ISSUES OF FAITH: Finding a reprieve from fear

For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!”

(Romans 8:15 ESV)

WITH OCTOBER BEGINNING, why don’t we start by talking about things that scare us.

Better yet, how about things that “scare us to death”?

Spoiler alert! It is our amygdala.

Everyone has one. It is a small almond shaped structure found within the limbic system of your brain.

It begins a cascading effect in your body enabling you to respond to a threat based on your emotional memory and triggers your fight, flight or freeze response.

This part of your brain was handmade to handle emergent situations in your life.

This is true whether it is the sound of a chainsaw in a “haunted house” or when someone slams on their brakes in front of you in traffic.

It surges hormones throughout your body and produces an intense reaction to your surroundings.

The good and bad news is that this mechanism was never designed to be used long-term.

If you remain in a stressful and anxious state long-term, the hormones that are released, not the least of which is cortisol, floods your system and can cause any number of negative health issues, such as heart disease, an altered immune system, gastro-intestinal problems and many others.

It’s a good thing that none of us are fearful, anxious or stressed out, and feel that way on a regular basis. Ha!

This state of limbic system overload self-perpetuates more and more feelings of fear and helplessness.

It can cause us to try to find ways of escaping the feelings through substance abuse, pornography, eating, various addictive behaviors, self-harm, etc.

It manifests itself in our behavior through aggression or depression.

It forces us to not want to be present.

We become disengaged, distracted and, at times, disassociated.

With that, our personal relationships suffer, our communities become fragmented and our world begins to tear apart all because we are not using the right part of our brain.

But who can blame us?

The news doesn’t think anyone will watch if it isn’t sensational, movies prey on our nerves to keep us on the edge of our seats, workplace drama haunts us even at home — and that is not even getting into family squabbles, the trials of children learning from home, COVID-19 restrictions, politics, health scares, our finances, even the increasing traffic through town.

No wonder we have been emotionally hijacked as we have been tumbling through these last months, trapped in the mindset of being scared “to death.”

There are a lot of things to fear in this world.

Worse is that these threats to us have always existed. 2020 did not suddenly change our susceptibility to violence, trauma, chaos or death.

We were born into a world that has possessed these attributes from nearly the beginning.

Yet there is another reality that we were born into as well.

Not born into when we pass through the womb of our mother, but when we are born into the Kingdom of God as the Spirit of God gives life to our spirit (John 3:1-21).

In this Kingdom we are supplied peace! But not as the world gives, but peace with God, reconciled to Him through the saving work of our Lord Jesus Christ (John 14:27).

It is peace that transcends understanding (Philippians 4:7) because in a world where we should be constantly “scared to death” it puts to death fear.

In a world where death is all around us, being found in Christ supplies us eternal life (John 5:24).

When our impressionable minds become racked in anxiety and stress, this peace found in being a child of God teaches us to not worry. Not because there is no reason to worry, but because our Father who is in heaven cares for us and will supply our need and requests that we share with Him our concerns. (Philippians 4:6-7; Luke 12:8-12, 22-34).

He in fact is our peace. He, through His Word teaches us our value, our victory, our hope, His faithfulness and His grace (Colossians 1:20, John 3:16-17, 1 Corinthians 15:57, Romans 15:13, Hebrews 13:5, Galatians 2:19-21).

The peace that Christ brings is a confident tranquility.

It steals us away from our own thoughts and places us at the feet of the cross.

He moves to us through His word and reminds us that nothing can snatch us out of His hand.

How powerful are the words we have to meditate on, “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand” (Isaiah 41:10).

Who cares if it is October and this is the time of the year we like to spook ourselves?

Take to heart this message, “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1).

This world is great at scaring us and throwing us into a state of fear. But thanks be to God that we are not slaves anymore to fear!

We are the Children of God that cry out, Abba!

So, take a deep breath, pause and contemplate who you are.

Take a break from the panic and remember our Father is in heaven, and our home is held secure there.

Let the cortisol recede and confidence that comes from knowing Christ emerge.

Stop allowing your brain to hijack you.

Your amygdala is a part of your body, it should not control your body.

Instead, with the Spirit of God living in you, be at peace because you no longer have to live scared to death.

Instead, joyfully live with the One who puts fear to death.

Then, maybe then, if we stop giving into fear, our communities, our personal relationships and, I dare say, the world may begin to heal.

To God be the glory!

_________

Issues of Faith is a rotating column by five religious leaders on the North Olympic Peninsula. The Rev. Dr. Patrick Lovejoy is pastor at St. Matthew Lutheran Church in Port Angeles. He can be contacted at 360-457-4122 or [email protected].

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