Confession 459: Deny Fear

After calling the crowd together with his disciples, Jesus said to them, “All who want to come after me must say no to themselves, take up their cross, and follow me.

I have to be completely honest with you this morning…I’ve been a little freaked out this week. As someone who struggles with anxiety anyway, the global corona-mania has left me feeling more than a little on-edge. It’s like I wake up each morning already having had three cups of coffee. I can’t focus, I can’t settle. I just keep waiting for more bad news. I don’t know if I’m over-reacting, under-reacting, or just reacting. The problem is that there are just so many mixed messages. I’m not a virologist or epidemiologist or any sort of ologist for that matter, but I do believe in seeking out facts and know these things:

  • most of us will get the virus at some point in the next couple of years
  • over 80% of those who have coronavirus will be fine
  • the elderly and those with pre-existing conditions are most vulnerable
  • the extreme measures that are being taken by government officials are precautionary
  • no one needs to stock up on toilet paper (seriously…put the tp back…it’s not the stomach flu and this is no time to tp your neighbor’s house)

And yet, despite having these facts firmly established in my pre-frontal cortex, my limbic system is a hot mess! Disney World closed for crying out loud….surely this is a sign of the apocalypse, right?!

Interestingly enough, Scripture says not. As I was reading through my Lenten study of Mark this morning, the Spirit passed along a message that I very much needed to hear. In Mark 8, Jesus is traveling around Judea with his disciples. He’s already fed two crowds of people with just a bit of bread and fish. He’s also healed several people and brought a young girl back from the dead. Jesus finally decides that it’s time to be brutally honest with his disciples about his divine mission to save the world. It does not go well….Peter, ever the impulsive one, rebukes Jesus for saying that he will suffer and die. This is not the way to lead a grass roots movement. Jesus tells Peter, “You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.” (Mark 8:33)

But, that’s not all. Jesus then turns to his entire posse and call Peter out. “Look,” Jesus says. “Do you really want to follow me? Well, guess what? It’s not about you! Those who truly seek to follow me must deny themselves…” When we hear Jesus’ words about self-denial, we often think of the material. We think Jesus wants us to only relinquish our physical comforts and securities in order to focus on the Gospel. Give up materialism and take on generosity. However, as I was reading this passage this morning, I had an epiphany. What if Jesus isn’t just talking about the physical here? What if he’s telling us that in order to follow him, we need to deny our most primal emotions, too? To follow Jesus, we need to deny our fear.

Fear is a primal emotion. It is absolutely necessary to our survival. If we didn’t fear, we’d never make it past the age of two. However, fear is an emotion that is usually self-focused. Fear keeps us from seeing and responding to the needs of others because we are focused on self-preservation. This type of thinking is completely counter to what Jesus lived and preached. Jesus knew the horrors he would face under trial, imprisonment, and execution. He agonized over it in the garden the night of his arrest. And yet, Jesus denied his fear and went to meet his captors anyway…because the world needed his saving grace.

The book of Mark tells us that when Jesus looked out at all of the hungry people following him, he had compassion on them. This then, I think, is how we are to respond to a world in need. When we look around and see people who are sick, or hungry, or frightened, we must have compassion and not fear. We must ask God to enable us through the Holy Spirit to deny our fear in this time of uncertainty and to give us a spirit of compassion so that we might share God’s love through this crisis. Here are some practical steps I think that we Jesus folk can take during the course of this pandemic.

  1. Don’t spread fear. Stick to the facts. Be cautious, but not fearful. Get information from the WHO or CDC, not Facebook or Twitter.
  2. Seek out the most vulnerable citizens in your community and determine now how you might help them through this pandemic. If it’s your neighbors, make it a point to check in with them. Talk to you pastor about ways your church might work to ensure the most vulnerable in the community are cared for. This might involve starting a calling tree to check in on older church members or those with other health conditions. You could also arrange meal or grocery deliveries for those who are being encouraged to avoid large public gatherings. While you’re at it, take a few rolls of that toilet paper you’ve got piled in your closet over to a neighbor. Seriously friends, we really need to stop stocking up on toilet paper.
  3. Make a plan to provide assistance to families in need. School are closing across the nation. This means that many parents will be struggling to find childcare. It also means that thousands of children who depend on school breakfasts and lunches will be left hungry. How can you meet the needs of these families and individuals? Consider partnering with community organization to provide meal deliveries to families with children who depend on free or reduced lunches. If you’re comfortable with the idea, consider offering a neighbor in need of childcare some free babysitting during working hours.
  4. Support healthcare workers and first responders. If they’re not already, healthcare workers are going to be bearing most of the burden for this crisis. Consider ways you might show your support to those workers. Work with friends, community groups, and churches to assess the needs of healthcare workers and first responders. Then, work together to try and meet those needs. Don’t go to the ER right now unless it is truly an emergency. And, be thoughtful about going to the doctor. It’s not okay to overwhelm them by freaking out over a runny nose.
  5. Listen to officials and follow their directives. Politics aside, most local health departments and CDC officials know what they’re doing. So, listen to them and follow their instructions. While practicing social distancing might seem a bit over-the-top, consider the ripple effects of our actions. Social distancing is put into place to protect vulnerable populations. Remember, we’re focusing on compassion for others.

Like all alarming events, this too shall pass. Because we’re humans and just can’t seem to create God’s kingdom here on earth, there will be another crisis down the road. Whatever the future brings, I pray we will meet it with compassion.

I have compassion for these people

Blessings and Peace