There are few admonitions in the Old and New Testaments more prevalent than those imploring the faithful to avoid fear and anxiety like the plague. Isaiah 35:4 (“Say to those who have an anxious heart, ‘Be strong; fear not!’”); Proverbs 12:25 (“Anxiety in a man’s heart weighs him down”); Psalm 27:1-14 (“The Lord is my light . . . whom shall I fear?”). 2 Timothy 1:7 (“For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control”); John 14:27 (“Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid”); Matthew 6:34 (“Do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself”); Philippians 4:6-7 (“Do not be anxious about anything [for] the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds”); Matthew 6:25-34 (“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on . . . which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?).
Why is it then that fear and anxiety continue to be such an integral part of the human condition? Part of it likely has to do with the fact that we live in a far from perfect, increasingly complex, fast-paced, competitive and highly stressful world. Moreover, with the advent of (and advances in) technology, we have immediate and unfiltered access to information and images from every corner of the world, which disproportionately highlight the myriad of things that can and often do go wrong, sometimes terribly so, in the lives of others. Even the most faithful among us can only be exposed to so much of that before we begin to believe that it is only a matter of time before similarly anxiety-producing circumstances will find their way to our own doorstep. Sometimes, generally when we least expect them, they actually do appear in our own living rooms and places of work, where they are superimposed on an already full plate of daily activities, demands and interpersonal struggles that occupy all of our lives. When they do, it is hard to fault those who are caught up in the tsunami of emotions surrounding them for their fear and anxiety about possible “bad” outcomes.
And yet, in my 54 years on the planet, I can’t think of a single such situation in my life (or the life of a loved one) that has benefited from the addition of my fear and anxiety. I can, however, think of innumerable instances where the fear and anxiety I’ve contributed to the equation made an already difficult situation considerably worse and, if anything, increased, rather than minimized, the risk that a poor outcome would follow, while simultaneously carving years off my life, sucking what little color remained from my hair and generating boulder-sized knots in my stomach! In fact, if I’m to be completely honest, to the extent that any of my behaviors have made a meaningful difference in the outcome of otherwise stressful and anxiety-filled situations over the years, they have emanated from: (1) an ability to maintain a level and peaceful head capable of charting a thoughtful course out of the rough seas – cognizant, but not fearful, of the inescapable perils associated with the journey from point A to point B; and (2) my being fully committed to acting on that plan with faith and hope that it will have the positive outcome I desire, tempered with the realization that such a result is never guaranteed.