I remember to this day a story my mother told about when she was a little girl living on a farm in Southwest Virginia. She went to see newsreels and a film each weekend. Newsreels were how everyone got their news in visual form. Otherwise, folks gathered around the radio. The newsreels played before whatever film to be watched to take minds off the Second World War being fought overseas in Europe and the Pacific.
Those films didn’t quite work their magic on my mom. She came home, went to bed, and immediately nightmares of Hitler’s army goose stepping through their corn rows invaded her sleep. Even though she lived in a green valley nestled between gentle mountains in rural America far away from the battles, those newsreels exposed her to the news, propaganda, and rumors of the day.
Flash forward to today. As much as I am binge watching The Crown, Stranger Things, Victoria and Say Yes To the Dress, I can’t get current events out of my head. They explode in my psyche at night. I can’t decide whether it’s better to have nightmares where problems are worked out or insomnia allowing me to read more books. Yep, it’s that bad.
During the Depression, in his inaugural speech, Franklin Delano Roosevelt said “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself” describing that fear as “nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.” Yep, I can identify. I’ve been paralyzed by fear of the present, the future, for my friends and family, for my state and nation.
That is until I was led by my word of the year, strength, to examine my fears. Isaiah 41:10 said, Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. Joshua 1:9 says “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” Seems like those two words or variants are partnered quite a bit in the Bible. When you see something repeatedly in the scriptures, it’s wise to pay attention. So I hunkered down and meditated on the verses until my aha moment.
These verses weren’t just for me. They were for an entire community. When I started listening to others, I realized I wasn’t the only one afraid. When I read what others wrote, I realized there was strength in numbers. For immigrants and refugees fearful of being unwelcome in our country, huge drives for household goods and signs with welcome in numerous languages appeared. For women fearing misogyny and parents their children’s’ futures, there were gatherings and huddles. I started a Bible study about Jesus as Activist, how to lead a life of activism and advocacy based on the words of Jesus. By doing, we all were banishing fear to the corners instead of the middle of the room.
Once I remembered God would hold me up and help me move forward in troubled times, the fear lessened. Even better, I am not paralyzed. I am able to think about how to make the world a better place, help the people who are most affected by fears of their own, and be the Jesus follower I am asked to be. “The Lord is my strength and shield” (Psalm 28:7). The fear isn’t gone. It sneaks up on me daily. But my faith muscles are strengthened.