Sometimes fear shows up in unexpected ways. We try to keep it together, but it flares up anyway. This week I posted a photo of my acne-covered face on Instagram.
These embarrassing bumps are due, in part, to stress and fear caused by the crisis taking place in our world. Fear does weird things to our bodies, minds, and communities. I’ve had more experience with that than I’d like to admit. You might not have breakouts on your face, but in the midst of the current chaos, you’re likely experiencing some sort of “fear flare-up.” If so, here are some thoughts to inoculate you against the Fear Pandemic and keep your mind and spirit healthy.
1. Identify your symptoms
It’s taken me years to figure out what causes my skin to flare up with both acne and eczema—often at the exact same time. The answer: stress, also known as fear.
In America, fear typically flies under the radar as a low-grade fever, but for many people in recent weeks, it’s spiked to dangerous, call-the-paramedics levels. You can identify this Fear Virus by its symptoms: physical flare-ups (such as acne, rashes, heart palpitations, or triggered autoimmune diseases), attitude flare-ups (such as irritability and yelling at your kids, spouse, and coworkers), or bowel flare-ups—which may cause mass buying and hoarding of toilet paper!
If you have any of these symptoms (or others), you may be infected with the Fear Virus. But don’t panic. Take a deep breath. Then move on to step number two.
2. Treat the virus not the symptoms
After identifying your symptoms and recognizing the Fear Virus that has been incubating inside your body, you may be tempted to treat the symptoms (like slathering acne cream all over your face). You may even feel shame and embarrassment that you caught the paranoia bug in the first place. As a follower of Jesus, that was my first reaction. After all, 1 John 4:18 says, There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. This verse suggests that fear and love are mutually exclusive—you can’t live in both states at the same time. We get to choose with which of these two we will align our thoughts, actions, and responses. When we choose love, we are, by default, not choosing fear.
My typical response to my face breaking out is to get irritated (which, by the way, only causes more stress and breakouts). But during this season, I’m choosing to embrace the breakouts as a reminder rather than a distraction. Every time I pass a mirror, I’m reminded to turn from fear and stress toward love. Love is the only antidote against fear, which leads to the last recommendation for keeping our minds and spirits healthy during the current crisis.
3. Get vaccinated
1 John 3:16 says, This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.
Pastor and author Greg Boyd describes love this way: it’s the act and attitude of ascribing unsurpassable worth to others at a cost to ourselves. Fear is the virus that forces our focus inward. What’s best for me? How do I stay healthy? How will I pay my bills? How will I feed my family? These are all valid questions. We should be looking out for ourselves and our families, but the problem with fear is that it closes us off to the outside world at the expense of others and ourselves.
Love is the counterintuitive vaccine against fear—a choice in faith to pour outward toward others. Love operates like a flowing river rather than a stagnant pond. When we and the people around us operate from a place of love, everyone is cared for, and life thrives. But it starts with one person making the choice to get vaccinated and serve in love.
Unfortunately, the vaccine against fear is not a onetime shot. We’ll have to get this inoculation daily, maybe even hourly. We might even need it moment by moment. But the good news is that with each dose of love, each choice we make to get outside of our own heads, each time we share a roll of toilet paper, and each time we decide to live in a narrative of peace over panic, we build our immunity.
In the New Testament, the community of people who follow the way of Jesus is called the Body of Christ. In this season more than ever, we need The Body to be healthy and strong—physically, mentally, and spiritually. So when your face breaks out and your fear flares up, let it be a reminder—you have a choice as to how you will respond. My prayer is that you will choose the vaccine against fear, which is the way of love.