“Fear is useless; what is needed is trust.” Luke 8:50, Mark 5:36
Have you ever had the experience of awakening from a dream, paralyzed with fear, unable to speak or perhaps even move? Most people have. Some well intended people tell us that such dreams can be the result of stress or worry over circumstances in our lives. Knowing that may assist us in understanding our overreaction, but I am not sure it helps alleviate the effects of fear.
Let’s face it; life can throw us its share of challenges, difficulties, and struggles that can be frightening and cause us to respond like we do in those terrible dreams. Though we may be able to physically move we often live as though fear has the upper hand. Unable to overcome fear, we are overcome by it. Though we develop coping mechanisms over time, or learn to hide the interior reactions caused by fear, inside, it can paralyze us and impede us from living our lives to the full.
This kind of fear seems to be compounded when the events which trigger it multiply. For example, it seems like we are being bombarded with news of catastrophes, crises and calamities on a daily basis. As a writer, preacher and Catholic deacon, I regularly use these crises as an opportunity to call people of faith to prayer and effective solidarity. However, I find myself – and the people around me – overwhelmed at the magnitude of it all these days. It gets to the point where we can fear opening the laptop, listening to the radio or turning on the television. One of effects of the saturation can be an increase of one of the most crippling of human emotions, misplaced fear and the anxiety it breeds in our daily lives.
The Sacred Scriptures are filled with admonitions against this kind of fear. Yet, the admonitions alone will not help us to overcome it. Only something stronger than fear- with the capacity to change us inside – can liberate us from its chains. That something is some One; the one who understands all of our fears and has opened the way to overcoming them through and in the embrace of His Redemptive Love. That someone is Jesus Christ who became like us – in all things but sin- so that we can become like Him. The author of the Letter to the Hebrews writes of Jesus, “Now since the children share in blood and flesh, he (Jesus ) likewise shared in them, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and free those who through fear of death had been subject to slavery all their life” (Heb 2:14-15)
The Lord understands our fears because in His sacred humanity He experienced them. He also enables us to overcome them. He removes the root and source of fear for those who choose to trust in Him. Most fear is rooted in a lack of trust in God’s love. We fear that we will lose our health. We fear that we will not have enough money. We fear that we will fail at a job or career or on an exam. We fear that we will not be accepted. Then, as some of us grow older and have children, and then grandchildren, we fear the same things for each one of them. Perhaps we are no longer as crippled by our fears as we were when we were younger, but they still lurk in the background, robbing our freedom and preventing our human flourishing. They harm our relationships and can impede our growth. All of our fears find a common root in the fear of death which can lead to the living slavery spoken of in the Letter to the Hebrews cited above.
The “Good News” (that is what the word “Gospel” means) is that this kind of fear is useless! Fear need no longer have any power over us if we choose to trust in the Lord. All of these kinds of human fear can be dispelled in the light of a vibrant and growing faith. The fear over ill health does little to change it. We are called to live as stewards of the wonderful gift entrusted to us in our whole person, body, soul and spirit. However, the reality is that sickness and age will affect every one of us. The difference is how we choose to respond. Some of the happiest people I have ever known are those who, in the midst of sickness or declining health, have trusted the Lord. They walk in a deep and abiding relationship with Him and receive the grace to join their suffering with His, becoming transformed in the process.
Then there is “failure” in our careers, or the tasks of our day to day lives. Let’s face it; we will “fail”, at least in the eyes of some who do not have the eyes to see deeper truths. Other times, the very failure bears the fruit of liberating us at a deeper level as we come to understand the things which matter most. The beauty of living by faith, of walking in trust, is we discover that in the classroom of our lives it is our “failures” that become our greatest teachers on the road to conversion and transformation. The truly “successful” people I know are those who were educated in the school of failure. They have learned to trust in the Lord. In Him, failure is transformed by faith into the triumph of holiness.
Then, there is death, that “last enemy”, the root and source of every other fear. For those who trust in the Lord, death has been defeated by the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. The Apostle Paul wrote to the Christians in Corinth “Death is swallowed up in victory. Where, O death is your victory? Where, O death is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 15:55)
When we trust in the Lord, death loses its “sting” in our lives. No longer an enemy it becomes a change of lodging. Paul wrote in that same letter: “But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead came also through a human being. For just as in Adam all die, so too in Christ shall all be brought to life, but each one in proper order: Christ the first fruits; then, at his coming, those who belong to Christ; then comes the end, when he hands over the kingdom to his God and Father, when he has destroyed every sovereignty and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.”(1Corinthians 15:7-26)
So, as the crises seem to be increasing, we need to hear these words, “Fear is useless, what is needed is trust”. Jesus still speaks them to you and to me. Let’s choose today to hear them and the begin to walk in the way of faith filled trust. The trust we are called to is not naiveté, it is living faith in Some-One, who gives us all we need. He has gone before us and paved the way.