Several years ago, I discovered that one of my friends (and former His Way graduate) was deathly afraid of clowns. We were going to the grand opening of one of our thrift stores. Unbeknownst to us, The Saving Way management arranged for someone to be there dressed as a clown handing out balloons and adding to the festive, celebratory atmosphere. Now, my friend is not someone you would suspect of having a fear of clowns. In fact, you might assume he is not scared of anything. He’s an athletic, confident guy. He comes across as fearless. But the second he saw that clown, he let out a child-like shriek and couldn’t get out the door fast enough.
Fears are unpredictable. Just look up all the different fears people struggle with, from arachnophobia (fear of spiders) to arachibutyrophobia (fear of peanut butter stuck to the roof of your mouth). Some of our fears won’t make sense to other people, but that doesn’t make them less real.
I vividly remember being on a camping trip with my friends as a kid in Washington state. I woke up in the middle of the night in a small tent, suddenly gasping for air and panicked that the tent walls were closing in. Of course, I had to play it off so I would still look tough to all my friends. Somehow, I managed to survive that night and never had another problem with claustrophobia until many years later.
This year, it seems our fears have never been more prevalent. The number of Covid cases continues to rise throughout the country. Many are fearful about the increase in hospitalizations and deaths. Have we ever seen a more polarizing election year than 2020? People are afraid of changes in policies, disruptions to the economy, and social unrest. Even on a more personal level, we see fears about losing jobs, closing businesses and limits to our freedoms.
We all have fears. And it’s nothing new. It’s interesting how prevalent fear is in the story of Jesus. From the very beginning, an Angel told Mary to not be afraid because she had found favor with God. Soon after, Joseph was also told not be afraid, and to take Mary as his wife.
So many of Jesus’ interactions involved fear. When Jesus famously walked on the water, the disciples thought they were looking at a ghost and were afraid until Jesus told them not to be and identified himself. Of course, Peter jumps out of the boat and starts to walk, but becomes afraid when the seas become rougher. Another time on a boat, the disciples fear for their lives during a storm while Jesus was asleep. Jesus wakes up to calm the storm, and the disciples then become terrified of him. Jesus frequently tells people struggling with all sorts of threats and problems to not be afraid.
Jesus teaches the “Parable of the Talents” in Matthew 25. He describes a man that before going on a journey, entrusts 3 servants with some of his money. The first 2 servants take what was entrusted to them and immediately put the money to work, so that when the man returns, they can show him a profit. However, the third servant took a different approach. He went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid the money.
The first two servants were commended as “good and faithful.” The third man had an interesting explanation or excuse for why he did not put the money to work. He was afraid. He was afraid to take any action. He was afraid of taking any risk…afraid of making a mistake…afraid of losing what he had. He was paralyzed with fear.
Paralyzing fear is not unusual. I see it every day working with residents at His Way. Addiction often starts with fear about a challenge or obstacle in life, and drugs become a way of avoiding or numbing the fear. Over time, a cycle develops, and the drugs become more destructive and dangerous than the original problems. I think we can all relate to paralyzing fear, especially in times of uncertainty.
God’s people often showed fear in times of uncertainty. That was especially true toward the end of Moses’ life. Moses was called by God to lead the people out of Egyptian slavery in sensational and miraculous ways. Israel became a real nation under his leadership. He was their leader through difficult challenges and questions. He was always there for them, and the thought of him being gone was scary.
God addresses their concerns in Joshua 1:9
Be strong and courageous.
Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged,
For the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go
Notice that God doesn’t try to make a case for Joshua as the next leader. He doesn’t offer up Joshua’s resume or try to explain why the plan makes tactical sense. God doesn’t talk about the circumstances and promise that things will be easier in the future. His answer and solution to this concern has nothing to do with any of that but has everything to do with Him and who He is. Be strong and courageous. I am with you.
I didn’t have any more experiences with claustrophobia until just a few years ago. I was on a plane going to Seattle. I was in a middle seat. Shortly after take-off, I felt the walls of the plane starting to close in. I couldn’t get my breath. I finally jumped up and walked to the back of the plane. The flight attendants tried to get me to go back to my seat (the seatbelt light was still on), but they could tell something was wrong. I paced around trying to catch my breath. I found some comfort in staring out the window in the rear door of the airplane. It was a long flight, made even longer with my sudden anxiety. I made it through, but still have some problems and challenges when I have to fly. I’m careful to always book an aisle seat, devote myself to prayer before and during, and make plans to keep my mind occupied.
I find it interesting that whenever I share about my struggle flying and being in enclosed spaces, I get one suggestion more than any other about how to overcome it – take medicine. Many people encourage me to just take an Ambien or some Dramamine. That will fix me right up. That will solve the problem. I completely understand that many people require medicine to function. I’m not suggesting that medications never have a place, but I think by jumping to that solution so quickly, we’re telling ourselves that we can’t handle the fear. We start to believe that we always have to remove the fear and make our situation more comfortable and less challenging.
God told his people to be strong and courageous. You stick with me, and we will get through this (whatever it is) together. We all have fears. Courage is not the absence of fear, but a willingness to confront our fears with faith.
Director of Ministry and Chairman of the Board