Adapted from my newsletter column to the church this week at www.vhbc.com:
As I was looking over past writings and came upon this one, from 1994. It still seems useful for now.
“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1).
The problem of life is not faith, but fear. Fear of failure can paralyze a talented person from ever trying. The fear of success can explain why many equally-talented people seem to sabotage themselves just on the brink of success or achievement. Psychologists tell us that fear is the root of much procrastination in the perfectionist who can never begin the task until she is a little better prepared.
Fear can keep us silent in the face of evil when we should have spoken. It is the fear of change that paralyzes our wills and reduces life to discontented mumbling against fate rather than risking ourselves to move forward. The fear of death can turn us hollow and brittle, fearful of a misstep and terrified of suffering. Fear grants a thousand deaths to a cowering heart.
Change, all change, brings fear with it. Transitions surpass our past copings and leave us exposed and vulnerable. We are once again where we find ourselves continually in life: thrown back on our wits and facing the unknown.
Every day, every week, we are facing changes as individuals, as the church, as families. The creative possibility is that in the face of change we will choose with courageous faith to trust God’s new life through us rather than fear.
Parker Palmer says that “the core message of all the great spiritual traditions is ‘Be not afraid’…the failure is to withdraw fearfully from the place to which one is called, to squander the most precious of all our birthrights–the experience of aliveness itself.”
As we look at the world around us, it is not a brilliant observation to see that we are in a time of suspicion, distrust and unkindness. The cheapness of life, the anger and fear of our culture, and the rampant selfishness of too many is easy to see. But what to do about it?
My friend Guy Sayles, retired former pastor at First Baptist in Asheville, NC, was interviewed by the local paper about the election reactions to it. He said:
We can all see that we live in a bitterly divided nation, and the division isn’t simply into two different worlds but into multiple ones. We all share fear in common….All of us — left, right, center; red, blue and purple — feel gripped by powers and realities we can’t comprehend or control and which diminish and demean us. The fear we have in common is the greatest threat to the love we could have for each other. Fear keeps us from singing and dancing together as beloved children of God.
As we come to the Christmas season, we would do well to remember that for fear to continue to control us it requires our cooperation, to believe in that which is not, finally, real.
If hope is to live in such a world of fear, it too must have something real and tangible living in the world to keep it alive. Thus Jesus came, “the light that came into the world.” He came to liberate us from our fears and free us to serve one another and God. That is my own conviction.
In this season of winter’s darkness, let us seek the light. In times of hate, love. In a world of discontent, peace. In a time of bitterness, forgiving love. In a society consumed with itself, the love of neighbor. We cannot be better people without God’s help, but if we believe in God, we can trust God to make of us all that we cannot do alone. This, it seems to me, is the way ahead–confident trust, not fear. And if the Bible is true, to never forget that love “perfect love casts out all fear.” To sing, and pray, and dance together again. That is God’s dream.
Years ago, I sang the song “Never Alone” at a nursing home. A young woman who obviously had been through some sort of trauma leaving her with obvious physical disabilities really responded to my new cover of the old hymn. She told me her remarkable story of being thrown through a windshield and having to be shocked back to life at the scene. That was followed by more than a year in a coma in which she was unable to respond, although she knew what was going on. One day, she said, she had a vision. “Jesus appeared to me and said, ‘I won’t ever leave you alone.Don’t be afraid.” Enjoy this song, which I gave to her, from Shades Mountain Air’s first CD. Click to listen to “Never Alone”
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all my friends, and all faiths or none: may your life be full of love and kindness and peace.