“We have nothing to fear, but fear itself.”
Sounds inspiring. Too bad we don’t believe it.
America is drowning in fear. A fast-spreading virus. Economic collapse. Educational gaps caused by schools closing. A second wave of coronavirus in the fall. Losing our jobs. Not having enough personal protective equipment to go around. What if governors reopen their states too early? Can we trust the President? These aren’t just my observations—they’re researched facts.
A recent Pew Research Center poll showed that 75% of all U.S. adults still believe the worst is yet to come and 66% were worried that restrictions might be lifted too soon.
We aren’t the land of the free. We’re the land of the fear.
That was true before coronavirus came to our shores. There’s no other place on earth with as much anxiety, as much paranoia, as much neuroses, as many seat belts and helmets and insurance policies and disaster plans and OSHA regulations and general stress about when the other shoe is going to drop. We in the good old U S of A are winning in the fear department.
Scientifically, fear is a chain reaction in the brain. A stimulus (like opening your news app or hearing an unexpected noise at midnight) triggers chemicals in your brain to release, preparing you to respond. Your heart begins to race. Your breathing increases. Your muscles are energized, ready to move.
Racing heart? Labored breathing? Stressed muscles? Sounds like a normal day in America.
Science has recognized three responses to fear: fight, flight, or freeze. Two months into this COVID-19 pandemic, most people I know have adopted one of these.
Some people are fighting. They’re picketing on statehouse lawns, demanding work be opened, or turning on the people closest to them, with marriages and children caught in the crosshairs.
Some people are flying away from the situation. The wealthy are fleeing to isolated retreats on private beaches or snow capped mountains. Others remain home, but flee from reality by binging Netflix, eating too much, or staying glued to social media.
Still others, like a rabbit, have chosen to freeze. They stockpiled toilet paper and peanut butter, determined not to come out again until summer is in full swing. They’ve chosen to put life, work, and relationships on hold in the name of survival. Everything around them is at a standstill.
The initial feeling of fear, that cascade of events in your brain, it isn’t a choice. But your response is. And there’s something better than fight, flight or freeze. It’s faith.
Faith isn’t an intellectual set of values.
It’s not a talking point or a list of things you won’t do. It’s a drive to move.
God’s command to not be controlled by fear is all over the Bible. One of my favorites is spoken to Joshua, the leader of the fledgling nation of Israel, after leaving slavery in Egypt. As he prepares to lead the people into their new homeland, God speaks to him:
“Haven’t I commanded you: be strong and courageous? Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.”
Joshua’s faith propelled him to move into uncharted territory, to sharpen sword and spear in preparation for battle. He could practice faith—he could move—because he knew God was with him.
All around us, people are choosing fight, flight or freeze. We, the “people of faith,” present a 4th option. How are we doing with that? Do we look different from the people around us? Are we living in a way where faith is visible? Are we moving?
Every hero in the Bible felt fear, but chose to move anyway.
Abraham followed God into a land he’d never visited before. Moses overcame a speech impediment. Elijah faced 850 prophets of false gods in an epic showdown. Esther faced certain death to save her people from genocide and Shadrach, Meschah and Abednego chose not to bend their knee to an idol. Mary overcame the fear of an unwed pregnancy in a society where that was a capital offense and Joseph chose to walk alongside her. And that’s just a flyover.
Fear happens. But the faithful still move.
In 1933, Franklin Roosevelt had been elected to his first term as President. He inherited the Great Depression and a whooping 25% unemployment rate. Roosevelt is remembered as one of our most successful presidents, not because everyone was happy-clappy during his time in office, but because he motivated the nation to move despite their fears. From the first words of his inaugural address, it’s obvious FDR didn’t come to the party to sit.
“First of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance… This is no unsolvable problem if we face it wisely and courageously. There are many ways it can be helped, but it can never be helped merely by talking about it. We must act and act quickly.”
Damn. That’s good. Biblical, actually. And, there isn’t much evidence that FDR was a believer.
No matter your opinions of coronavirus and the worldwide response, the only thing we need to fear right now is the way fear is crippling us.
How it’s stopped us from advancing. How it’s slammed the brakes on anything except retreat. And before you turn your finger to point at a politician or a state or a stay-at-home-order, you should look at yourself. I’m talking about how fear is controlling you. Yes, you.
The only way to overcome fear is to act. If you’re ready to walk in the steps of our greatest heroes, it’s time to get moving. It can be small. Start that house project you’ve been avoiding. Make that phone call you’ve been putting off. Download the budget app and start punching in numbers. Ask that girl or guy out. Have an honest conversation with your spouse. Knock on your neighbors door. Pray.
We’re living in frightening times. But throughout history, the men and women we remember as bold and brave, were all born from adversity. They felt fear, but they moved forward anyway.
The world around us is responding to COVID-19 with fight, flight, or freeze. We can do better. It’s time for the people of faith to act like it—to move.
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