The phrase “do not be afraid” occurs in the bible 365 times. It alerts us to the truth that life caught up in the ways of God leads to realities that have the capacity to evoke within us a sense of fear. Fear is an emotion that has a target. We are afraid of “the dark,” afraid of “heights,” afraid of “dogs,” afraid of “speaking in public,” afraid of “going to a place we perceive to be unsafe” or “doing a thing that God seems to be putting before us to do.” Paul Tillich in his book, The Courage to Be, talks about how anxiety, which he names as something different than fear, can hold us back from true “being.” Anxiety is for him, “the state in which a being is aware of its possible nonbeing.”
There are three types of anxieties that are named: the anxiety of fate and death, the anxiety of emptiness and meaninglessness, and the anxiety of guilt and condemnation. To learn more about each, you have to read the book, but the point is, there is a lot of anxiety in the world around us and much worry about the possibility of “nonbeing.” Tillich names that the “whole of the spiritual life is about learning to die.” Learning to let the anxiousness die and the courage to be to rise.
The world around us and events of our days locate so many in an anxious state. The questions are hard to answer: “How can my life make a difference with the world-wide water crisis?” “What are we to do about the gangs initiating children and giving them guns & drugs to deal?” “What will happen under this current political climate?” “How do I raise my children in the way they should go?” “Should I have children?” “How do I find my feet on the path that leads to wholeness, healing, and health in myself and the world around me?”
When one living with the courage to be hears the words Mary said, “Let it be with me according to your will,” they ask, “What is the will of God in my life?” When one living in the trap of anxiety hears the words, “Let it be with me according to your word,” they ask, “what is IT?” There are many reasons we find ourselves in anxious states. The reality is that within the landscape of each of our lives there is brokenness and pain to be walked through that is real and can cause a state of ongoing anxiety that we cannot manage on our own. For Tillich, it is of the utmost importance for us to recognize the spiritual aspect to states of anxiousness.
Peter was anxious when people asked him if he was one of Jesus’ followers. His life changed markedly once he received the power of the Holy Spirit. He was able to stand in the middle of a crowd in the power of the Holy Spirit and speak a truth that would have shaken the foundations around him. In the midst of these days when so many are living with a higher level of anxiety about the struggles of the world, let us remember that it is the job of the Holy Spirit of God to take the lead.
When we find within ourselves the “courage to be,” the hard questions don’t go away, but our means of navigating through them changes. Wendell Berry puts it beautifully when he says, “Then what I am afraid of comes. I live for a while in its sight. What I fear in it leaves it, and the fear of it leaves me. It sings and I hear its song.” May the Holy Spirit guide us in ways that our fears and anxieties of living in these present days become a distant song so that we are able to truly be.
With you on the journey,