Some people have accused me of being a pessimist. (Though we prefer to be called realists, thank you very much.) I suppose I am guilty, at times, of having a negative outlook on certain aspects of life. But, honestly, aren’t we all? I refuse to believe that anyone who has received crappy customer service, sat for hours in five o’clock traffic or suffered food poisoning at the hands of a careless restaurant hasn’t, at the very least, had a negative thought about such occurrences. It’s just human nature. We may resist the urge to react in a malicious or vengeful manner. We may refrain from complaining. But for most of us, a negative thought will at least manifest itself in our conscious mind.
Years ago, I came to the realization that much of my pessimism about bigger life issues was actually rooted in fear — a fear of the unknown or of stepping out of my comfort zone to pursue things that would, whether I would admit it or not, ultimately benefit my life in the long run. Fear, particularly irrational fear, can cripple us in ways that we can’t even imagine. It can shackle us to a life of overly cautious actions and halfhearted attempts.
These days, there’s no shortage of things to fear. There’s no shortage of doom-and-gloom prophecy. Just turn on your TV and find the first news network you can. There’s terrorism and the threat of attacks on U.S. soil. There’s economic collapse and stagnant job markets. There’s cyber attacks, school shootings, riots, racial violence, cults, Ebola, Progressivism, Communism and, well, that creepy Annabelle doll.
There are plenty of terrifying things. Plenty of depressing things.
I recently had a conversation with a reader, Leslie, who said she was starting to watch national news more frequently. My first thought was: Why wouldn’t you watch the news? But that’s the journalism nerd in me. I’m constantly keeping up with politics and world events. But, for many people, the news can be depressing, frustrating, sad, dark and even morbid at times. I get that. In fact, it’s probably healthy to limit your news consumption.
But Leslie, who is simply trying to stay more informed, admitted to me that she was terrified of current world events:
I look at everything that's happening in the world and I wonder what the heck is going on. It’s like society is falling apart, you know? We’re worried about terrorists coming over here to kill more Americans, but we’re too busy killing each other out of stuff like hate and racism. I’ve been reading your posts and they help me to see the bigger picture and to laugh and find humor in politics. I like how you write and that you keep morals and Christian views in your posts. There’s a lot of writers online who don’t really care about God and the Bible. I just can’t help but to be afraid of all these big things that are going on like terrorism and violence and now especially with this whole Ebola outbreak. I mean, it’s like we’re all just waiting for the next bad thing to happen and what if it happens to me or my family? I don’t really know if I want to have kids in the future because of how bad and ridiculous the world is right now. And I think it will just keep getting worse. Sometimes I think I’m the only person who panics about stuff like this. Maybe I’m just weird. Are you worried about the things you write about?
I’m glad I was able to chat with Leslie about these issues and I’ll take this opportunity to not only offer a more in-depth response to her, but to anyone who may be worried about the current state of affairs in the U.S. and, really, around the world. It won’t be a perfect response because, well, honestly, there’s no perfect answer. There’s no answer that will magically eradicate fear and all the bad things in this world. But, for what it’s worth, this is my two cents.
First, I appreciate the kind words about my blog, Leslie. It means a lot to have readers who respond with messages, comments and in-person conversations. I read somewhere that there are over 152 million blogs on the Internet and over 410 million readers — and these numbers increase exponentially every day. So to even have a handful of readers and subscribers is quite an honor. I don’t really deserve any sort of platform to broadcast my thoughts, but I’m grateful for the opportunity God has given me.
Secondly, know that you’re not alone in your fears. I often find myself fearful of the future and of the evil that is plaguing our nation in the forms of terrorism and moral decay. It’s scary to think about end-of-the-world “apocalyptic” stuff — to think that God may be warning our country of what’s on the horizon and reminding us that we need to be prepared, both physically and spiritually.
