President Franklin Roosevelt in his first inaugural address in 1933 famously said that “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” We know what he was trying to do—encourage people not to become paralyzed by their fears in that Great Depression era. (A victim of polio, FDR knew about paralysis.) As a quote it was memorable but as an effective exhortation, not so much. We all know instinctively that there are many things that cause fear—besides fear itself. Last week I wrote about my fear of being home alone at night. That fear is apparently widespread, as some readers shared with me.
Everyone has natural or learned fears. Babies are born with a fear of falling, but many adults still fear heights. One of the biggest men in our family is afraid of spiders, while I sometimes crush spiders with my bare hands. Fears can be totally illogical but still real—for instance, some people fear clowns.
A poll ranking the fears of approximately 1,000 Americans found that 54% feared being involved in a car accident, while 53% percent feared having cancer. Other fears listed in the poll involved getting food poisoning, Alzheimer’s, or AIDS; not having enough money for current bills or for retirement; or becoming a victim of violence. This list shows that our adult fears aren’t the monster-under-the-bed kind of our childhood. Instead, they are real possibilities—fears of present harm or future distress.
Nightly television news programs broadcast the “if it bleeds, it leads” format. Since the invention of television, people are able to watch worldwide disasters (true or fictional) in real time. This can expand our fears from things around us to things unlikely ever to come near us. Even though we’re surrounded by things that go bump in the night, we don’t have to live in fear.
For a long time I did live in fear, but now (in most situations) I can say with David: “When I am afraid, I will trust in you. In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I will not be afraid. What can mortal man do to me?” (Ps. 56:3-4, NIV). Notice that this psalm includes a progression of faith. In verse 3 David says “when I am afraid,” but by verse 11 he says “in God I trust; I will not be afraid.” His journey from “when I am afraid” to “I will not be afraid” took only a few verses on paper, but probably took much longer in real life. So does ours.
After thinking that I had conquered the fears of years ago, I occasionally have a setback. Like the time the evening news announced that six escaped convicts were loose in the city. It’s a big area and I wasn’t worried—until my dog began barking nervously and running into the woods behind our house. (Vagrants had been caught living in those woods in the past.) For a time I felt the old night terrors returning. So I consciously went back—not to the fears of my childhood but to the faith of my son’s childhood. I clung to the promise of Psalm 4:8, the verse he had grown up repeating in his nightly prayers. As I turned off the lights each night I whispered, “I will lie down and sleep in peace, for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety.”
And He has.
© 2012 by Vicki Huffman
Vicki Huffman is the author of two Christian non-fiction books and a Christian-based novel which are available in various forms through the author (email Mentoring Moments) or amazon.com. To read the first chapter of her novel A Secret Hope at no cost, follow here.