I’ve had a song stuck in my head since November 3. It wasn’t until I read Laura de Jong’s lovely collection of poems in her post this week that it occurred to me.

Based on the words of one of the poems Laura shared, the song is a Taize chant that we sing in a group spiritual direction cohort I’m participating in called the School of Prayer. At the end of our time of listening, sharing, and learning together, we stand in a (socially distant) circle in the parking lot and sing together: 

Let nothing trouble you or frighten you

For the one who has God lacks nothing

Let nothing trouble you or frighten you

God alone, God alone, God alone is enough

It leapt into my head as I watched the election results start to come in, and it’s been on repeat in my mind ever since. And, truth be told, it’s been making me really mad.

There is so much to be troubled by, so much that frightens me right now. If you’re living in the U.S., and you’re not afraid during this peak-COVID, post-election moment, I’d like to suggest that you are not paying attention. This fear is not insane and it is not faithless. It is what happens when there is uncertainty literally everywhere.

Why does the Bible insist, over and over again, that we must not be afraid?

I have only ever received this “Do not be afraid” commandment as a kind of scolding. Fear is a faithless response. Fear is a denial of God. Fear is wrong, bad, weak. “God alone is enough,” quit your whimpering.

I felt vindicated by listening to a podcast hosted by Kate Bowler in which psychologist Hillary McBride says, “Trying to get rid of fear is like trying to get rid of swallowing or digestion. It’s hardwired into our neurobiology.” THANK YOU, Hillary. (Take that, angel Gabriel.) The podcast encourages us to become more curious about our fear — what memories root it, where it’s felt in our body, whether it has offered something useful and should spark our gratitude. And also how to let it pass.

I’ve come to discover, in my own fear-filled defense, that the disciples were afraid a lot. This is a lifeline for me. One of my favorite stories in Mark’s gospel is when Jesus calms the storm. When it’s done, the disciples “fear a really big fear,” according to the Greek. It makes me laugh every time. This story is a Platitude Greatest Hit (“Jesus is the one who calms my every storm”) and yet the ones in the actual boat that day did not feel comforted, nor calm. They stood in that suddenly glassy sea and miraculously still boat, and they feared themselves a nice, big fear. This I deeply understand.

The disciples were deeply loved by Jesus.

My preaching professor in seminary gave his students this charge: help folks hold two seemingly opposing truths, one in each hand. We cannot be unafraid; we need not be afraid. The storm is real; Jesus is here. This is hard work, holding them both. 

Let nothing trouble you or frighten you; we live in terrifying times.

For the one who has God lacks nothing; we long for a peace, fellowship, unity we do not have.

God alone, God alone, God alone is enough.

May it be so.

Photo by Aarón Blanco Tejedor on Unsplash

Kate Kooyman

Rev. Kate Kooyman is a minister of the Reformed Church in America who lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

11 Comments

  • Helen P says:

    “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.”

  • mstair says:

    “And also how to let it pass.”

    Giving thanks for our accurate representation of these days, but I’d rather not work at it.

    I understand experiencing from where being afraid comes. I yearn for experiencing the sudden awareness that – even though I should be … I’m not anymore. I just want that “ peace of God that exceeds all understanding” to show up.
    (Let It Be)

  • Daniel J Meeter says:

    This is good. To your point on Mark, every time the Lord Jesus predicts his resurrection (3 times in Mark) the disciples are afraid, and when at the end the women witness it, they leave afraid. If we are not honest about our fear, and able to enter our fear and explore it, we will not really face the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, I believe. (Those who say that Mark’s Gospel lacks a full resurrection account [and thereby must be the first written] miss how much the anticipation of the resurrection is through and through in Mark.) As for myself, having grown up as a fear-based personality, I want to separate my unhealthy fear from my proper healthy fear. I believe, for me, they result in different responses to life, and only the second carries freedom.

  • I wonder if the words that might help us more would be, “Don’t panic.” Don’t let your animal brain take over. It takes a lot of internal work to be able to face our fears, be curious about them, but maybe “be not afraid” is the invitation to do it. My experience is that the Spirit helps me not panic (sometimes!) and gives me the courage to examine my reactions. I don’t think God expects us not to react, since the LORD “has compassion on us” and “remembers that we are dust.” (Ps 103.13-14)

  • RLG says:

    Thanks, Kate, for your take on fear and being afraid. You can point to numerous examples of God’s Old Testament people or the followers of Jesus being afraid, even against the warnings not to be. That’s because the fear they experienced was rooted in superstition. Religion, including Christianity, is also rooted in superstition, a fear of the unknown. One definition given of superstition on the web dictionary is, “irrational fear of what is unknown or mysterious, especially in connection with religion.” That could also be the definition of religion, including Christianity, an irrational fear, like the fear of sinners being in the hands of an angry God (Jonathan Edwards). Thanks, Kate for your take on fear.

  • Stacia Hoeksema says:

    Beautiful Kate. Thank you!

  • “Fear not.” How terrifying those words had to be when God’s people were already scared out of their wits. “Let not your hearts be troubled” probably had a similar effect when anxiety was washing over Jesus’ followers. Me? I’m breathing in, breathing out, and standing on the promises of God.

  • Duane Kelderman says:

    What a timely word for us all. Thanks so much, Kate.

  • Daniel Bos says:

    We use the word “fear” as the name or a feeling or emotion. So “fear” as well as many other words we use to name our feelings or emotions or mental activity [such as, anger, revenge, patience, hope, love , or faith] is used by the Bible to instruct us not on how to think or to feel but to instruct us on how to act on or not to act on those thoughts or feelings. Acting courageously, for example, assumes that we are feeling fear.

  • Dana says:

    Yes. You get me. I love you. And now I also have the song stuck in my head, which isn’t a bad thing. Thanks for sharing your gift with the world and with me.

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