Fear is a complicated emotion. It serves to protect—alerting us to possible danger. Sensing a threat, we freeze, take flight or fight for survival. When the threat is clear, we can respond appropriately. These instincts keep us safe, offering security and a chance to flourish.
Yet fear can also overwhelm us. When the threat is vague, diffuse or constant, we can find ourselves consumed by worry or anxiety. We struggle to make sense of our lives, as we experience times of change, economic uncertainty, natural disasters, terrorism, disease, unemployment, war or death. As we seek to process possible risks, we can find ourselves paralyzed—feeling powerless in front of uncertainty and challenges.
It is striking how pervasive anxiety is within our society today. Close to one in five people in the United States experience disruption in their life due to some form of anxiety. I hear it in conversations with parishioners, community members, family and friends of all ages. Manifested in many different ways, our brothers and sisters are struggling to find stability, security and meaning to their life amid challenges and uncertainty.
How do we respond to fear, when it is pervasive and embedded in our lives? How do we reframe the questions we live, to remove the threat?
One paradigm to consider: The opposite of fear is trust. When we believe all shall be well and what is needed will be provided, we can let go of fear, worry or anxiety and find peace.
Our faith provides the container for this trust.
Scripture tells us that God understands our tendency to fear, and continually assures us—“It’s alright, I am here.” The phrase “fear not” is used at least 80 times in the Bible.
• “Don't fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are Mine.” Isaiah 43:1
• “Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9
Pope Francis states: "The world has great fear, and spreads it. Often it makes this the key for interpreting history, and not infrequently adopts it as a strategy to build a world based on walls and trenches. We too can understand the reasons for fear, but we cannot embrace it, 'for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.' Let us draw from this spirit, and go: open doors, build bridges; weave bonds; establish friendships; promote unity. (Sept. 17, 2016)
Ultimately, where does fear lead us? Pope Francis suggests fear leads us to experience the feeling of being closed in on oneself—trapped. We become paralyzed, loosing an ability to dream, grow and create. He states, “When we are paralyzed, we miss the magic of encountering others, making friends, sharing dreams, walking at the side of others." (Prayer vigil at Campus Misericordiae, Krakow, Poland, July 31, 2016)
This Lent, we have the opportunity to root our trust in God’s love and presence. We have the challenge to identify the anxiety in our lives. As we name the undercurrents of fear, God’s love gives us the courage to attend to our hope and dreams—to think about unfulfilled potential and to work toward unity and peace. With God, all things are possible and all shall be well.