It’s worth mentioning here that fear isn’t always a bad thing. There are some forms of fear that are actually quite healthy (the “fear” of the Lord for instance) and there are things that we should “fear” out of respect for their power — F5 tornadoes, great white sharks, Newton’s Law of Gravity and the like. You might enjoy a cool breeze, beach waters and skydiving as much as the next guy, but you wouldn’t stand in the eye of a tornado just to enjoy the breeze, swim alongside a Great White just for fun or leap out of a plane without a parachute.
It’s the irrational fears, however, that can grab ahold of us and cripple our lives — and I suspect those are the sort of fears of which Leslie speaks. I know that we all wish that there was some sort of profound, awe-inspiring answer to be found here. I would be lying if I said I’ve discovered it. But, fortunately, there are some basic truths and principles we can adhere to and practice as we face our fears.
My first suggestion, one that comes from personal experience, would be to simply pray on a regular basis. I know that this sounds like the “Christian-ese” answer (to quote my former youth pastor), but in reality, it’s one of the first things any believer should do. Ask God to grant you the ability to trust Him on a deeper level — to trust that He’ll take care of you in the midst of this crazy world. In the midst of all of this seemingly pointless chaos. You don’t have to lock yourself in a quiet room or secluded place. Just have conversations with God as your go throughout your day. Talk to Him about the things that frighten you. (Philippians 4:6)
Also, remember that you were created for a purpose. (Ephesians 2:10) Your life has meaning and there’s a reason you’re alive and in the world. Allowing fear to keep you from fulfilling God’s purpose for your life would be a rejection of that purpose, albeit an unconscious or unintentional rejection. The world may be falling apart, but you may be here to save a small part of it — to lead someone to Christ, to be a positive example in your workplace, to solve our collapsing economy, to cure cancer, invent the first flying car (yes, please) or to just bring a little joy to an elderly widow’s life. Who knows? God does. (Jeremiah 29:11) And when you trust Him, He’ll take care of the rest.
As a human being, a person, you, and all of us, have a unique ability to effect real change in the world. This is part of what separates us from the rest of creation. No lion, rock or tree can speak truth, challenge cultural corruption, rescue the downtrodden, encourage the heartbroken, love the unloveable, or exercise creativity in ways that shape the course of human history and its future. But you can.
We have abilities and powers of influence beyond our comprehension and responsibilities that God has bestowed upon us. With one word we can encourage or attack. We can speak truth or deceive. We can love or hate. We can elevate or demean. Our sinful choices can destroy another person’s life, or even our own (and often do) and, by the same token, our virtuous choices can shine as a light in a dark culture teetering on the brink of moral anarchy.
Leslie, I know you’ll continue to question bringing children into this world. You're not alone in this either. It’s a choice that only you can make. I’m not a parent myself and won’t be having kids in the near future, so I can’t speak from personal experience in this area. But I do know that raising your kids to always have hope, adhere to absolute truth and to have courage will equip them for anything the world may throw at them. Having courage is important. My parents claimed Joshua 1:9 for my life and it’s still the passage I turn to when I’m afraid of anything.
I know much of this probably doesn’t answer your questions or calm your fears the ways that you hoped it would. I know it doesn't make terrorism, Ebola, cancer or racism vanish from the face of the Earth. Honestly, that stuff will be around until God decides that enough is enough. He’ll bring this all to an end one day and evil and sin and pain will be destroyed. But until then, hold fast to hope and pray for the courage to find and fulfill your purpose in this life.
I know it's one thing to say that and another to actually do it. I wish I could say that I've mastered the art of conquering fear. I wish I could say that I've arrived at some higher plateau of understanding. But I'm just as weak, afraid, fallible and human as the next person. I hope that, if nothing else, you were able to find some small bit of encouragement in our talk and in my meager extended response here. Maybe if Christians, and people everywhere, spent more time confessing our fears, encouraging one another and asking these deeper questions, the world would be a better place.
Thanks for reading, Leslie.
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