Many of us have gone through periods of our life plagued by irrational fears. Suppose, for example, that you heard a radio warning one Halloween that sinister culprits had inserted double-edged razor blades into bananas in several supermarkets. These had been put into children’s lunch boxes and several kids had bitten into them. You cringe. You can’t get it out of your mind. Day after day you think about it more and more often. You try to forget the whole thing. But every banana reminds you, then every fruit, then every man’s shaved face. You give up bananas entirely. You turn away cringing when you see others even touch a banana. Then your mind sees razor blades in other fruit: apples, pears, peaches. Before long your life seems utterly dominated by the fear of razor blades and you can scarcely move lest you get cut.
Most of us have been spared the destructive intensity of these kinds of fixations. But we have all tasted them in part.
The most frustrating thing is how to get out, or how to help a person out. It seems so hopeless because any direct approach to healing seems counter-productive. When a person really suffers from the irrational fear that there is a razor in his banana, he is not helped by arguments about the law of probability. Irrational fears do not yield to rational evidences. So it seems that all direct approaches are doomed to failure. The urgent need is for him to forget about razor blades and eat the banana without even thinking such a grisly thought. But all direct efforts to counsel him out of the fear only serve to remind him of what he must forget.
What can we do? When I was twenty years old, I was a compulsive critic. I used to sit in the dining hall at Wheaton and have negative, belittling thoughts of every other person who walked through the line. My conscience condemned me, but I couldn’t keep the critical thoughts and ugly feelings out. All direct assaults on my slavery to sin seemed futile. But over the next two years I changed. I had not seen the change happening. I simply realized one day that I was not feeling very negative toward people; my thoughts were not captured by criticism.
The battle had not been won by direct assaults. The enemy had died through neglect due to higher, stronger, better things that began to fill my life. The secret seems to be what Thomas Chalmers called “The Expulsive Power of a New Affection.” I fell in love with Noël; I fell in love with Wordsworth, Shelley, Keats, Herbert, Gray, and Dickinson; I fell in love with Romans; I fell in love with front campus in the spring; and I fell in love with God. And without my even knowing it, the cheap, ugly, base feelings of ill-will were pushed out. And when I became conscious of what had happened, the old ways really looked and felt foolish and undesirable.
From all this I have learned that the most valuable thing we can do to free people from slavish sins and irrational fears is to circle around behind the front lines and begin to fill their lives with big and powerful realities. Most of us suffer from all-consuming puny problems because we are not enthralled by a great God or swept up in any magnificent cause.
So don’t tell him the razor isn’t there. Take him for a walk around the lake. Show him the squirrels chasing, the robins working, the fuzzy tassels on the elm. Recite to him some splendid poem that blew away the clouds for you today. Exult with him in some promise…“The hand of our God is for good upon them that seek him” (Ezra 8:22). God may grant in a year or two that he realize there are bananas on his cereal—and have been for months!
Under a new Affection,