If you’re like most of the world today, the question how can I manage fear lurks stealthily in the shadows of daily life. Between pandemic, worldwide recession, and threat of global war, every day offers up sufficient opportunity to flex our fear muscles. Onto these worries we pile our fears for our professional security, and the health—physical, emotional, and spiritual—of our closest family members. Jesus’ words as recorded by St. Matthew have never been truer—each day has enough trouble of its own. So, what are we to do? How can I manage fear?
It strikes me that perhaps this isn’t the right question to ask ourselves. Is better fear management what we really need? Is better fear management even possible?
Some fears carry so much weight that they never really go away. But what if the antidote to our fear lies not so much in trying to make it go away, but in discovering something solid enough, that If we put fear in the balance, it would to out-weigh fear?
I can’t just will my fear away like I can ignore a pulled muscle on a lengthy hike. I can’t even deep-breathe it away—although deep breathing definitely helps quiet the fight-or-flight response of the sympathetic nervous system. We need something weightier, with more heft than fear itself to tip the scale away from its menacing hold on us.
We need trust.
When fear came uninvited
On a recent glorious fall weekend, my family gathered together in New York City for a mini reunion. With two kids living in New York, and two visiting from DC, we were staying in four different locations. The texts started flying in the family chat early Sunday morning coordinating rides, timing, and location for the 10:30AM church service. With thirty minutes to go before needing to check-out of our hotel, I realized we still hadn’t heard from Austin, my son who lives with type 1 diabetes. Immediately my stomach tightened in a way I knew it wouldn’t if I was waiting to hear from anyone else.
In an instant, Fear reached out its tentacles and ensnared me.
For years I have laid down fear tracks during the midnight hours of blood testing and treating my son for dangerously out of range blood sugars. Fear has been my traveling companion on this well-worn road. Today I fear his blood sugar went too high during the night, so he didn’t wake up.
I’m even more afraid it went too low, and he might never wake up.
Reason tells me, “he’s fine.” But Fear is weightier than Reason.
We continue to call and text him. His sister texts his roommates. And still, we wait in deafening silence.
I need a third way to manage fear
The time comes to make a decision—listen to Reason and head to church as planned, without knowing where or how my son is. Or, give into Fear and head to his apartment in hopes of convincing the Super to let us in. Reason tells me he’s just sleeping and would be angry and embarrassed if we barged in. Fear tells me mamas don’t abandon their diabetic children in an unknown condition. And Fear certainly won’t listen to Reason’s reminder that on most days I have no idea when my son awakens or that nighttime blood sugar management is no longer my responsibility.
But like I said, Fear is stronger than Reason and will not submit to it. I needed a third way.
I needed to trust the God in whom I say I’ve placed my faith.
Sitting on the edge of my bed in the small New York City-sized hotel room, I read aloud Thomas Keating’s Welcoming Prayer. The words choke before they bring release.
I welcome everything that comes to me today, because I know it’s for my healing…I let go of my desire for control…I let go of my desire for survival and security…I let go of my desire to change any situation…I open to the love and presence of God.
Once, twice, three times I read it aloud. I breathe in and out long, slow draughts of air—inhaling peace, exhaling fear. It’s enough of a start. I make my way out the door and into the waiting car.
Trust is weightier than fear
The traffic snakes slow through the streets of Manhattan. Even on a Sunday morning, this city truly never sleeps. But I’m grateful for the extra time. I need it to practice pressing into faith. I wrestle with God again, like I did in the ambulance in Costa Rica close to ten years ago. The question remains the same: first and foremost, to whom does this young man to whom I gave birth belong? To me? Or to God? The answer comes without delay as a fragrant offering to my Lord. He is the Lord’s first of all. And it is God who sacredly entrusted him to my care. The number of days appointed to my son are no more or less certain than they are for any of my other children.
Handing the reins of control back over to God, I re-entrust my son to his heavenly Father’s perfect care. Not knowing what the future holds, I repeat with Julian of Norwich,
All shall be well. And all shall be well. And all manner of thing shall be well.
The fear is still there, but it’s quieter now. It has been outweighed by the heft and substance of trust. Trust is an active expression of our faith. It’s a pressing into the faith we’ve cultivated in the bloom of springtime and must exercise in the decay of winter. The more I press in, the heavier the weight of trust becomes until I discover the substance I sense is not the act of trust but the very weight of God’s presence with me.
The text from my son comes as the church service begins. All is well.
Yes, all is well. And all manner of thing shall be well.
Re-published with permission from Bonnie O’Neil. To read more of her work, visit bonnieoneil.com and alphamidatlantic.org/grow.