I know fear. Low-grade or full-blown anxiety. Fretful worry. Recently I cleared out a stash of papers from 2006, the year my wife Caryl was on dialysis. Reviewing the list of multiple doctor visits, hospitalizations, and medications surfaced intense feelings deeply buried in my psyche. The fear, the anxiety became my unwelcome companions again for a while.
William Cowper, a well-known 18th century poet, knew fear as well. He periodically suffered several nervous breakdowns due to ravages of severe depression. One such episode led him to seek to drown himself in a river. Taking a horse-drawn carriage in Olney, England, the taxi driver surmised Cowper’s suicidal mindset and feigned getting lost in the fog. Cowper eventually fell asleep. Many hours later he was delivered back home.
Refreshed, he took his spared life as a gift, a sign from God. And that led to the writing of the hymn still sung today:
Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take, the clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy, and shall break in blessings on your head.
(from “God Moves in a Mysterious Way)
Similarly, Scripture is replete with this divine message: “Fear not.” More than 80 times we hear “Be not afraid.” Rabbi Jesus brings this assuring message from God’s lips:
Don’t be afraid of missing out. You’re my dearest friends. The Father wants to give you the very kingdom itself. (Luke 12:32, The Message)
Jesus is a clear-eyed realist, knowing that fear can serve us well in emergencies. Fear forces us to problem solve quickly, to consider what resources we have to survive danger. Subsequently, though, previous traumas we’ve experienced can, if unacknowledged, continue to revisit us often.
Ongoing fear cripples us. Projecting unknown possible catastrophes that rarely happen is energy depleting. Such fear robs us of the precious present. Fear kills our creative spirit full of gratitude for our blessings. Fear fades as we remember to embrace the full gifts of God’s grace and mercy in the scariest of places.
Mark Twain knew hardship and tragedy. His personal response was this jewel: “Courage is not the absence of fear…it is the ability to act in the presence of fear.”