It was the second day of our family vacation. There were cousins, aunts, uncles and nieces. We were gathered around a high, indoor rock-climbing wall. An older gentleman helped 12-year-old Grace and 9-year-old Joseph with the harnesses, and told them there was a button they were to push at the very top. Before long they had made it to the top and returned.
I am afraid of heights. Normally, I imagine the worst. I envision accidently falling off the side, or tripping or getting dizzy and slipping. But this rock-climbing wall didn’t seem that bad. Besides, I had been working out a bit and thought I might have a shot. So, when Grace asked, I said I’d give it a try.
The first portion was easy. Then, after about six feet, still barely more than you’d find at a local public park, irrational fear began to take hold. My heart began to race.
Ironically, “do not be afraid” is the most repeated phrase throughout the Bible. So, while fear is present with us each day, in trifling and serious ways, it has also been present throughout salvation history. And while it can keep us alive, it can also keep us from living.
What if Abraham had been frozen with fear and never left Ur? What if Moses had buckled and refused to lead the Israelites out of Egypt? What if Joseph, when approached by the angel, refused to set fear aside and take Mary as his wife? Salvation history would be different.
So what are we to do?
The holy men and women in the Bible had fear, not just once, but repeatedly. But they worked through it. What changed? Scripture speaks of two key ways to beat fear: focus on loving Christ and on his promises.
Scripture tells us perfect love drives out fear.
Think of a person you absolutely love with all your heart. Perhaps your wife or, if you’re not married, how about a mother or father? Do you fear him or her? Are you concerned about your safety around him or her, worried that he or she might cause you harm or fail to have your best interest in mind? The more perfectly we love and are loved, Scripture tells us that there is no room for fear.
God tells us he will take care of us if we place our trust in him. Not just on Sundays, but every day. When we are anxious, do we heed the words of Scripture and pray about our anxieties?
Through prayer, our love of Christ grows. Do we stop at the end of the day and share our disappointments, struggles and sadness?
Perhaps we are distraught by a friend going through a divorce; perhaps a friend is dealing with cancer or is affected by a loved one with cancer. At the end of the day, do we sit down and do as Scripture says? Do we “by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present our requests to God”?
A good physician friend of mine called me the other day. He had been working with a new resident. He told the young man that his career would be difficult. He would see many hard things and would need to provide care and wisdom, despite being beset by many emotions.
If he didn’t have a quiet spot in his home at the end of each day to be still, he would burn out quickly. My friend was talking about prayer. The young resident gave him a bear hug and thanked him profusely.
Scripture also encourages us to remember his promises. Often, when people are exhorted to put fear behind them in the Bible, they are reminded of God’s faithfulness: We aren’t to fear, because it is “our Father’s good pleasure to give us his kingdom.” We aren’t to fear because “God will strengthen and help us.”
Do we call these promises to mind in difficult situations or do we dwell on the danger?
As I got halfway up the climbing wall, I looked to the top. From the middle, the top appeared completely out of reach. It was unthinkable. I remembered the bit of advice that Grace had given me, “Don’t look down; just look at the pegs near your arms.”
My heart continued to race. My limbs were shaking. My kids had climbed to the top, and here I was, a grown man, nearly paralyzed in fear.
I stopped to rest. Then I took some long, slow breaths. I didn’t look down. I placed my foot on another peg. Then another.
Sure, being stuck on a climbing wall is trivial. But when we’re chatting with a stranger and he or she shares what gives his or her life meaning, do we share about our personal relationship with Jesus?
Or do we, as I did about a month ago, just listen and pass up the opportunity out of fear? What if he thought I was a kook? What if I couldn’t explain myself properly?
I forgot God’s promise that he would help strengthen me. I forgot to focus on his words of assurance. I didn’t give him a chance.
I made it to the top of the climbing wall. And once I returned to the ground, it didn’t look nearly as imposing. My daughter chuckled a bit when I told her 30 minutes later that my heart was still pounding.
It was a good reminder. Fear doesn’t have to mean failure. While the situation may seem too formidable, as I’m sure it did for Abraham, Moses, Mary, Joseph, and that out of shape dad half way up the climbing wall, Scripture gives us two ways to drive out fear: Focus on the love of Christ and his promises.
(Joe is married to Teresa. They have four children and run a joyful home in Plymouth. Opportunities for heavenly-inspired humor abound. Joe, a librarian, and Teresa, a physical therapist, are parishioners at St. John the Baptist, Plymouth.)