Written By MB (Marybeth) Mitcham, USA
“I wasn’t expecting to give up this much for Lent.”
That statement, or at least a version of it, is one that I have been seeing a lot recently.
When the 2020 season of Lent began, very few of us predicted how we’d be forced to give up so much of what we had taken for granted—going to work or school, visiting with friends or family members, attending religious services, or even being able to leave our homes when we want.
This year, before the threat of the coronavirus reached my community, I chose to give up fear. Rather than obsessing over things in my life that I cannot change—past mistakes, present pain, and future uncertainty—I felt strongly prompted to instead take each moment when I felt fear, and mentally give it over to God as an offering. Looking back, this prompting seems like a foreshadowing of what was about to come.
During this world pandemic, many of us are scared—of the unknown, of the possibility of going without, for the health and well-being of loved ones. We’re scared of what the future holds, or that we might fall ill and not live to see that future.
Fear is now the currency of our culture.
But it does not have to be.It is hard to not fall into the trap of fear. I also struggle with it.
I have lived through a lot of very hard things. Some of those hard things happened to me when I was a child and lacked the ability to protect myself. Other hard things happened when I was older. An unplanned teenage pregnancy. Later, infertility struggles. The birth of a precious child with disabilities. Extreme financial difficulties. Broken relationships. Crippling health struggles.
When hard things like this end up part of a series of events, rather than just solitary incidents, the resulting fear can be exponential. Overwhelming. Paralyzing.
No one likes to be hurt. We do our best to avoid it, including shying away from any situation that could potentially hurt us. While this can be a good thing at times, keeping us from making decisions that could harm others or us unnecessarily, it can also be a bad thing if it prevents us from living full and healthy lives.
When I decided to give up fear for Lent, it was because I had reached a point where I was not able to connect with other people because my fear prevented me from letting down my barriers of self-protection enough. It had caused me to precipitously lash out at others, so that I would not get hurt again, and was keeping me from taking good risks that are necessary for personal growth.
Fear had allowed the effects of hurts and hardships that only marked a small portion of my story to grow into a giant in my life. A giant that I do not want to control me ever again.
When we consider the uncertainty of our future and all the potential reasons to fear, the Bible provides the perfect antidote to keep that fear from taking root and poisoning us.
When reading through the book of Habakkuk this past week, I was especially encouraged by these verses in Habakkuk 3:17-18:
Though the fig tree does not bud, and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in the God my Savior.
The author in this passage lists a series of devastating events, in which all provision has been stripped away, leaving people entirely unable to ensure that they would have what they need to survive. It is easy to see how these circumstances could cause people to be afraid.
Instead of reacting with fear—and being either paralyzed, angry, or hopeless—the author rejoices, emphasizing that God is ultimately in control, and that He is worthy of our trust.
So, during Lent this year, instead of stewing on what I fear, and mentally spiraling down to the endless “what if” scenarios that seem to rapidly present themselves whenever I am afraid, I have been choosing to switch my focus from my fear to God.
I read Scripture, often aloud, declaring God’s truth, rather than feasting on my own fear-flawed thoughts.
I pray, again, often aloud, thanking God for His goodness, reminding Him of His promises, and asking for His help.
Sometimes, I listen to sermons or music that brings my mind back to God. Other times, I play hymns on the piano, go for a run or a short nature walk, pray for someone that I know and then let them know that I have been praying for them, or cook something for someone else. As my focus shifts from myself, to God and others, my fear lessens. When this becomes a daily practice, it starts to become habit, rather than an occasional thought.
So as this season of Lent ends, but the days of uncertainty drag on, I urge you to not fear, but instead, to practice looking to the One who has never failed to meet the needs of His people.
Each of us can experience peace in place of fear when we come to the realization that we never had control in the first place. We can choose to place our trust fully in God, knowing that, like Scripture reminds us, He is worthy of all praise regardless of the circumstances, and He remains in control.
We do not have to fear. Only place our trust in Him.