“It’s strange: it’s as if the whole world is now feeling what I’ve been feeling for years.” A friend was telling me about her fear of getting sick. She tried hard, for instance, to avoid being around children with runny noses and coughs. She washed her hands compulsively. She brushed her teeth several times a day. Not liking being this way, she even tried to get herself not to wash her hands!
Where does such a fear come from? There is never certainty, but one has one’s guesses. Fear does attach itself to some facet of reality: germs really are carried around on our hands, and regular, thorough washing does get rid of some of them. Yet fear of the sort that one carries around goes deeper than that.
Along comes a virus, the Blasted Nasty Virus, and as on a dime everyone started learning again about hand-washing: twenty seconds, with friction, between fingers, both palms and the backs of the hands. She had been doing it, and things like it, for years.
But more than that, she had been learning to deal with fear. If it’s there, you can’t tell it to go away; it doesn’t work to tell yourself not to be afraid. But you can learn to live with fear, and not let it have its way with you. You can learn to act even though you have fear. You can learn to put fear in its place.
How do you put fear in its place?
I name the fear. In this case, we’re talking about the fear of disease and, possibly, death. I recognize the risks of sickness, to me and to those around me, and including (in my case) the extra difficulty of being sick when you live alone.
And then I see the obvious: that every day of my life, no matter what I do, I risk sickness and (if only slightly) death. Walking home an hour ago (thinking about this column!) I was about eighteen inches from a car that sped past me at 40 miles per hour. Safety first, anyone?
You put fear in its place by noticing the other goods in life, goods that we want even though they bring risk. I want to walk. I want to see people. I want to talk and smile and enjoy that most beautiful of God’s creations, the human face.
I’m proud of this friend. She hasn’t overcome her fears, but she really is living with them in a faithful, godly way. Evidence of this is that the past months of Covid have not particularly bothered her, in terms of potential illness and disease. Like most of us, she tells me, she has felt the anxiety that comes with uncertainty, changing guidelines, trying to find new rhythms, and all that. She has also found it hard to deal with heightened emotional states and strong, conflicting opinions of news-saturated, people-deprived friends and neighbors. But she isn’t afraid of the Virus.
To say it again, it’s like everyone now sees the world the way she had always seen it: a dangerous, risky place. But thanks to what she had been through, she recognizes the reality of fear without letting it dictate the parameters of her life.
Fear of the Virus should not dictate the parameters of our life.
Out & About. This Sunday, Nov. 15, I will be preaching on “Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s.” This is *not* separation of church and state—a million sermons to the contrary notwithstanding! At the traditional services at Church of the Incarnation in Dallas: 7:30, 9, and 11:15 a.m. All these Eucharists are open for people to attend; the last one will also be live-streamed on F*book.
On the Web. Every year I get to spend several days as the “theological visitor” of All Souls Church in Oklahoma City. This year my classes are on their F*book page also. You can find “Up with Leviticus” here https://www.facebook.com/watch/allsoulsokc/390370955430490/, and “Friendship: The Long Game” here https://www.facebook.com/watch/allsoulsokc/846264439510705/.
In the October 18 issue of The Living Church I have an essay, “How to Think about Abortion.” This is apparently not online, but if you are a subscriber and you missed it, you can get the issue here: https://livingchurch.org/2020/10/06/new-10-18-tlc-online/