Loving God, I come before you in my most desperate hour. I find myself surrounded by fear, uncertainty, and anxiety. There are times when I feel utterly alone and isolated. But, I know that you are the same God who healed the blind, cured the lame, and even raised Lazarus from the dead. Lord, I ask that you make your presence known to me. Fill my heart and mind with your strength and your peace. In your own time, heal my body and spirit, and restore me to health. And, in all I do, may I remember that you are always walking with me, and that I am never truly alone. All this I ask in your son, Jesus’s, holy name. Amen. (Chase Ackerman, Rector, St. John’s Episcopal Church, Decatur, Alabama)
Psalm 23; Matthew 14: 22-36
“Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. And even the very hairs on your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.” Matthew 10:29-32 (NIV)
“Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.” Deuteronomy 31:6 (NIV)
Memorial Day was shaping up to be a wonderful day. It was mid-morning and we had just pulled into the driveway from a morning swim. The kids ran inside to grab a snack and I found my way into the backyard, pushing though the branches of an overgrown Japanese snowball tree that had begun to creep over the paver path leading to the wooden gate. Blake must have gone inside behind the kids because as I settled into the wrought iron chair on our patio, its black paint peeling to reveal its original green, the back door opened and both dogs greeted me excitedly. The sky was gloriously blue dotted with fluffy white clouds. The sun was shining bright, but it wasn’t yet too hot.
From my seat, I surveyed the half built wooden playset that we had planned to finish that day. There was only one platform left to build before we could add the slide. As I inhaled and exhaled the beginning of summer, I envisioned our kids, swinging and sliding and climbing. I looked over at the cheap inflatable aboveground pool I’d ordered online and heard their future laughs. I could even smell the barbeque we’d undoubtedly have while we watched our backyard fill with joy.
Until suddenly, Blake burst through the door with his phone in hand.
“She’s positive,” he said.
“What?!” I asked urgently.
“Covid positive. She has the Coronavirus.”
I sank into my chair. This was the phone call I’d feared since the pandemic began. A loved one was positive and we’d all been exposed. The fear was paralyzing. There were one million and one terrifying thoughts running through my head. Every shocking image I’d seen on television and online began playing in my mind, stuck on repeat like one of those old film projectors on loop.
I put my head in my hands and began to sob.
“It’s going to be okay,” Blake tried to reassure me, but when I looked into his eyes, I saw the same fear.
Whether you receive a phone call telling you that you’ve been exposed, or you receive a phone call that the test you took out of simple curiosity is surprisingly positive, or you wake up with an unexpected fever, the fear is real, and it will knock you to your knees.
There are many stories in the Bible that teach us that God will comfort our fears.
With God’s help, Gideon conquered his fear (Judges 6). Gideon repeatedly asked for signs of reassurance and God obliged (even though, obviously he didn’t have to) so that Gideon could work through his fear to free the Israelites.
Elijah was so fearful of Jezebel’s threat to end his life that he prayed to God to end it before she could (1 King 19). God sent angels to tend to Elijah’s earthly nourishment and He prepared him for a long journey. At the culmination of that journey, God showed Elijah his power through a mountain-shattering mighty wind, through an earthquake and a fire. But it was God’s gentle whisper in the end that comforted Elijah and helped him conquer his fear.
Listen for God’s whisper. It’s there. It will give you strength.
I’m not sure when I gathered my composure that day, but what felt like an eternity later, I began making the difficult phone calls of telling others that we’d been exposed, and that we may have exposed them. There was my daughter’s best friend and her mom, who had a newborn at home. There was my son’s friend from elementary school and his grandmother. There were my neighbors who had two young children of their own. There was a teacher friend from church. There was a business manager who poured her heart and soul into reviving a local business. There was one of my son’s best friends who stopped by two days before for a quick hug and jumped on the trampoline with Flynn. They hadn’t seen each other in months and the one time, the one time…and they hugged!
Each phone call took more and more bravery. I was scared for my family but I was just as scared for the people I had to call. I was petrified that I had unknowingly harmed someone else, even before we knew whether or not we were in harm’s way. I was scared they would blame me or worse, blame my child.
God calls us to be brave in the face of our fear.
