Fear

Maybe it is the fact that it seems like every week there is another school shooting, but I’ve been thinking about fear lately. I’m not a fan of fear. I find it to be the biggest enemy of faith and generosity. “Do not fear” is, after all, the most often repeated command in the Bible. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t fight fear all the time.
Lots of people think it is important to fight fear. FDR said “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” I read an essay about fear by Frank Furedi. He wrote that the problem with fear is that it is vague and indirect and since no solutions are offered, it makes us feel helpless. What can I even do about kids bringing guns to school? Will I be able to keep salmonella out of my organic kale? What will happen to our kids who are growing up constantly facing a screen? Will my child be ok when she goes off to college? I can ask myself a million questions like this and ultimately, I’m left will feeling that there just isn’t much I can do.
In an interview in 2001 that Furedi cites, Osama bin Laden grasped the trend of this generalized fear we seem to have and was asked why the Western media establishment seems to be so anti-humane? He replied that it is because it implants fear and helplessness in the psyche of the people of Europe and the United States.
Barry Glassner wrote a book that is a bit controversial called “The Culture of Fear,” after the shootings at Columbine High School. He agrees with bin Laden that the constant media coverage contributes to a general sense of fear in America. But he sets out to debunk the notion that we actually have more to fear now than we have in the past. Remember how you always used to be told to check all your candy at Halloween and to never eat an apple or a popcorn ball someone made for fear of razor blades? Glassner writes that no razor blade has ever been found in Halloween candy, ever.
For some reason that example from the book always sticks with me. There are certainly things to be afraid of, but the problem with being afraid all the time is that you end up paralyzed and not thinking straight. And Furedi concludes that when fear becomes privatized rather than collective, that is a problem.
When FDR told Americans that the only thing they had to fear was fear itself, he was talking to the group. When you sit in your house, watching the news 12 hours a day, you are by yourself and left with the feeling that the world is going to end up in a hand basket, if you will…Fear makes us feel isolated and powerless and alone.
No wonder God is telling his people all the time not to fear.
As a mom, I find I have to talk myself out of being afraid all the time. It is ok. There is not someone lurking around the corner waiting to kidnap my kids. They are statistically more likely to get struck by lightning. Or there are those other fears that can be even more insidious. Just because they got a C on their report card doesn’t mean their hopes of college are done.
We live in a dangerous and competitive world. There are certainly things to be afraid of and as Jesus told us there are times when we need to be wise as a serpent. But fear is not your friend. Maybe you need to turn off the news. Maybe you need to find someone to remind you that it is going to be ok. That by worrying, you will not add one single second to your life, as Jesus says in Matthew.
I heard a Jewish proverb in a parenting book that said, worry for 20 minutes a day. That is both your upper and lower limit. I loved that. We are going to be worried and afraid sometimes. That comes with being a human who loves other humans. But after 20 minutes, let it go.
Because God has our back. And when bad things happen, God will be there. We will get through those bad times. Because faith is bigger than fear. In the end, faith wins. Fear isolates you, but faith turns you toward others.
And that is what God dreams of for us. A life lived with others. Where we help each other through hard times and rejoice with each other in good times.
So have no fear, little flock. And may God grant that it be so in our lives.

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