The iPhone alarm goes off underneath my pillow and I blearily tap the glass screen until it obeys. Nine more minutes of sleep. If I’m lucky it actually will be sleep, and I may even be able to repeat the cycle one more time.
But after I’m awake just enough to know that I’m thinking and not dreaming, the peace of unconsciousness vanishes, and there’s a familiar increase in heart rate. Then it happens. Dread.
Though the sensation doesn’t come every morning, it is not infrequent. Like a wave, anxieties and cares of the day ahead wash over me head to toe.
That project. That deadline. (Has it passed already?) Decisions that paralyze. That conversation I need to have. The fact that every evening is filled for the next seven. Paperwork — bills, forms, taxes — feel like a weight on my chest. No prep time for that meeting. People are not happy with me. Is this what it’s like to have a panic attack?
This morning scenario is not one that should come with any regularity to someone who has walked with Jesus for well over three decades. I should be further along by now. Have greater trust in my Father who loves me.
But I’m comforted to know that I’m in good company and that a sister in the faith has been there and offers wisdom from her journey of sanctification.
The Familiarity of Fear
“You will never overcome the fear of not measuring up until you embrace the finished work of Jesus on the cross.”
“Fear isn’t just something that I’m somewhat familiar with; it’s a temptation that has plagued my life for as long as I can remember,” writes Trillia Newbell in her recently released Fear and Faith: Finding the Peace Your Heart Craves. She can identify.
As she recounts fears and anxieties that range from going through turbulence on an airplane, to “not measuring up” to expectations of her family, church, or the world (or other mothers, wives, or body images), to imagined tragedies like losing her husband or children, Trillia invites readers “to crawl, wobble, and walk with [her] through the trials and fears that we face as we learn to replace our fears with trust and fear the Lord.”
What does God say about fear and trust in him? So many things. But it was new to me that (depending on the translation) more than 300 verses in the Bible contain the phrase “fear not.” God is familiar with the cares of his creatures — and perhaps most notably in Isaiah 41:10. I love how Trillia draws this out:
When our fear of man seems louder than our trust in him, or our fear for the future overwhelms our thoughts, or our fear and comparison strips us of our joy, the Lord proclaims to us, fear not, I am with you. . . . When your fears tell you . . .
That you are alone, God whispers . . . I am your God.
That you have to be strong, God tells you, I will strengthen you.
That you will fall and will fail . . . that you have to muster up the strength to be all that you think the Lord desires you to be and you must do it on your own . . . that you don’t measure up and never will, God tells you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.
Your fears tell you to fear; God tells you, be not dismayed.
Fighting Fear Today
What did the temptation to fear look like for the One who identified with us in every way, yet was without sin? With the cross before him and complete separation from his Father, how was Jesus able to avoid sinful fear? He cried out to his Father.
His power to overcome is the (resurrection) power available to all God’s children. Trillia writes, “You will never overcome the fear of not measuring up until you embrace the finished work of Jesus on the cross. . . . There is no better news than this.” And later in the book, “God has given me his Spirit and by his grace he will sanctify my thoughts. I can be tempted in my thoughts, but I don’t have to sin.”
Such a glorious truth. I can be tempted to fear, but I need not succumb to it. Jesus is my model for rolling fears onto my loving Father. “Casting all your anxieties upon him . . .” (1 Peter 5:7). We trust the One whose shoulders can carry the weight of all our fears.
The more we recognize fear as sin, combat it with Scripture, and give it over to our Father, the more Christlike we become. Clinging to God’s promises, we repeat them to unwanted thoughts that can put us through a terrible day before our feet ever leave the covers.
I am with you. Be not dismayed. I am your God. I will strengthen you. I will help you. I will uphold you.
Father, help me face today.