Nothing to Fear

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about fear.  

The things I’m afraid of in my own life that are deeply personal (what if the people I love get hurt? What if I wake up at 85 with deep regrets about my life? What if I never get to be a mom?)  and the macro fears swirling around in our broken and beautiful world. The coronavirus and upcoming election are rising to the top, but the “standard” fears are still with us – the poverty, homelessness, refugee displacement, racism, violence.

So much pain, so much fear.

Last week was Ash Wednesday, and our church has a beautiful tradition of setting out planter boxes of dirt for congregants to interact with during the service.  The best part is the kids who are really living their best lives being told that playing in dirt is sanctioned at church. There was a bowl of acorns next to the planters, meant to represent something we needed to bury in the dirt this season of Lent, to make way for new life (I know, there are some very creative people in my church – I love it.)  As I knelt before a planter box, joyful kiddos being hushed by parents on either side of me, I let the damp earth fall from my fingers and thought about Lent.

In years past I’ve given up different things for Lent – social media, online dating – and I have experienced the value of changing my default routine and making space for a different way of thinking and being, making more space for reflection and connection with God.

This year though I’ve been reflecting on how my default personality is to be a rule follower #enneaagramoneinthehouse  I start to think that the path to salvation is paved with to-do lists and a strict flossing regimen. Rules are my crutch, a place where instead of turning to God for help and peace in the midst of my fear, I turn to my own ability to tow the line to protect myself and feel safe.

So, adding another rule or regulation for Lent isn’t going to deepen my spiritual practice this season.  I was thinking about this as I played in the dirt and I pondered what – if anything – I should give up for Lent. The word sprang to mind immediately – fear. I reached for an acorn, thinking I would “bury my fear,” that I should double down on self discipline and force myself to not be afraid (I know, I see the flaws in this plan too).  I stopped though, and the phrase that sprang to mind next was “What if there is nothing to fear?

Is there pain in this world?  Hell yes. Is there loss, tragedy, unspeakable grief and suffering? Alas yes. I’m not saying there is no pain, no loss.

And yet.

And yet if I truly believe the gospel, then the worst has already happened – Christ conquered death, and we have life and hope through him. If I believe the things I say I believe, then the reality, the truest truth, is that there is nothing to fear.

God has me and the people I love and this whole broken, hurting world cradled gently in His hands of love. I can be human, I can feel fear and grief and anxiety and loss – I can feel those things but the reality is that there is no “worse case scenario” that is beyond God’s reach.

As I knelt before the Lenten dirt, I dropped the acorn back in the bowl and instead scooped up a handful of earth and let it slip slowly through my fingers, thinking about the circle of life –  “ashes to ashes, dust to dust.” I thought about my dad, and how losing him suddenly was the most painful experience of my life – and yet the bottom didn’t drop out of my life.  12 years later, his love in my life continues, our family continues, the love he poured into me is still here. There is pain, yes, but there is also so much beauty and so much love.

As I went back to my seat we sang the closing hymn – it was a song by Audrey Assad called “Nothing to Fear.” I started laughing out loud – I love when God loses all subtlety and really hammers a point home. Got it, God, message received. 

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you

And the depths of the river shall not overwhelm

When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned

I am the Lord, I am the Lord

And there is nothing to fear, nothing to fear

There is nothing to fear, nothing to fear

For I am with you always

Ooh, ooh

In the depths of your sorrow, I wept beside you

When you walked through the shadow, I drew you near

And yesterday, today, tomorrow, always the same

I am the Lord, I am the Lord

And there is nothing to fear, nothing to fear

There is nothing to fear, nothing to fear

For I am with you always

The next morning I opened my bible to my favorite passage, 1 John 4:7 and I noticed a verse I had never noticed before.

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God…No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us….There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear…”

There is a scene in the Harry Potter books when the students are fighting a boggart, a shape-shifter which morphs into the thing each student is most afraid of.  In Harry’s case it becomes a dementor, a creature which feeds on fear and unhappiness and sucks the joy out of its victims. When Dumbledore realizes this is the thing Harry is most afraid of he smiles at him and says, “Well Harry this shows that the thing you fear most…is fear. Wise indeed!”

Fear can bring out the worst in humanity – or it can bring out the best. One of my favorite #wordnerd gems from a book I read once was learning that the word “crisis” comes from the Greek word meaning “to sift” – as in it forces everything that doesn’t matter to fall away. I have experienced that in spades this week – I’ve never been more grateful for my coworkers who are dropping everything to jump into action and support each other.  I’ve seen the very best come out in people and it’s beautiful to watch.

So, my plan in this season – of Lent, of Coronavirus anxiety, of election uncertainty – is to fight fear with love.  I was sucked into a Coronavirus-preparedness work vortex this week that will likely continue for awhile and I’m trying to root and ground myself in the same question – how do I love well today? How do I love this person in front of me, how do I respond to the fear and anxiety not with more fear and anxiety, but with love? 

Fear can’t survive where love flourishes.

There is nothing to fear.