Choosing faith when I'm overwhelmed by fear
When life is uncertain I too easily turn to fear.
I wouldn’t say that it’s an overwhelming feeling in my life, but it tends to snowball. Creeping in, in areas I don’t suspect. Then perchance I look around and it seems to surround me. That’s what happened last week.
What if my mom’s house doesn’t sell? I want to trust that God can provide a buyer, yet if I ask others to pray and God doesn’t provide it’s not just me that disappointed, but others as well.
What if the guy that I’ve started dating decides he doesn’t really like me and changes his mind? What if we grow apart during the next 2 months while he’ll be away? Will the distance be too much?
What if creating this website to share my writing totally bombs? I try something new and no one cares or even likes it? Stepping into the unknown to take a risk feels scary. Should I wait until I’m ‘more prepared’?
I’m thankful at least for solid counselling. A few years ago the counsellor I had at the time pointed me toward the ‘what if’ game. Whenever I find myself repeating what if, what if, what if - it’s really a form of anxiety. Am anxious response to the unknowns and uncertainties that can overwhelm my heart. The threat or concern may be very real. It could be completely made up and not based in truth. The subject of my worries is rather irrelevant, as worrying doesn’t necessarily change outcomes - but how I respond, either with faith or with fear, greatly impacts the quality of my life.
I’m learning to respond to uncertainty with faith instead of fear.
With uncertainty we cannot see the whole picture. We see a little sliver and we’re tempted to try to figure out what the rest of the pie looks like. Uncertainty in life is certain. We know for a fact that life IS uncertain. It’s unknown. And that can feel like a scary world. Jesus says,
I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have trouble. But take heart; I have overcome the world. (John 16:33)
For me, fear looks like trying to figure out all the ‘worse-case’ scenarios. The worst possible options to prepare myself for what could happen. It ends up allowing my brain to spiral, fantasizing about what all could go wrong. It sucks my emotional energy and peace is not found there.
Choosing faith is active. It takes work to say to my brain, “stop”. Choosing faith looks like focusing on one step at a time, taking little steps forward looking at what’s directly in front of me and not trying to figure out the ‘big picture’.
Faith helps me let go of my anxious thinking. I choose to believe the evidence of what’s in front of me, instead of coming up with ‘what if’ scenarios in my head.
Faith looks like surrender. Saying, “it’s okay that I’m not completely in control because I can trust that God (who is perfectly good and loving), IS in control.” Believing (not based on emotion but on what the Bible says), that God holds everything in his hands. That no matter the outcome God is still actively at work in my life.
Faith looks like clinging to Jesus. Spending time with him in prayer and in reading my Bible, believing that he is the solid Rock who never changes nor moves. Does that change the way I feel about uncertainty? No. But even if I’m tempted to feel afraid or things seem scary, I can still abide and cling to the Rock.
In life we don’t see the whole picture - and I think God plans it that way.
If we saw the whole picture of our lives, we would run in the other direction. In his grace he only gives small slivers at a time. Helping us trust him along the way. Jesus doesn’t demand for us to understand the whole picture before we can follow him. This is where faith comes in.
In Mark 1:15 Jesus is just starting his ministry. Going about the towns, talking to people and telling them,
The time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.
Jesus was inviting people to follow him, to join the Kingdom of God. He gave the instructions to repent (turn from their sin, living life ignoring God) and believe in the gospel (good news about who Jesus is - essentially his coming death on the cross and resurrection). But Jesus says this at the start of his ministry. He hadn’t died yet, nor rose back to life. Would people understand the full meaning of ‘gospel’? I don’t think so.
Yet he still invited them to follow him. I’m sure there were many moments where the uncertainty of what it meant to really follow him felt too much. If Jesus had told them, “Follow me and you will experience rejection, see me die, rise again, and give your actual life in helping others follow me too,” would they have followed? Probably not. I wouldn’t have. I would have stayed in my little village with my family and life security. They would have missed out though in knowing Jesus face-to-face, being his closest friend, and being a Kingdom builder for God. The greatest honour.
In time they would learn fully who he was, and what he was on Earth to do. They would experience the cost of being his follower, but also the peace and joy that comes in following and obeying him. In that initial invitation they didn’t have the full picture.
In our lives, in almost everything, neither do we. Yet we can still place our faith in Jesus, and trust him when things feel scary. We can trust him because HE knows the full picture. We can “take heart” because he has “overcome the world”. Literally. He defeated the power of death when he rose from the grave.
So when I’m tempted to worry if God will provide, or the outcome of my dating relationship, or even the results of taking big risks, I can go back to God and place my hope in him who is certain - not in whatever outcome I desperately desire.
There’s peace in that place.