On Sunday morning, we started a new sermon series called "Forward: From Fear to Faith." This topic would seem really "current events driven" if we hadn't worked on the plans for it all the way back during the wintertime. Regardless of world events, a lot of us live in a state of heightened anxiety. For some of us, it's a medical condition. Others of us are addicted to stress because it makes us feel important, needed, or successful.
Next time you're in a bookstore or library, have a look at the self-help section. There are hundreds of books about managing worry, stress, anxiety, or overbooked schedules. We're so bombarded with messages about the consequences of stress that some of us feel almost obligated to feel stressed - it means we're busy, productive members of society, right?
Amid all the world's messages about stress, it would be easy for us to walk into this sermon series expecting more self-help mumbo jumbo. Anybody who feels OK right now, or who isn't upset about current events, might think, "This is not for me." Before you walk away, though, take a moment to process some things.
God has given us the appropriate human response called "caution." It protects us from things that might hurt us. For more dire situations, He has given us the fight-or-flight response, where our bodies take over and make us either stand in place and fight the tiger, or run like the wind if we're insufficiently armed. Those responses are all rational, reasonable responses to a clear and present danger.
The kind of fear we deal with in our daily lives, though, barring a mugging or a safari vacation, is usually more nebulous. We're just nervy, and we often don't take the time to investigate why. This fear, I think, is usually fear of the unknown.
Fear of the Unknown
During the "What's After ATX" series, my husband and I were talking about whether we fear death. I said, "No." He said, "You know me. What's my greatest fear? The unknown. What happens after death is pretty weird and unknown. It's hard not to be afraid of that."
After Sunday's sermon, I asked my daughter, "What would you say is your greatest fear or worry right now?" She said, "I wish I already knew how my first year of high school is going to turn out. I hate not knowing."
Here is what I said to my daughter: When you were a very small child, you felt safe with mom or dad, right? You didn't like going to bed by yourself, even with a night light, because you couldn't see things well and were afraid of what you couldn't see... but if you were with one of us, you felt safe even when you couldn't see, right?
She said, "Of course. I still kinda feel that way."
I said, "Well, that is why I'm almost never truly afraid. I know the One who knows everything - past, present, and future. He's right here with me, and I know He can see what I can't."
Trust and Perspective
As long as God and I are in contact, I'm like a kiddo holding mom's hand while crossing the street. Mom knows when it's safe to cross, so I just hold on and wait for her to start walking. That's trust.
When I look back across my life, I can see all the hurt and mistakes, but I can also see how God used those things, after the fact or along the way, for my good and His glory. God can see my whole life in retrospect, so He can see how my current troubles will be used for my later good and for His glory. That's perspective.
For some of us, all this sounds easy; for others, it feels impossible. But here's how it works - today, I have a fear or worry, and I try to think about it considering all I know about God's character. If I don't know enough about God's character to comfort me, I go find out more. Tomorrow (or next week, or next month), I look back on today's worry and check up on whether it amounted to anything God didn't help me through. I see that He did, and even if it was hard to get through, I'm still here and still truckin' along. So I trust a little more. Wash, rinse, repeat.
At first, it might sound like just one more "self-help" strategy, but this is way more powerful. Why? Because it's not self-help. No matter how popular the term, "bootstrapping" is, you really can't pick yourself up by your own bootstraps. But if God could make Peter walk on water, He can pick you up too. So lean into His perspective, and learn to trust.