Responding to the Panic of the Pandemic
Max Lucado, in his book, Fearless, (written in 2009) painted the picture of our fearful generation. He wrote, "Each sunrise seems to bring fresh reasons for fear. They’re talking lay-offs at work, slow-downs in the economy, flair-ups in the Middle East, turnovers at headquarters, turndowns in the housing market, upswings in global warming, breakouts of al Qaeda cells. Some demented dictator is collecting nuclear warheads the way others collect fine wines. A strain of Asian flu is boarding flights out of China. The plague of our day, terrorism, begins with the word ‘terror.’ We are fearful of being sued, of finishing last, of going broke. We fear the mole on our back, the new kid on the block, the sound of the clock as it ticks closer to the grave. We sophisticate investment plans, create elaborate security systems and legislate stronger military. And yet, today, we depend on mood-altering drugs more than any generation in history."
According to one study that Lucado presented in his book, ordinary children today are more fearful than psychiatric patients were in the 1950s.
We all are acquainted with fear. No one is exempt. It visits the young and old, the rich and poor, the educated and uneducated, and the strong and weak.
“Fear,” according to Paul Moede, “is not a private domain of the weak. It strikes at the best of us. It does not restrict itself to the individual, but sometimes it can be transmitted to others. It is most dangerous, in its ability to slap handcuffs and shackles on us and bound us up in a prison of frustration and hopelessness.”
Fear is a virus. We know about viruses, don’t we? I’m guessing if people had been asked people two months ago to list their predominate fears they would have said spiders, public speaking, heights, flying, etc. But, if asked today the list might be vastly different: contracting the Coronavirus, losing my job, making my mortgage payment, finding toilet paper, etc.
Fear is very much a part of life. It’s a God-given emotion. To be afraid is normal.
In its most common form, fear is an internal warning mechanism that signals danger nearby and we had better do something about it. It sounds an alarm inside of us to take action and remove ourselves from whatever is threatening us. It readies our bodies to flee, hide, or fight. The intensity of our fear is in direct proportion to the immediacy of the danger.
In the ancient Greek language, the word for fear meant flight. It’s the picture of pheasants being flushed from their nesting areas and taking flight because they have been frightened by the approaching danger of a hunter. It’s the soldier in battle fleeing the enemy when being shot. “Did you hear those bullets?” asked one soldier to another. “Twice,” he said, “once when they went past me, and once when I passed them.”
While being afraid is normal, yet if fear is out of control, it can paralyze. It brings on “cold feet,” makes one a “chicken,” and eats away at one’s “guts.” Fear causes one to miss a sure two-foot putt, a free throw in the closing seconds of a game, a budding opportunity for financial gain, a friendship that could last a lifetime. Fear motivates one to make more money—“just in case;” to always have the resume out—“you never know;” and to look over one’s shoulder—“you can’t trust anyone.”
Someone described fear as “a small trickle of doubt that flows through the mind until it wears a channel into which all of your thoughts are drained.” Tiny fears, almost unperceived fears, can build up day-by-day until we find ourselves paralyzed and unable to function.
In broad arenas, fear manifests itself in three ways: something in the past that haunts us, something in the present that upsets us, or something in the future that threatens us. Or, it can be a combination of all three.
Looking at those three domains, what can we do to be confident in the face of our fears?
1. Considering past mistakes, admit them.
How many of our fears concern themselves with errors and mistakes we have made in the past and the corresponding guilt and fear of discovery? Will someone discover my lack of integrity at work? Will my secret sin be found out? Will my error in judgment cost me the account? Will my affair be discovered? Will my dishonesty catch up with me?
I’ve been there many times. I’ve skirted the line. I’ve taken more than I should. I’ve looked when I shouldn’t have. I’ve added more than I should have.
When our fears concern themselves with past mistakes, what must we do? The proper response is to confess them or admit them. To confess means to admit or concede. It involves stripping away layers of disguise to expose what is really at the center of who we are. Confession is the discipline of making an honest appraisal of ourselves.
In my line of work, we often say that confession is good for the soul. It is. It’s therapeutic. That’s why at recovery meetings one begins by saying, “Hello, my name is Rick, I’m an alcoholic.” I was reading this past week about a man trapped in pornography. He tried to stop on his own. A leader of a ministry that specializes in sexual purity told him: “One hundred percent disclosure in brokenness, humility, continued transparency, and confession to the people you care about is the only way out.” Confession is cathartic. It’s a bold move but it wipes the slate clean. Confession provides a new beginning, a new start. It’s not only good for you personally; it’s good for you professionally.
