It was driving home from what I now affectionately called ‘Armageddon Asda’ that it hit me. I think the sight of empty shelves, more akin to what I have seen occasoinally in some African countries had unsettled me. Listening to the news and debate about Coronavirus on late night Radio 4, a sense of deep disquiet and foreboding slowly crept up on me. A sense of events happening that were far bigger than myself or my abiity to control. Surely, I was listening to the plot of a movie, not real news and life. As I drove on, troubling thoughts gnawed at my Spirit.
- “All of my plans are going to need to change….”
- “What on earth are we going to do about this…..?”
- “Will we be OK…. Will Jude and the kids be OK….?”
- “How bad is this going to get….?”
Situational anxiety creeps up on you. Questions are your attempt to decode, understand and adapt. The emotional response, fear, adrenalin and whirling thoughts around your head are the process of this adaption.
There is a realisation of our own mortaility.
Maybe just maybe your place and plans in this world are not as assured as you previously thought. These thoughts reveal what really drives us, what really makes us tick.
I’m a problem solver. I cope by finding solutions. Give me something difficult to sort and I’ll thrive. Given the right situation, a threat against myself or my family, I revert to type. “Where can I get supplies from?”, “2/3 of my business is under threat. How can I mitigate that?”, “What if the power goes out”. You get the idea! Others cope differently, they literally ‘bury their head in the sand”. It’s too difficult to engage with the situation. “This simply isn’t happening”, despite evidence before their very eyes. Others adopt a ‘laissez-faire’ attitude and think “It’ll never happen to me.” Admirable in some ways but pretty self centred.
Fear in all of its’ guises is the trait that connects all of this behaviour. If you can recognise yourself then it’s because you quite rightly are ‘fearful’ of the situation. One of the traits I see in online posts everywhere is that somehow it is wrong to be fearful or to feel anxiety. That’s absolute rubbish! Fear is simply a natural response to a dangerous situation. I know from personal experience that if someone threatens you with a firearm, fear is a perfectly natural response. That sinking feeling, the elevated heartbeat, the whirring, it’s all a way of your body telling you to take action, run or fight. It’s easy to say ‘it’s wrong to fear’ from an armchair!
So what does Jesus mean when he says “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”John 14:27 The Bible
There are two components of fear. One is the actual feeling, the response of your ‘being’ to a danger. The other is your reponse to that feeling. Having to deal with anxiety over the years has taught me to separate the two.
When you see people panic buying, jostling for toilet roll, fighting, just not caring or caring too much, you are observing a response to the feeling of fear and uncertainty. The bottom line is that many of us have nowhere to look but ourselves for help, solace and provision. If we are not careful that can send our behaviour into selfish self preserving overdrive.
We can react differently. The ‘peace’ that Jesus speaks of is practical not some ethereal floating feeling. We need reassurance that our life is held by another higher power. In Europe, the military pact NATO (North Atlantic treaty Organisation) was formed between stronger and weaker powers. The idea being that in the face of soviet aggession during the cold war, an attack upon one country was an attack upon everyone. It gave reassurance to ‘weaker’ nations. In the Ancient World, the same thing happened. Weaker nations made pacts with stronger nations for protection. That’s why in the Old Testament of the Bible, God forbids his people from making such a treaty. In the same way that God wanted to be the protector of a nation, he also wants to protect us.
John 14 seeks to reassure us of two things. In the first half of the chapter Jesus talks about going to heaven to prepare a place for his disciples. In the second half he promises to send the Holy Spirit to help us in the here and now. Jesus takes care of death. For those that know Jesus, we have no reason to seek to preserve our life in the face of danger. Death is a gateway to another better place. Jesus also sends us help in the here and now. We can know the direct help of God in our lives. He can provide for us, give us wisdom and teach us.
Spouting on about ‘it’s wrong to have fear’ is missing the point. Having peace in God is not about pretence, it is about trust. Knowing the truth of God so that your response to fear is trust, is another matter entirely. Trust leads us to not panic buy, not jostle, not fight. Trust leads us to help people in the presence of fear. Trust leads us to use fear appropriately, taking the proper precautions whilst taking necessary action with courage.
Fear, stress and pressure reveal what is at your heart. The right questions to ask are, what does your fear teach you and where does your fear lead you? Driving home that night my heart was overwhelmed for a while. Through many situations I am learning to use fear to drive myself to trust. In doing so, I overcome and conquer that fear but I don’t stop feeling it. I simply get up and keep walking on.
Nelson Madela, a man far better with words than myself said this:
“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”Neslon Mandela from A Long Walk to Freedom