Friday, July 22, 2011

Fear and Phobias

Just for fun, I did an internet search on the word phobia. What a mistake! I learned all the things that I could possibly be afraid of and one site placed hundreds of phobias in alphabetical order for my convenience. Here’s a sample of some of my favorite phobias that all start with the letter “p.”

Pagophobia- Fear of ice or frost.
Panophobia - Fear of everything.
Papaphobia- Fear of the Pope.
Papyrophobia- Fear of paper.
Paraskavedekatriaphobia- Fear of Friday the 13th.
Pediophobia- Fear of dolls.
Pedophobia- Fear of children.
Peladophobia- Fear of bald people.
Pentheraphobia- Fear of mother-in-law.
Phagophobia- Fear of swallowing or of eating or of being eaten.
Phalacrophobia- Fear of becoming bald. (http://phobialist.com/)

It seems we have a lot to be afraid of, don’t we? Interestingly, almost 80 years ago, President Franklin D. Roosevelt addressed the topic of fear in the midst of one of the darkest times in American history. In his first inaugural address in 1932, FDR needed to comfort a suffering nation deeply entrenched in the Great Depression. Many had lost much, and some had lost all. FDR realized the paralyzing grip of fear on the American people. The nation would not regain its economical foothold if governed by fear. This was the context of his famous quote: “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.” Today we’d call this Phobiaphobia- the fear of fear.

It shouldn’t surprise us to learn that the most common command written in scripture is “Do not be afraid.” This tells us two things: first, we have a propensity toward fear; and second, God cares deeply about how we respond in opportunities of fear. I’m not a psychologist but I’ve made some observations when it comes to fear in people’s lives. Fear is typically brought on by a surprise, a threat, or the possibility of pain. We fear something bad is going to happen to us or to someone we love. Or, we fear it happening again. We fear the unknown and we fear what’s out of our control. So, we go on guard to protect us from what we fear. Sometimes our fears are warranted and our protective actions are reasonable; but other times fear causes us to become paranoid, overly cautious, self-doubting, panicky, and even hurtful in our self-protection. Fear can immobilize and even paralyze us.

In Jesus’ quest to teach his disciples how to follow God with their whole being, he addressed the topic of fear. In Jesus’ mind, fear and lack of trust work nicely together. So Jesus put them in situations where fear could easily take control and their trust would be tested. In Matthew 8, Jesus leads his disciples into a boat after a long day of healing and teaching. Jesus is tired and falls asleep. Matthew tells us that a storm came on very suddenly and began to swamp the boat. Four of the disciples were professional fishermen and had seen many rough storms before—but this was a doozy. They cried out to Jesus, “Lord save us! We’re about to drown!” Jesus’ response to them is interesting. First, he corrects them by calling their fear a lack of trust. Then second, he gives them a demonstration that he is not only God, but he is God worthy of their trust.

He replied, “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?” Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm. Matthew 8.26

Jesus used the fear generated in the critical moments of the storm to develop something spiritually vital in their hearts. In essence, he was asking them these questions: do you know who’s in the boat with you? Do you realize that all of nature bends to my voice? Do you trust me when the winds are strong and the waves are high? When you are losing hope in your own strength, will you rely on me?

We should not be surprised when life brings us storms that are hard to bear and fear and desperation build in us. It’s part of living in a broken world. But storms also provide some of the best opportunities for us to learn to trust the God of the Universe who cares deeply for us. So, if the clouds are beginning to thicken or the waves are crashing over the bow of your life, ask these questions: do I know who’s in the boat with me? Do I believe that all storms bend to his voice? Am I willing to trust that God is teaching in the storm?

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