When New York’s Citicorp tower was completed in 1977, it was the seventh tallest building in the world. Many structural engineers hailed the tower for its technical elegance and singular grace. The structural engineer was William J. LeMessurier. One year after the building opened, LeMessurier came to a frightening realization. The Citicorp tower was flawed. Without his approval joints that should have been welded were bolted. Under severe winds that come once every sixteen years to New York the building would buckle.
LeMessurier weighed his options. If he blew the whistle on himself, he faced lawsuits, probable bankruptcy, and professional disgrace. He gave fleeting thoughts to suicide but dismissed that as the coward’s way out. He could keep silent and hope for the best. But lives were at stake.
He did what he had to do. He came clean. He confessed the mistake. Plans were drawn up to correct the problem. Work began. And three months later, the building was strong enough to withstand a storm of the severity that hits New York once every seven hundred years.
The repairs cost millions of dollars. Nevertheless, LeMessurier’s career and reputation were not destroyed but enhanced. One engineer commended LeMessurier for being a man who had the courage to say, “I got a problem; I made the problem; let’s fix the problem.”
2. Considering present pressures, display courage.
How many of our fears concern themselves with the immediate need for protection and comfort? In other words, some of our fears have to do with our present. Will I be adequate in making the presentation? Will I pass the exam? Will she accept my proposal? Will I make the putt? Will they hire me after the job interview? Will I make the pass or hit the note or be able to do the routine? These are the fears of the present, fears of adequacy.
I have to be honest with you I get fearful every time I stand to give a talk. My palms become sweaty, my blood pressure rises, my stomach develops knots—the fear of speaking in public. I want to do well. I want to be effective. I want my message to be accepted and acted upon. Sometimes it is; sometimes it isn’t.
What do I do? I display courage.
It’s been said that courage is not the absence of fear but the ability to walk on in spite of it. Mark Twain wrote, “Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear—not absence of fear.” Plato stated that courage knows what to fear. Just because one is courageous does not imply that they are operating without fear.
Karle Wilson Baker penned:
Courage is armor
A blind man wears;
The calloused scar
Of outlived despairs
Courage is fear
That has said its prayers.
Courage confronts fear head-on. Basil King in The Conquest of Fear wrote, “Be bold—and mighty forces will come to your aid.” James Coleman stated, “The brave person is not the one who experiences no fear, but the one who acts courageously despite fear.”
We see courage displayed every day considering the Coronavirus. Doctors, nurses, medical personnel are going to clinics and hospitals to treat patients. We see it when First Responders arrive on the scene of a disaster. We see it when military personnel goes to fight battles to protect our freedom. We see it in moms and dads providing for and protecting their families.
Courage is the muscle of character that flexes to give individuals, families, and nations their strength to continue amid overwhelming odds.
General George Patton said, “The time to take counsel of your fears is before you make an important battle decision. That is the time to listen to every fear you can imagine. When you have collected all the facts and fears and made your decision, turn off all your fears and go ahead.”
3. Considering future threats, walk on.
Does not many of our fears have to do with the uncertainty of things we cannot see or do not know? In other words, aren’t many of our fears hidden in the darkness, both real and imagined? If you’ve ever walked into a room in total darkness there will be hesitation, caution, and apprehension because you are fearful about making a wrong turn or walking into something. The same would not be true when the lights were on. It is the same way in life, there are troubling, dark times in which fear is increased because we don’t know which way to turn or which way to go. The tomorrows of life are often shrouded in fear. Will I get a job when I graduate? Will I have a job next week? Will I ever get married? Will I contract the virus? Will I be able to send my children to college? Will I be able to retire? Will the test come back negative?
With looming threats, what must we do? We walk toward our fears. We walk on despite our fears.
In recounting his life long struggle to gain victory over his old enemy rheumatic heart disease, H. C. Brown stated that a friend shared with him this helpful philosophy for attacking fears: “The way to defeat your fear is to walk toward it.” Ralph Waldo Emerson was right. “Do the thing you fear, and the death of fear is certain.”
In the last few weeks, as I’ve been making my rounds as a workplace chaplain, the main topic of conversation has been on the virus. Onsite visits that should take two hours have been taking three to four hours. People need and want to talk. They want their fears relieved. They want to be comforted and reminded that this too shall pass.
I’ve told them that this crisis has taught me that so much of my life is outside of my control. But the only thing I can control is my response to these events. I can respond in fear or I can respond in faith. I choose to respond in faith. Faith is the antithesis of fear. Fear and faith cannot cohabitate. If we want to dispel fear, we must display faith. It takes faith to admit our failures, to display courage, and to walk on despite our fear.
I hope and pray that you too will walk in faith,