During my second pregnancy, my struggle with anxiety led to sleepless nights and terrible nightmares. Though all the things I feared were hypothetical futures, I couldn’t help being anxious about the health and wellbeing of our baby. One night, as I lay in bed, there was a crash that came from the other room. I don’t remember what it was now but at the time, I knew it wasn’t a big deal. My daughter on the other hand, woke up and started to cry loudly for us. I saw her daddy (my heroic husband!) run in, scoop her up in his arms, and hush her back to sleep. That night, I recognized that I had just seen a small parable to God’s care for me and there was a paradigm shift in the way I handled my own fear and anxiety.
Though Jeff knew that our daughter was not in any danger and there was nothing to fear, he rushed to comfort her simply because she was scared. 1 Peter 5:8 was brought to mind, where we are told to cast our anxiety onto God because he cares for us. Up until that point, I had been trying to fight my own anxiety through telling myself reasons why I shouldn’t be afraid. First, there was nothing that indicated strongly that there was something wrong. And secondly, as a Christian, I trust that even if my worst fears came true, God would still use it for good, God still loved us, and he could be trusted. But still, I was afraid. Seeing my husband respond to our daughter even though he knew that the source of the scary sound wasn’t dangerous, I realized that the comfort offered by Scripture is not only that God cares about the things we are anxious about (i.e. that he knows what we need and will take care of us), but that God also cares about the fact that we are afraid. In other words, God does not only address my anxiety and fear by telling me why I should not be afraid, but he invites me to bring my fear and feelings of anxiety to him as his child.
I think that often, the way people (myself included) address fear and anxiety is inadequate because we think we can command ourselves or others out of being fearful. Or we think that we can just logically reason our way out of it. Or that having “enough faith” means being unafraid. In this, we miss the fact that life is scary. And we miss the tender words that God has for those of us who are easily afraid.
Jeff didn’t sternly correct our daughter when she cried because hearing a huge crash in the middle of the night and not knowing what it is when you’re only two years old — that is scary. In the same way, living in a broken and fallen world is scary. The world is not as God made it to be and is not yet what it will be when he returns, and so there is sickness, disease, suffering, pain, and death inevitably weaved somehow into all of our futures. Knowing that health and long lives and physical safety isn’t promised to those we love is scary. Stepping into relationships with sinful people who can (and will) hurt us is scary. Having our eyes open to the fact that any sense of our own security in terms of physical safety, health, financial stability, etc. is really an illusion is scary. And, “don’t be anxious, just trust God more!” though well-intentioned is not always the most helpful thing for those of us with fearful hearts to hear.
It’s true that oftentimes, I need to see that my anxiety is stemming from illogical or unbiblical thinking. I may need to remember that “non-information is not information” (as my husband has told me) because I tend to fill in unknowns with worst-case scenarios. I may need to preach to myself from Matthew 6 about how worrying doesn’t accomplish anything, how God provides all we truly need, how he cares for even the sparrows, and other precious truths such as these. But sometimes, though what I fear may not happen and I know God would pull me through it even if it did, the very fact that it could happen fills me with dread. In these moments, knowing and believing the truth doesn’t necessarily take away the fear I feel, and I am learning 1. that’s okay, and 2. what to do with the fear that remains. I am seeing that sometimes the most comforting thing is not hearing why I shouldn’t be afraid, but knowing that when I am afraid, my Father is near, he loves me, and he’s got me.
In a short video, Is It a Sin to Be Afraid?, Ed Welch talks about the fact that the New Testament addresses fear not as a sin, but a given in a scary world, and how the fearful are tenderly called to turn to God in the midst of their fear. I love how he describes the passage in Luke 12:32 here:
The imperative form in Scripture has a little more breadth than we give it credit for…The passage in Luke ‘Don’t be afraid. Don’t be anxious,’ sounds as if it is a command and then it ends with this wonderful sort of conclusion. “Don’t be afraid”– there’s the command form, then it says “little flock” And as soon as it says ‘little flock’, it gives a completely different sense of the command. It’s “I know that you are vulnerable, I know that you feel defenseless and out of control in a very very difficult world.” “Please realize,” Jesus says, “that our God is a generous God who is not sitting far way while his children are in distress. He’s the God who wants to give us the very kingdom itself.”
[…] There is an assumption that we are going to be afraid because there are perilous kinds of things– and there is one prominent question: When you are afraid, where will you turn? Will you immediately try to strategize to keep the fearful thing at bay, or will you turn to the Lord and simply offer some version of ‘Lord, help’?”
Indeed, one of the most comforting things we could ever know is that whether or not our fears come true, and whether or not we are right to be afraid, we have a Father who loves us, cares for us, and responds to our cries with his presence. He calls us to call out to him with our fearful hearts. And what a comfort it is to know that our obedience to the instruction “Do not be afraid,” is not about keeping a stiff upper lip, but is simply our response as dear children to a Father’s loving invitation.