“Fear is a useful servant but a harmful master.”
I don’t like to admit that I’m afraid. But the reality is that I am often afraid. I’ve shared over the past year with our church my struggle with anxiety. It doesn’t’ feel very manly to say, “I’m afraid.” In fact it doesn’t seem very godly to say, “I am afraid.” And I think for that reason far to many of us live secret lives of desperation.
The Bible talks a lot about fear. In fact, the most common command in the Bible is, “Do not be afraid.” And this has been somewhat problematic for me. Especially in the last few years when nightly anxiety attacks started to become a common experience.
I think the problem lies in how I’ve always heard this command of God. What I all too often hear is: It’s wrong to be afraid. You’re broken if you experience anxiety. You don’t have enough faith if you’re afraid. And so I spent many sleepless nights alone, hiding even from my wife my fear and anxiety. What would she think about me or what would the church think about their supposedly fearless leader caused me to run into hiding with my anxiety and fears.
Recently, I had an experience that has deeply shaped how understand or view this command to not be afraid. My family and I were on vacation together hanging out at the beach. I love to surf, play volleyball and really do anything that involves the ocean and sand. While at the beach we had a paddleboard and my daughter who is almost 10 years old wanted to go out with me. I was so excited to share with her something that I love. And while she was on the beach she was excited too.
She put on a life vest and off we went into the wild blue yonder. Actually we only went out about 20 or 30 yards out. What started out as excitement soon turned into shear terror as she began to notice the depth of the ocean below, the size of the waves all around and the feeling of being completely out of control.
My daughter grabbed her knees and cried desperately for me to take her back to shore. In that moment I had such compassion for her and my heart broke. I quietly and repeatedly let her know, “It’s ok, daddy’s with you. The waves aren’t as big as you think and the water isn’t as deep as it seems. I know it feels scary but your safe because I’m with you.”
We sat on that paddleboard in the midst of the beautiful yet terrifying ocean and I simply reminded her that she was ok because I was with her.
In that moment I so wished my daughter could see it from my perspective. If she went out there by herself she would have every reason to fear. She could get swept out to sea or pummeled by waves. But she was with her dad, who loves her, who would do whatever it took to take care of her and make sure she made it safely back to shore.
Her fear was bigger than what she was actually afraid of. And that’s how fear works much of the time. Fear itself expands, grows and consumes us until it’s way bigger than the thing we are actually afraid of.
It’s interesting that every command in the Bible about not being afraid is almost always coupled with the phrase; “For I am with you.”
These commands read so much differently when I hear them as the whisper of my Heavenly Father saying, “I’m with you, you don’t have to be afraid. I wish you could see it from my perspective.”
In the midst of the rising waves and the ocean deep, the whisper of the Father can be heard, “I’m with you.” He knows that waves of life seem so big and strong. And the ocean of worries, feel far too deep and dark to traverse. Even there, even now, He is with you.
When I am afraid I have to quiet my heart so I can once again hear the loving whisper of my Heavenly Father saying “I’m with you sweet child, so don’t let your heart fear. I know it feels big and scary but I am with you.”
“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9