Training to Fear

When I was a pastor doing counseling, I often said — The good thing about human beings is that we are creatures of habit. The bad thing about human beings is that we are creatures of habit. After a parishioner would give me a polite laugh, one usually said, “Wait! What?”

I would go on to point out that whatever bad habits we want to break, we can set new habits when wanting to change. Often the old habit can be rewritten by a new positive, stronger habit. Statistics have shown that it takes about 28 days to build a habit. If we do the same thing every day over the course of that time, “Voila!” a new habit is often born.

Unfortunately, we are currently developing a Habit of Fear. We are being trained to practice social distancing, forgoing handshakes and hugs, being anywhere without a face mask, etc. Have you seen how we even keep our distance without thinking from the members of our own household?!

Caution vs. Fear: What’s the difference? Great question, it is like trying to figure out the difference between concern and worry. The difference is not only the degree of the intensity, but also the rationale. Caution investigates a danger, assesses personal risk, and proceeds accordingly. Fear is an emotional response to the situation.

For example, I got to be one of the first people to enter Costco during early morning senior hours. I knew the store had been thoroughly sanitized. The cart I received had just been sprayed down with sanitizer and was still wet with the alcohol solution. Even as I walked through key employees were wiping down packages, displays, etc. Yet I was on edge inside. It was hard to relax as I guided the cart with clenched fists trying to protect myself — from WHAT? The handles were clean. Eight weeks ago I used the carts without a second thought and they were undoubtedly filthy with germs.

One part of my mind was busy talking to the other part of my mind. “You have never been safer, you have never been safer,” I kept telling myself to undo the programming that has been going on nonstop all around us. I had been conditioned to feel paranoia. But I worked through it. Soon I began calling and texting my girls and my wife to make sure no one had forgotten anything on the Costco list. A mile and a half and an hour and twenty minutes later I walked out. I felt that I had landed an elk. I wanted to find someone to take a picture of me with my kill — a mounded cart loaded with goodies AND toilet paper!

What will be the upshot of all this social conditioning? I am afraid that we are being trained to fear; trained to believe that we must stay shut up inside unless someone can guarantee me that my and mine are safe. But life has no guarantees. We never really function like this.

We access risk. We weigh the odds. Airplanes and cars and elevators crash. Pedestrians get killed. (Sadly, more often here than in most towns.) Products fail by the thousands and harm others. Are we paralyzed by these realities? Not most of us. We know that these occurrences are rare.

So why have we moved this crisis into a special category? Now we are in an even better place than we were months ago. Then we had no data to go by, only imperfect models; educated guesses yes, but still imperfect. Now we have seen that even hotbeds like New York and New Jersey did not need the number of hospital and ICU beds or ventilators as first thought. We have seen that only a small percentage experience extreme illness and death. And mostly those at high risk.

So why are we still tense? We have shifted out of caution into fear. And we feed on those who deal in fear. Fear well fed will always grow. (Just like other negative emotions — bitterness, greed, lust and anger.)

In 2 Corinthians 10:5 we are instructed, “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” What has set itself up against you knowing God in these circumstances? Go up against these things with truth — I know that God is in control. I know that, as I exercise care, I can rest in the Lord. I do all I reasonably can and trust God with the rest. Then, I need to scoop up my fears, my worries, the possible threats that I keep rehearsing in mind; and then take them to Jesus to hold onto them for me.

Then I need to start a new habit of the mind: Meditating on scripture, choosing to set my mind on things above not on earthly things (Colossians 3:1-3), choosing to think about “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy.” (Philippians 4:8)

How long have we been creating a Habit of Fear? We need to now create a Habit of Faith. Does this mean that no harm will befall me? No, but it acknowledges that I can trust God as I walk through the valley of the shadow of death for He is with me. I can rest in his plan for my life.

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