I’m a huge fan of Jane Austen, particularly Pride and Prejudice. I own the book, several of the film adaptations and just about every prequel, sequel and reimagining of the story there is. The only ones Les hasn’t been able to convince me to buy are Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and Mr. Darcy, Vampyre. I have no interest in vampires. And I certainly won’t allow them to suck the blood out of my favorite story.
This blood-sucking habit and being warded off by the cross of Jesus are the only things I really knew about vampires. But I thought those things made vampires a fitting analogy for fear.
Fear really does suck the lifeblood out of us. Like vampires, fears often rise up in the night. They can sneak up on us. They can disguise themselves as something harmless. (In the same way Satan can disguise himself as an angel of light, fear can disguise itself as a “valid concern” or a responsibility.) And you can’t really kill vampires—or fears—because they’re already dead (straight from the father of lies), yet they keep coming back to cause trouble.
What do you fear? It may be something others (or even we ourselves) consider silly. I have always been fearless in the daytime. I’ll go anywhere and explore unknown territory alone. But when darkness falls, I’m frightened. I used to be so paralyzed by it that I couldn’t stay home at night by myself. When Les was a youth pastor and would go to camp for a week, one of the youth group girls would come and stay with me. I found out after the fact that one of the guys in the youth group would park his truck down the street and watch until the house lights went out to be sure I was okay. I’ve finally learned to be alone in a house, but fear of the dark can still paralyze me if I allow it to.
Maybe what you fear is one of the big things that we all fear—sickness, the death of a loved one, being destitute, or rejection. It doesn’t matter how normal or weird a fear is, it has the power to suck all of the joy out of our lives.
One day I was taking a walk when some giant insect attacked me, landing on the inside of my glasses. I couldn’t see anything but the creature. I whipped off my glasses and there was a tiny gnat, about the size of the period at the end of this sentence.
I realized that if the gnat had been even a few feet away, I would never have noticed it. But because it was so close, right up against my eye, it loomed in my vision, appearing much larger than it actually was. Its gargantuan size was a matter of focus and perspective.
Focus and perspective make a difference in all areas of our lives. Thousands of people can die from being swept away by storms in Asia and my response is to feel momentary sadness and, if I’m pushed, to send a check to a charity to help. But when a lone woman was washed away in a flash flood on a street near my home, a street I drive regularly, I was much more affected by the tragedy. I thought about it for days. If I had actually known the woman, the event would have seemed even more horrific because I was closer to it still. Perspective makes a difference.
Perspective matters with fear as well. I can dismiss others’ fears as silly, but mine, well, they’re big and valid. And when I focus on what I fear, it looms even bigger in my vision.
When I focus on my fear it spills over into other areas of my life and seems to encompass everything, infecting my whole body and mind with its vicious virus. I become more and more fearful and it begins to affect my health, starting with a headache and spreading to other physical symptoms like queasy stomach, rapidly beating heart or insomnia.
If I can shift my focus off the fear and onto something in the distance that is stable and powerful, the fear begins to fade away. The problem or issue or circumstance might still be annoying, but it is not looming as large.
The Lord’s Prayer starts with: “Our Father who art in heaven”(Matthew 6:9). Robert Browning wrote the often-quoted line, “God’s in his Heaven—All’s right with the world!” And while none of us wants someone to come up to us in our misery and glibly say that, there is truth in it that can change our perspective of difficulties and diminish our fears.
The truth is this: God is not surprised by my surprises.
When illness strikes or a medical bill arrives in the mail or my kid gets in big trouble, God isn’t in heaven going, “Oh, my goodness, what am I going to do now?” He isn’t shocked. He doesn’t panic when I panic over an emergency situation.
He’s the king of heaven, the “‘omni” God—omnipotent (all powerful), omniscient (all knowing), omnipresent (always everywhere)—who is always with me, knows everything and can handle it all.
But more than that he is “Our Father.” My dad was an amazing, loving daddy. He wasn’t perfect but he was pretty wonderful. You may not have been so fortunate. But don’t project your father onto God. God is the father you wished you had. He is the only totally loving and wise being who cares for us. We often don’t understand our difficulties and how they fit in with a God who is good.
In The Good and Beautiful God, James Bryan Smith says:
“God’s goodness is not something I get to decide on.
I am a human being with limited understanding.”
Just as the toddler having a meltdown in the grocery store doesn’t understand why she isn’t allowed to eat three bags of cookies right now, we don’t always understand why God denies or allows certain things in our lives. But we can trust his goodness.
God’s Spirit can empower me to trust in God’s goodness even when it doesn’t feel that way in my peanut-sized brain or my oversized emotions. God is a father who loves, who guides our lives for the best, even when we can’t see it.
John 3:1 says:
“How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!”
We are his beloved children, held safely in his hand. The vampires cannot get to us. Fear not!
Adapted from my retreat of the same name that focuses on how The Lord’s Prayer and the 23rd Psalm can free us from fear.