I don't watch the news. I don't read the news. Aside from the occasional article about an interesting technology or what books to read next, I avoid my Google newsfeed. I steer clear of people on social media who get political, especially when they're "news posters." You see, when I was in my mid-twenties, I made a conscious decision for mental health.
On Sunday morning, Jurie explained some of the biology of fear. He described how the amygdala (what I lovingly call the "animal brain") releases certain chemicals in response to fear - chemicals that cause a physiological "fight, flight, or freeze" response. But when constant stress or chemical imbalance overstimulate the amygdala, a person can live in an unending state of "fight, flight, or freeze."
I have a chronic anxiety disorder. So far as I can remember, I've always tended to overanalyze, overthink, overstress, and out-perform. My freshman year of high school, my English teacher called my mom after I'd done an excellent job on a project. He said, "Keep an eye on this one. If she continues to overdo everything like this, she's going to burn herself out." Sure enough, by my mid-twenties, I was living in a state of constant burnout. Through therapy, I realized that a lot of my anxiety was about things I have no say in or control over, like most of the things in the news.
One morning at the breakfast table, the front page of the New York Times caught my eye. There was a half-page photo of hundreds of massacred bodies, and I gagged and sobbed simultaneously. That day, I made a choice - I will limit my consumption of information about things I cannot control or influence. It's not that I don't know what's going on in the world. I make sure to keep abreast of current events; I'm just very selective about how I obtain that information.
Fear sells news, and news sells fear. Think about it... 100 years ago, you probably wouldn't know about a missing persons case 100 miles away, much less half way around the world. Now, you have access to every kidnapping story out there. Has the rate of kidnapping gone up? No, in fact, the rate of many types of crime in the U.S. has gone down across the past century. But the statistics about chronic anxiety, fear of crime, and political divisiveness have gone up. If there's less to fear, why are we more fearful? Because our access to (and consumption of) the information about crimes outside of our sphere has gone way up.
Right now, our country is in upheaval. A "perfect storm" of fear about disease, economic decline, and racial division has driven our culture to the point of utter insanity. It reminds me of stories about the Vietnam War/Civil Rights era, where protests and riots were the order of the day. But while the battle we fight appears to be very physical and "out in the open," there's a much larger battle being fought in the spiritual realm. People's very souls are at stake. Fear has driven us to madness, and the acts committed out of fear have real and lasting consequences.
The Apostle Paul knew what it was like to be a victim of mob violence - he was literally stoned to the brink of death, and the Lord saved him to preach another day. Here's what he had to say about the war we wage:
For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ (2 Corinthians 10:3-5, NIV).
He also had a few things to say about how wickedness and rejection of God affects our thought lives:
For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened (Romans 1:21).
When I was a young adult, I decided to take control of my thought life. I chose to focus on what I could control - how I treat other people, how I react to them, how I empathize and show compassion. At the time I was an atheist, but looking back on it, I can see how God used that change in focus to craft me into the much more "whole" person I am today. He taught me to let go, so that later in life I could learn how to let God have the control I'd relinquished.
Take a moment today and consider where your thoughts take you. What do you fear? What do you worry about? Which of those things can you control or influence? What are you putting into your mind that pushes you toward fear? Take your thought life captive in obedience to the Lord. "Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you" (1 Peter 5:7).