Be not afraid.
As a Christian, these words quickly remind us of the Angel Gabriel, in “his” mandate to Mary after she heard of God’s will for her.
Be not afraid.
It is one of my favorite lines in the Gospels because it reveals Mary’s humanity. It is easy to forget this as we glorify her with statues, prayer cards, and churches, schools, and states and communities in her name.
She was a kid being asked to do the impossible. Of course she was afraid. It doesn’t matter how old one is, if this was God’s will for you, fear would be one of many emotions.
Mary knew what being pregnant meant. Her partner, Joseph, would know it wasn’t his child. If it wasn’t for Gabriel appearing in his dream, Mary would have been brought to the edge of town to never return (she would’ve been destined to death if it wasn’t for Joseph’s kindness).
Mary was afraid. I imagine it was an emotion that never left her, even to the cross where her son hung and died. (I wonder what she felt in seeing Him resurrected. While she was likely in awe, did she still miss Him?)
For my whole life, I reflected on this scenario and I resonated with Mary. Like us all, I felt (and feel) fear. Trusting in God has to be more than words, it has to be a foundational belief. This can be really difficult at times.
Parker J. Palmer, in his book “Let Your Life Speak,” writes this insight into this notion.
“It is no accident that all of the world’s wisdom traditions address the fact of fear, for all originated in the human struggle to overcome this ancient enemy. And all of these traditions, despite their great diversity, unite in one exhortation to those who walk in their ways: ‘Be not afraid.'”
“As one who is no stranger to fear, I have had to read those words with care so as not to twist the into a discouraging counsel of perfection. ‘Be not afraid’ does not mean we cannot have fear. Everyone has fear, and people who embrace the call to leadership often find fear abounding. Instead, the words say we do not need to be the fear we have. We do not have to eat from a place of fear, thereby engendering a world which fear is multiplied.”
We do not need to be the fear we have. What a wonderful lesson.
Palmer understands that what we feel is real. We need to honor the feelings we possess. But we do not have to become it.
Mary could have become fear, but it would have been impossible for her to be the mother that Jesus needed.
While there was only one Mary and one Jesus, there is only one you, and only one me.
The good that God calls us to do can be crippled by being fear. If we can manage this, then imagine what miracles God will call us to bring into this world.
So how do we keep fear in its’ place. How do we manage it.
I offer three simple steps.
- Discipleship: Be a student of God. Look to the instruments in which God use to communicate to us. Often in the form of prayer, writing, art, or simply conversations that feel driven by fate. Be aware, reflect and then act. Like any good student, discern the directions that the wind is blowing. I believe God is constantly knocking at the door of our heart. We just fail to answer most of the time.
- Quiet: So often in the Gospels, Jesus goes off to pray. Most often, his destination is the dessert or mountain top. He teaches us to be alone and to pray. After some time in prayer, I will say to myself, “shut up and listen.” It is amazing what soon follows.
- Honor the fear: Fear is an emotion that develops for a number of reasons. Analyzing why helps us understand the blueprint to ourselves. More importantly, recognizing that fear is what you are feeling is step 1. Step 2 is recognizing the possibilities. What is the worst case? What is the best? Step 3 is take deep breaths, counting to 10 (Again, not an easy task when overcome with challenging emotions). Step 4 is to ask God to help, and as a disciple, ask what is this fear teaching you. The answer isn’t for fear to be you. It is a gift that needs extra time to unwrap.
We are not fear. We are love. God’s love. With that, how can we be truly afraid?