Dear brothers and sisters,
Have you ever felt like you are sailing in a fog? I think the pandemic alone, even without the other stresses we are experiencing nationally, makes us all feel disoriented.
Once I went on a journey with my father in a small sailboat, and we had a fearful moment when we got lost in the fog off of Stonington, Connecticut. We heard voices through the fog, so we knew we were near a beach. Rather than risk going aground, we anchored and waited for the fog to lift. It was a very good decision, for we were just yards away from crashing onto some rocks.
The approaching season of Lent is the traditional opportunity for Christians to get anchored. There are two sets of rocks to avoid. One is permitting our sinful desires and passions to lead us into a crash. The coming season of self-examination and repentance is an opportunity to turn away from those things that threaten to control our bodies and our emotions in spiritually deadly ways.
But there is another destructive rocky set to avoid. We are directed by not only our desires but also by our fears. For myself, I find that my fears underlie much of my thoughts and behaviors. My fears often misdirect my life in debilitating ways.
Now, of course, some fears are reasonable, and it is wise to be careful. For example, COVID 19 is a fearsome disease. Masks, social distancing, and vaccinations are wise responses. Saving some money in times of provision is a wise way to be prepared for times of scarcity.
But the unreasonable fears that destroy us run much deeper. We fear rejection so we either isolate ourselves or we become overdependent. We fear others thinking negatively of us, so we defend ourselves or try to match their expectations. The fears of humiliation, loss, shortage, failure, and death can crush us. President Franklin Roosevelt understood the crippling effect of fear when he said in his first inaugural address, “…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.” As a polio pandemic victim, Roosevelt knew fear and paralysis firsthand.
Destructive fears make us anxious and draw us away from the Lord Jesus. Jesus says to his fearful disciples: “...I tell you, do not be anxious about your life,” and then lists some of their fears. He goes on to say, “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” (See Luke 12)
So I encourage you to ask that the Father reveal your most damaging fears, especially during your Lenten anchorage. Also ask him to show you, particularly through the Scriptures, how his love for you and his powerful promises to all believers can address your fears.
I recently read a brief article about Jonathan Edwards, arguably one of colonial America’s greatest theologians. Just weeks before his final illness, Edwards had become president of what later became Princeton University. Listen to this description of his final moments:
…those at his bedside thought he was unconscious and expressed grief at what his absence would mean both to the college and to the church at large. Presently they were surprised when he suddenly uttered his last earthly words: “Trust in God, and you need not fear.”
May the Lord help us all to not run aground on the rocks of fear.
In Jesus the Messiah,
The Rt. Rev. Neil G. Lebhar
Bishop of the Gulf Atlantic Diocese