I wouldn’t characterize myself as a fearful or anxious person. But within the last year the fear of unemployment coupled with the fear of a cancer diagnosis hovered like specters over our house. They were cruel specters, haunting and taunting, saying things like, “Look where your faithfulness to God has gotten you: nowhere” and “After all this, your little girls will be without a mother, they won’t remember you, and you will not grow old with Shawn.” All we could do was to continually hurl ourselves into the mercies and kindnesses of God and beg the prayers of others.
In our case, unemployment would’ve proven immediately disastrous. We have no safety nets. Our families of origin are poor. Our parents are sick and so we function as the kinsman redeemers for both sides. They are barely getting by. Every month they struggle with whether or not they’ll go without food, or healthcare, or medication, or paying the utility bills.
And so the effects of unemployment would’ve eliminated our ability to help our extended families, too. In unemployment we would’ve tumbled back into the poverty from whence we came. Couple our employment woes with the discovery of nodules in my thyroid, and it made for a difficult year.
And yet as I reflected on it, I knew poverty wasn’t the worst thing in the world. I knew rural poverty. I knew what it was like to wake up freezing on winter mornings with no heat because my parents couldn’t afford to pay the astronomical price for fuel oil. Filling the tank would’ve required my dad’s check in its entirety. I knew hunger—the pain of not having anything to eat because there is no money for food. Thank God my abuelita knew how to make flat bread out of flour, water, and oil. There were stretches when it’s all we had. School was a warm respite and a place where I could get a free lunch. No, poverty isn’t the worst thing. It isn’t the most fearful thing. And neither is dying prematurely. The worst thing, the most fearful thing, would be to be without God and without hope in this world.
Growing up, I had Jesus in my poverty. Why then did I allow those spectral fears to woo me into forgetting the truth of God’s presence and provision? Why did I allow them to trick me into thinking the possibility of my death was the end of the world? I had to work through all of this. I had to come to terms with my fears, to banish them from my presence in the name of Jesus. It took lots of practice.
After some time, I was able to accept that it didn’t matter if we had to go to the food pantry, or on public assistance. I was familiar with those. We had each other, our little loving family, and the support of the body of Christ. If I were to die, I’d have to trust that God in his goodness would give my husband and my daughters their daily bread and possibly provide another mommy and wife.
It turns out that my nodules aren’t cancerous—for now. However, I’ll have to keep an eye on them for the rest of my life. And eventually, God graciously provided a job for my husband—it was a true miracle. But the most miraculous thing of all was being able to live without fear in these fear-inducing situations before getting the “all clear” from the doctors and before my husband landed his job.
All of us fear. The Fall has inseminated fear into our souls. But thanks be to God, we do not have to allow fear to reign in our mortal bodies. Throughout Scripture we read, “Fear not.” When we really do begin to believe that the kingdom of God is the safest place to be (as Dallas Willard was so fond of saying), our spectral fears will flee far, far away.
Join the Conversation
Have you lived in situations that others fear? How has it shaped your own story?
Do you believe that the Kingdom of God is the safest place to be? Why or why not?
Marlena Graves (M.Div. Northeastern Seminary in Rochester, NY) is a by-lined writer for Christianity Today’s Her.meneutics Blog and Gifted For Leadership Blog. She is grateful to have been a member of the Renovare Institute for Christian Spiritual Formation. Her book, A Beautiful Disaster: Finding Hope in the Midst of Brokenness (Brazos Press), will be out in June of 2014.