Whenever I think of bravery, I always think of David facing Goliath (1 Samuel 17) or Daniel in the lion’s den (Daniel 6). But I also think of the sick who trusted Jesus enough to heal them (Matthew 4:23-24 and 9:35; Mark 2:9-12; Luke 4:40, 7:21, 8:43, and 17:12-16; and John 9:6-7 are just a few examples). How brave they must have been to trust Him on faith alone in a time when it was dangerous to even do so!
Today is only the first day of this devotional and we are already tackling fear head on because it is likely one of the first emotions that you may feel. Overwhelmingly, it was the first one that I felt that first day. What feels like a lifetime ago when I was living in South Florida in my early 20s, I attended a personal development retreat with a woman named Rhonda* at a moderately priced hotel near the international airport. Rhonda was the first person who taught me the principle of five basic emotions: anger, sadness, happiness, fear, and shame. Since taking her course, I’ve gauged my emotional wellbeing on what I learned there. On Memorial Day, my fear was off the charts. I was numb to everything but fear. During that retreat many years ago, Rhonda taught us to pay attention to where on our bodies we felt certain emotions. On Memorial Day, I felt that fear in my bones. It shook me to the core.
What you are feeling, being afraid, is normal. It’s okay to rest in that fear for a brief moment while you get your footing, but that’s it. You can’t stay there any longer. You have to climb out of that pit of fear. You have to get ready for a fight. You have to be brave. You CAN be brave. You ARE brave. You are strong and you CAN overcome this fear.
When we started our bike ride today, I asked Flynn where he wanted to ride.
“NOT that way,” he said, indicating he didn’t want to cross a busy street near our house. He said that he was afraid of the cars because as he put it, “Car versus bike and the car will win.”
We kept talking about crossing that street. To get to the beautiful trails that wind along the Tennessee River through a lush wooded area, cyclists, runners, and walkers have to cross that street from our neighborhood. It’s usually not heavily trafficked, but the cars tend to speed in the area, making it dangerous to cross.
“You can’t get to the trails without facing your fear. And we can do it safely. Mommy will help you. I’ll tell you when it’s safe to ride, and we’ll do it together.” We fist bumped and rode on.
Think of your fear like this busy street. There’s something beautiful waiting for you on the other side (freedom from fear), but you have to trust God to ride with you and get you across.
God is with you always. He will light your way. He is bigger than your fear. Rest in him.
*Name changed to protect privacy.
Tips from a weary mama:
Please get a good night’s sleep. If you are sick, you need it. If you are caring for the sick, you still need it. It’s hard to sleep when you’re consumed with fear or any other emotion. You need your rest. Give yourself that gift.
People always ask me, who can I be around? My answer is always this: Who you decide to be around and how many people you decide to be around is a personal choice and it looks different for everyone. However, only surround yourself with those people that you know, that you trust will make that difficult phone call to tell you that they are positive and you’ve been exposed, or that they’ve been exposed and now you’ve potentially been exposed. If you can’t trust everyone you choose to be around to make that difficult phone call, then you should look more closely at your decision about who you choose to be around. It’s exactly that simple. We were lucky that our “social distancing circle of trust” was small. We were even luckier that all our contact traces tested negative. Praise God for those blessings.
List your fears. Now list what you can control about those fears and what you can’t control. List any actions you can take to help control those fears and take action to do those things. For anything you can’t control, ask God to help you through those fears. Ask him to ride with you until you cross the street (and beyond).
Lord, we thank you for the gifts we have been given through the technology to stay connected in this time of disconnection. We now lift up to you those who are on our hearts, our friends and families, those who are sick, those who lead us, and those we are afraid may become sick. We pray for all those who are working to resolve this crisis, healthcare workers, sanitizers, grocery workers, and many more. We thank you for the work you are helping them do. Lord, we now pray for we who worry. We pray for peace that we may continue to do your will in our lives, Lord. We ask all things in your Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ’s most holy and blessed name. Amen. (Zach Redfield, Director of Youth Ministries, St. John’s Episcopal Church, Decatur, Alabama)
This is the very first devotional I have ever written. I’m growing from this journey too. Thank you for allowing me to grow as you read. I hope and pray you find comfort.
Also my editor (#NinjaBlake) has requested that I retract the statement that I saw fear in his eyes and he has accused me of spreading “fake news.” If you know him, go ahead and laugh at that.