment, but it’s also directly beneficial to humans. Some of a snake’s favorite foods are mice and rats, animals that can carry disease and damage property. Snakes also help keep the local tick population in check by eating the animals that harbor them.
If then, one thinks of snake with only a biblical identity, the creatures can be scary or freaky, but looking through the eyes of a herpetologist, they can be like any other of God’s good beasts, created and placed here for a purpose, and nothing to fear–just good ol’ Fred.
I find I am not alone in this idea of naming fear:
In her article “Hit the Road, Jack: Naming Your Fear,” Lisa Bailey Sullivan suggests, “If you are paralyzed by fear, name it. When you name it, it loses its power. I don’t mean giving it a name like, I have a fear of ‘public speaking’ or ‘running out of money.’
I mean giving it a real name. Give your fear a name like that little boy or girl down the street who used to annoy you.
I call my fear “Jack.” Don’t ask me why he has that name or why he is male. Fear isn’t real. He’s something we imagine. He’s an emotion. And when I named him, he lost some of his power.”
After naming the snake Fred, I definitely wasn’t afraid of him any more. In fact, I began to treat him with a measure of respect.
Naming the Nurse
Back in 1962, my mother, brother, and I moved in with my grandparents. My grandfather was dying of cancer, something they couldn’t do much about back then, and he had been sent home to die. I remember him existing in his hospital bed in one room of the small house. He required a lot of care, and the apparatus that he needed just to sit up in the bed looked like a torture device. He wanted to see us, but he didn’t look the same and didn’t sound the same, and I was afraid of him.
During this time, my mother showed a real streak of parental brilliance. She went to the toy store and purchased me a “nurse’s kit.” It had the traditional white cap and white apron, a plastic thermometer, stethoscope, and other “nurse stuff.” I became my grandfather’s “nurse” and he became my “patient,” and my job was to refill his water pitcher and pour him a glass of water when he wanted it.
Just Bev became Nurse Bev and Sick Papap became Papap, Nurse Bev’s Patient, and I wasn’t afraid any more.
So, what about fear? The Bible tells us not to fear many, many times.
Do Not Fear
The Bible indicates to us that we need not fear because of how much God loves us. If one can name herself (or himself) “Beloved Child of God” and fully believe that, then it seems logical that there should be no fear. Father Pablo Migone writes, “if this is the case, that we are called by name by Jesus and that we are God’s precious children, then why are we afraid?” He continues in the words of Pope Francis, “We are not a community of the perfect, but we are called as we are, with our problems, with our limitations, with our joys and with our wish to become better. We are all called as we are. God loves us not as we want to be, but as we are.” God sees our fears, even the illogical ones, and loves us, and tells us that we need not be afraid.
That is a beautiful promise, however, our responses are not always logical.
Austin Connor comments: “When God says, ‘Do not fear’ he is not commanding us to shut off a part of our brain. His model citizen isn’t an emotionless and stoic robot. The real issue God wants us to wrestle with is where we go when we fear. Where do you go with your fears? How do you deal with them?
“Simply put, God wants us to come to him. Fear can paralyze us. Yet when we “fear” in the presence of God, God helps us take the next step of faith even in the midst of our fear! Unfortunately, no one will be able to escape fear in this sinful and broken world. It is real. It can be paralyzing. It is powerful. But God is more powerful.”
Name Above All Names
So, what’s in a name? Is it a snake, or is it Fred? Is it Sick Papap, or Papap my Patient? Naming fear is a good strategy, as long as we remember that there is a “name that is above every other name.”
Therefore God exalted [Jesus] to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
The mighty name of Jesus is above the name of snake, cancer, poverty, loneliness, evil, every other name. So regardless of what label you have on your fear, Jesus is stronger! In the end, it really is all Him. Whatever you’re afraid of, and whatever you name it, give it to Him, and through Him you will always have the victory.
God bless you, and may you fear not.