The Lord is my light and my salvation—so why should I be afraid? The Lord is my fortress, protecting me from danger, so why should I tremble? Psalm 27:1
Fear is a four-letter word. As much as I wish it were not a common part of my vocabulary, it is. I regularly battle fear and its ugly counterparts, anxiety and depression. I want to claim that I have achieved complete victory over these strongholds in my life, but doing so would be dishonest. It’s a painful battle.
Part of the wound is self-inflicted. I struggle with fear, and then I heap on piles of shame for not being stronger. I listen to the lie that if I were better, wiser, healthier, xyz-ier, I wouldn’t be so afraid.
However, when I dig into scripture, I see countless examples of God working miracles through people even while they were experiencing gut-wrenching fear.
Moses was afraid that his speech was too insufficient to persuade Pharaoh. (Exodus 6:28-30)
The Israelites, God’s chosen people, were afraid of perishing in the desert, despite the miracles they witnessed to achieve their freedom. (Exodus 16:1-3)
David was afraid while being chased by King Saul. He fled and even hid in caves to preserve his life. (1 Samuel 18-31)
Esther was afraid of going before the King uninvited. Doing so could lead to death. (Esther 4)
So, how do we become brave while still feeling overcome by fear?
In July of 2017, I was working for the YMCA in Seattle. One night, right before I was about to go home for the evening, one of our building alarms started blaring. At first, we thought it was a simple emergency exit alarm, but we quickly realized it was something more.
One of our fitness instructors yelled from down the hall that we had a medical emergency on our cardio floor. I knew I had to respond.
Someone handed me our AED machine and I ran. The instant I arrived at the scene I knew the situation was grave. I also knew that I was now responsible for attempting to save someone’s life—the machine that could do it, if it could be done, was literally in my hands.
Honestly, my initial reaction was that I didn’t know if I could bear it if someone died because my efforts to revive them were unsuccessful. I wanted to deflect the responsibility to someone more qualified—a lifeguard, an EMT, a doctor—but those people simply weren’t there.
The gentleman had no breath and no pulse, so the fitness instructor and I got to work. She started CPR and I hooked up the AED machine. We followed the prompts—cleared the body, waited for the signal that a shock was advised, and then, I pushed the button. I shocked him. Despite the fact that this machine was built to save lives, I was terrified that I would mess up and cause additional damage.
The machine reevaluated and recommended more compressions. I was trying to remember all of my training, but my adrenaline was pumping and fear was shouting. I located the proper positioning on his chest and began. My mind was full of thoughts like, “You’re doing it wrong!” “You can’t remember how many compressions before breaths? What’s wrong with you!” “This guy is going to die and it will all be your fault!”
In reality, this gentleman was already dead. He had no pulse and wasn’t breathing.
Yet, fear doesn’t care about what’s true.
Before I completed an entire round of compressions, something miraculous happened. The man’s body tensed. I actually thought he was going to start seizing, but instead, he started breathing again and his color went from dark, bluish-purple to fleshy pink. I began speaking to him. Within seconds, he opened his eyes and asked what was going on and why everyone was looking at him!
I literally watched a man go from physical death to life that day. A true miracle. The people around me celebrated. I broke down into a puddle of tears.
Right after the man came back to life, a doctor, just there to workout, walked onto the scene. He asked me a couple of times if I was sure the machine had said, “shock advised.” I knew it had, but I couldn’t help but begin to focus on all of the things I knew I could have done better had I not been so afraid.
A man with no pulse and no breath in his lungs was sitting up and speaking with EMT’s by the time they arrived on scene, yet fear told me I screwed up. I believed it.
The next day, after the adrenaline subsided and I was more clear-headed, I realized that fear was out of control in my life, and so I started seeing a therapist.
I learned that healthy fear keeps us safe and dissipates once the threat is gone. Unhealthy fear is so damaging because it has no real end. It is not based on real danger, but only perceived danger, so it doesn’t resolve naturally once the danger passes.
My struggle is with unhealthy fear, the kind that tells me I am all alone. Rejected. That no one will understand my pain. That my suffering will never end.
It begs me to hide from those I need the most when I am overcome. Then, once isolated, it shouts accusations that I am unknown, unheard, and unloved.
Unhealthy fear is full of lies.
Over and over, scripture shows us examples of those God loved and called according to his purpose being afraid, yet still accomplishing the very thing he called them to do.
Moses brought the entire nation of Israel out of Egyptian slavery. (Exodus 12:31-42)
The Israelites had sustenance during their time of wandering. (Exodus 15:22-17:7)
David became king. (2 Samuel 2:1-7)
Esther rescued her people from slaughter. (Esther 5-9:17)
These stories illustrate that bravery can only occur when fear is present. Let that sink in. The only time I can show bravery is when I’m feeling afraid, but act anyway. The answer isn’t in avoiding fear, but in moving forward despite it.
I now believe that there wasn’t only one life saved that Monday night at the Y. God rescued me, too, and showed me that the only path towards relief from fear was through Him.
“There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.” 1 John 4: 18
When fear accuses me of messing up beyond repair, Christ’s perfect love reminds me that I am forgiven.
When fear drives me to isolation, Christ’s perfect love comforts me with His presence.
When fear tells me all hope is lost, Christ’s perfect love resurrects the promise of a future.
Do you feel afraid? You are not alone. In fact, you are in company of many heroes of faith, made STRONGER by the power of the Holy Spirit within them.
Christ is ready to make you STRONGER, too. His death and resurrection made our freedom possible. Salvation is a gift, and it is being offered to you today. I know this is real and true, because He’s made it real and true for me.
Father, I’m grateful today to be STRONGER than fear because of the power of your spirit inside me. When I am overcome, protect me with your love. Help me rest in the security of your truth, for you are who you say you are, and you will do what you say you will do. The battle is yours, Lord! Amen.