I love watching movies that bring out fear in me. I love the suspense, I love the action, and I love the unknown. I love getting scared and the anticipation as the music builds to let you know SOMETHING is about to happen! What do I love most about these kinds of movies? They aren’t my life. They offer an escape from the truth that I struggle enough with my own, everyday fears. And I don’t believe my personal fears are unique. Perhaps you can relate.
I have a fear that I am not raising my kids the right way. I fear that when they get older they might walk away from their faith because of my parenting. I worry that something I did or didn’t do will cause them to be insecure in their faith. The fear is that somehow I’m responsible for whether my children love God, hope in him, and embrace his saving grace in their life. I don’t think I am alone in that fear.
I have a fear that I won’t be liked by people. Which is funny, because I tell my kids that they need to be who they are and not to worry if someone doesn’t like them. I assure them they are not here to impress others nor to do what other people want. I want them to be them. “Be who God created you to be!” is my response to them. I know full-well that I need a dose of my own medicine, and yet I don’t swallow it well. Because I worry about being liked. I know it’s silly--but am human and I am not alone in this fear.
This is my biggest fear. I worry that I am disappointing God and I’m not living up to the fullness of his desires of me. I fret that I’m failing my callings by not the best husband to my wife nor father to my children. I fear that I’m not the best pastor and shepherd to the flock entrusted to my care. I fear that while I know God desires me to spend more time with people I often feel I don't. Is this a legitimate fear? Maybe? Maybe not? But regardless I don’t think I’m alone in my fear.
And while I’m at it–-I think I fear my fear. I fear that my fear will take over and it will pull my focus from God. It’s one thing to have a fear that is substantiated, but none of mine are. I know people who fear dogs because they were once bitten. I get that. Fear understood. I know people who fear cancer because their family has been rocked by ugly and untimely deaths due to disease. To me that’s a fear that makes sense. But my fears? None of them are valid. None of them make sense.
The fear that my kids may one day walk away from their faith? It's not up to me. It’s outside of my control. They will make their own choices and God will work in their lives. I can cultivate a garden, but can't force a plant to grow. I can invest in their future, but the outcome is not on me. Just as I belong, body and soul, to my Lord and Savior, then my kids are also his and he has their journey known and watched over as he has on mine. Do we do things we wish we hadn’t? Do we ever wish for a mulligan or do-over? Of course, but even those cannot change the outcome of our lives. We read in Ephesians 1:5 as well as Romans 8:29 that our future is in God’s hands. It is all his will. So no matter how much I fear it will not change an outcome or thwart what God is doing. Fear, here, is a wasted emotion.
To fear being liked by people? Yeah, that’s silly. Yes we all want to be liked. Yes we all want to be appreciated. But other people’s values and opinions of us should never matter to the extent that we fear their opinions of us. And in this case, it’s not not being “liked” that we fear, it’s being rejected or alone that terrifies us. If I am fearful of being alone then really I need to be reminded that the only person that will never let me down is God. God is always with us (Isaiah 41:10 and Psalm 23:4), and God will never leave us (Hebrews 3:5-6).
And lastly, to fear that I am not living up to the standards of God? Well that’s probably true, and yet I am loved and forgiven always. God expects much of me and I can always strive to do better. Never should I think that I’m the best husband, friend, brother, son, father, pastor, or shepherd. I SHOULD seek to be better, and the only way to be better is to work at it, learn from my mistakes, and move forward. But God already loves me. Jesus died on the cross for me. God already holds me in his hands. God knows our worries, concerns, and fears. And his hand is firmly established upon our lives. Nothing we fear or do will change that. He’s got us and so maybe we should release what brings us fear and allow God to care for us as he always has. And in truth? We are not powerful enough to change any outcome on any situation--so let’s not think of ourselves that highly.
Rev. Dr. Rob Toornstra
Dr. Robert Ritzema