We need to talk about fear.
I’ve started several blogs this year about this very topic. Fear. Fear fear fear.
I’ve never posted them.
If I’m honest, I never even finished them. I got distracted and didn’t know what my point was.
But it’s time now.
Because my understanding of fear (and perhaps more importantly, of God) has grown. And now I’m beginning to see that this is not just about me and my travel and my heart (though it still is very much about that). It’s about all of us and how we respond and face the world around us.
This spring, I started a blog that went something like this:
I sat in my parents’ living room in Hong Kong last week and watched the aftermath of bombs exploding in Belgium.
The next day, I opened my computer to news of attacks in Pakistan.
And then another crisis in Iran.
And against all of my better judgment – everything I claim to believe and embody – I was afraid.
Deep in my gut, in the very inner workings of my heart and mind, I was scared to be traveling.
As soon as I recognized my fear, I hated it. Because I’ve been answering the question “Are you afraid about your trip?” for days, months, years the same way:
It’s not a dishonest response. In my head, I am not afraid to travel. I know that there are risks with any adventure – but I also know that there are risks everywhere.
If I am afraid to explore new places, then what is my alternate option? Staying home? Will that guarantee my safety?
I live in Chicago. My beautiful, wonderful city. And the city where over 150 people were shot over Memorial Day weekend.
There’s no such thing as an assuredly safe space.
I knew the world had very real, very evident risks. But still, more than anything, I hated being afraid.
But the more I look around, the more it looks to me that a lot of us – Americans especially – are choosing to let our fear win. Choosing to let ourselves be motivated by the sensation of being afraid instead of looking that fear in the face, calling it out, and unpacking it.
And where fear is given free reign, prejudice and isolationism and hate have space to grow.
After recognizing that fear was planting seeds in my mind and heart, I started to think and pray about it. (And as a fair warning, this blog is about to get pretty Jesus-y.) God started nudging me to look my fear in the face and in the process, he has taught me some awesome, life-altering things that I would love to share.
Earlier this month, I wrote the following in my journal:
I’ve been thinking again about fear. And about the [biblical] command “Do not fear.”
My friend Eric who is a waiter here in Rwanda had his US visa denied yesterday after his interview. Trump just said we need to move away from globalization and toward Americanism.
And I can’t help but thinking it’s all because we’re so afraid.
Afraid of what, exactly, I’m not sure. But locking the doors sure feels like doubting that God is in control. Hiding feels a lot like forgoing our faith entirely.
Welcome the stranger and do not fear. The Bible is pretty clear about both of those. And yet so many Christians are so afraid. So so so afraid.
I suppose of death, but that doesn’t make much sense [for someone who professes Christian faith]. So maybe it’s more a fear of losing something valuable and then having to go on living.
But then, let’s look at Job.
We can’t lose Jesus, which is the one thing we actually cannot stand to be without.
Fellow Christians, this is for us. This is my sermon. My message for the day.
What are you so afraid of?
I could cherry pick “do not fear” verses for you for days, but I’m much more a fan of understanding the Bible as a narrative – getting at the big picture of who God is, who Jesus is, and what that means for us.
And here’s what I’ve come to realize.
As Christians, we can actually oblige the command “do not fear” because we literally DO NOT HAVE ANYTHING TO FEAR.
This is revolutionary.
I imagine that most peoples’ greatest base fear is death. I suspect it’s why people are afraid of heights and snakes and the dark – they fear that life could literally end. Perhaps this is also what motivates racism and fear of certain people groups who have been stereotypically considered violent.
But as Christians, there is no fear in death. Because Jesus beat the grave. And because leaving this world simply means going to hang with the God of the universe in eternity. We shouldn’t dread this. As Paul proposed, we should be torn between life and death all the time – wanting to carry out God’s beautiful, redemptive plans for us here, but also wanting to be with Him full time.
So if it’s not death, then what?
Losing control? Too bad we already gave up control when we put God in charge of our lives. We can’t lose something we don’t have in the first place.
Losing our families? Our jobs? Our national identity? Our houses? Our money? Our anything?
Look no further than Job. A man who lost literally everything and yet STILL had joy because he still had Jesus.
Guys. As Christians, we cannot lose the one thing that matters. Jesus is permanent and no amount of refugees or protesters or differently-politically-minded people can take Him away from us.
That’s what this whole Jesus thing is about, really. In cutesy Christianese, it’s the concept of Jesus + nothing.
So I ask again:
What, exactly, are we afraid of?
And, perhaps more importantly, why are we letting that fear get in way of our true calling on earth – to love God and love people?
Because when fear has a hold of us, we can’t love. We can’t interact with people with openness and honesty. Our fear closes us off and sings a chorus of “be afraid, keep yourself safe,” which usually means close yourself off from whatever it is that is making you nervous.
And usually that thing is actually a person.
A beautiful human created by God. The same God in whom we profess our faith. And guess what? That God loves us equally, infinitely.
And so I propose that we stare our fear down. Look it in the eye and tell it it’s not welcome anymore. Then go make friends with the people who make you nervous. That you don’t understand. That are fundamentally different from you. Partially because it will grow you and stretch you and make you better, but more because we are overflowing with the love of Jesus and that love deserves to be shared.
Guys. People are amazing. Every single person has a story. Every single person is worthy of love. Even the people we don’t understand. Even the people who are radically different than we are. Even the people who have done horrible things. Even the people who terrify us.
This is the gospel.
That while you were still in sin, Christ died for you.
Whoever you are.
So do not fear. Do not fear. Do not fear.
The Lord your God is with you.
As a note, of course wisdom is always good. Don’t seek out danger for the sake of danger, but likewise, don’t be afraid of the associated risks of the place to which you are called. And obviously, yes, I still get nervous. It’s a biological/chemical/psychological/something-ical reaction. But there is a difference between getting nervous and letting fear consume you and direct your decision-making. One is knee-jerk, the other is a choice.