One idea jumped out at me in our readings this week. Even though they occur in different portions of scripture, the same concept seemed to be popping out — in Jesus’ encouragement to his followers, in Abraham’s words to a mother and child being cast out, in the cries of the Psalmist. In fact, variations of the phrase occur over 100 times throughout the Bible in all different kinds of situations. The idea?
Do. Not. Fear.
I think about fear a lot and have written about it in this space often. It has been a huge part of my life. I hate to admit it, but it’s true. Even going back through childhood, I could name all types of things that frightened me —
Bugs (That scene in Indiana Jones & the Temple of Doom still haunts me)
The dark (You can’t see anything…)
Heights (I used to dream that I was falling when sleeping in church)
Generally, this is pretty normal fare. We all have things that creeped us out (probably still do), and most of these are harmless. But as we age, the list changes and darkens, doesn’t it? How many of our decisions are motivated by fear? How much is it evident in our behavior? Whether it’s fear of failure or ending up alone or weakness or the idea that deep down we’re really just not that lovable.
These types of fears are not harmless. They are lies that can take root in our lives, taking control of decisions and words and actions. And maybe that’s why over and over again as we read scripture, we hear it ringing in our ears —
Now to be fair, fear can be an exceptional motivator. Early on fear tells us that if we touch glowing red things, we might just get burned. Later on fear of termination compels us to get out of bed when we don’t really feel like going to that first job. Fear helps to keep us in line and on the straight and narrow. A healthy amount of fear is necessary to live in the world as we should.
Fear serves as an excellent wake-up call, but is lousy as a sustainer of good living.
So we cannot let fears rule our lives. As Christians, we are called to be people of love and grace and hope and forgiveness. These things stand in direct opposition to fear.
In the movie Coach Carter, Samuel L. Jackson plays a new coach who comes in to instill discipline and winning to a group of young guys who had rarely experienced either. All along he teaches them about basketball, but also about life. Throughout the movie, to one boy in particular, he keeps asking, “What is your greatest fear?” And in one of the movie’s dramatic scenes, the guy finally responds: (This clip contains a curse word, so if you are sensitive to that, you may want to skip the video)
The young man was quoting the words of Marianne Williamson in her book A Return to Love. Here is the full quote (emphasis mine):
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn’t serve the world. There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we’re liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.
Fear always finds its root deep within us, deep down into our core where our identities are formed and shaped. No matter how our fear manifests itself, it almost always has to do with this: Maybe I’m not good enough. Maybe I’m not special. Maybe I’m not lovable. Maybe I’m all alone.
What we see in scripture is not a promise that we are somehow amazing or talented or extraordinary, although some of us are. Instead we find the promise that we are all God’s children. Every single one of us.
The antidote to fear is not some shallow promise about our identity, but rather a call to remember the character of God. We are his children, so we should not fear. He loves us. We will won’t be forgotten. And to those deep fears of our heart he answers: You are good because I made you. You carry my glory with you. I have always loved you. You are never alone.
So today, no matter what fears are hounding you, no matter what doubts you find creeping up in your heart, may you hear the words repeated over and over again in scripture. God is loving and kind. He is our Father. He will never leave us.
Do. Not. Fear.