Fr Ray Hemingray has shared his thought for today, Sunday 14th February 2021.
One of the set readings for Morning Prayer last Sunday was from Matthew Ch. 6, in which Jesus says to his disciples, ‘Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?’
This set me thinking through the week about worries and fears. There are, of course, different degrees of fear, for which we use different words. It’s a bit like the Eskimo languages being said to have dozens of words for ‘snow’. (We English speakers seem to be quite conservative in our language by comparison. After ‘snow’, ‘sleet’, ‘slush’, ‘drift’ and ‘blizzard’, I am struggling to think of more alternatives!)
But back to fear. To describe varying degrees of fear, we have, for example, ‘concern’, ‘anxiety’, ‘angst’, ‘panic’, ‘unease’, ‘worry’, and ‘terror’. You may well be able to think of other words.
I am sure we all experience some degree of fear from time to time. During the current pandemic, many people, particularly the elderly, have been frightened of going out in case they catch the Covid virus.
But people also experience fears about other things, such as: work (‘I am going to lose my job because of the lockdown?‘); finances (‘Am I going to survive this pandemic financially, when my business has been forced to close?’); relationships (‘I am worried that being locked up with the family for so long is going to affect our mental health); general health (‘Is this ache I have a symptom of a life-threatening illness’ or ‘What is going to happen to me if I don’t soon get the operation I badly need?’); death (I expect a lot of people worry about that).
If we allow our problems to get us down because of fears or worries, we suffer a double-whammy – the problem itself and the fear of its consequences.
I spoke last week about comfort and about the power of prayer, about speaking to God and seeking comfort through him. Another option is to share our fears with a family member or close friend, or a professional adviser, who may be able to reassure us and remove some of our fear. They say that a problem shared is a problem halved. Perhaps we could also say that a fear shared is a feared halved. Fear can be damaging, if we allow it to get a serious hold on us. Fear is negative and inward-looking. If we can allow someone to offer us loving assurance, that may ease our fears. Love is not negative and inward looking. Love is positive and outward looking. So love is an antidote to fear.
But some people find it very difficult to talk to someone else about very personal matters. In such a case, a further option may be to reflect on what others have said about fear. Marie Curie once said: “Nothing in life is to be feared. It is only to be understood.” It may be that if we can analyse logically and objectively the cause of our fear, we might find that things aren’t as bad as they seemed at first sight.
Another way of dealing with fear is to attack a problem head-on. If we don’t try to resolve a problem that is giving us worry or fear, the worry or fear will simply continue, and probably get worse. So a bit of resolve and action may just remove the cause of fear. The American author Dale Carnegie said: “Inaction breeds doubt and fear. Action breeds confidence and courage. If you want to conquer fear, do not sit home and think about it. Go out and get busy!”
So there are ways of tackling fear. It just needs us to make the effort. But not everyone will try. The nineteenth century painter James Northcote said: “Half the things people do not succeed in are through fear of making the attempt.”
Fear can be relative. Something that causes fear in one person may not cause fear in another, in which case it would be helpful if the latter were to try to reassure the former. I am reminded of a story about a mother taking her three-year-old son to the park. Suddenly, a large Alsatian dog appeared in front of them. The little boy was terrified and rushed behind his mother and hung onto her skirt. “There’s nothing to be frightened about”, said his mother. “You’d be frightened”, said the little boy, “if you were as small as I am”. I think the moral of this tale is that sometimes we need to trust people who know better than we do in order to be reassured when something gives rise to fear in us. A wiser head can sometimes help us to put things in perspective.
The Bible is full of comforting passages, such as the one at the beginning of this reflection. God loves us. God knows our fears. God is always willing to listen to our fears and support us. So let’s talk to him about our fears, rather than bottle them up.
There have also been some great hymn writers who have produced inspired, comforting words in their hymns. One of my favourite hymns contains these verses:
How sweet the name of Jesus sounds
in a believer’s ear!
It soothes his sorrows, heals his wounds,
and drives away his fear.
It makes the wounded spirit whole,
and calms the troubled breast;
’tis manna to the hungry soul,
and to the weary rest.
Perhaps during this lockdown, when we can’t get to church, we should still find some time to sing a few hymns. It could well be good for the soul – and our fears!