devozine

Spiritual Practice

WHEN FEARS BECOME REALITY

Rev. J. Dana Trent

I have always been anxious. My mother deemed me a “worrywart” at age six when my bedtime prayers became a desperate cadence of catastrophic scenarios: “Please God, no fires, floods, or burglars.” I begged Mom to keep her light on until I fell asleep; the glow from her room assured me that she was still awake and watching over us.

Nighttime worries seeped into the daylight. I lived through the all-too-frequent fears of a K-12 student: guns at school; friends in car accidents. In 2001, I was a sophomore in college when two airplanes struck the twin towers of New York City’s World Trade Center on a Tuesday morning. Classes were cancelled; silence enveloped our small campus. My suitemates and I stared at our TV in disbelief. How could this happen? Soon panic ensued, and phone calls to parents were made in vain. “All circuits are busy” was the day’s mantra.

Today, the latest crisis is broadcast in a 24/7 news cycle. Twitter feeds bring us by-the-minute updates; trending hashtags inform us of the latest disaster. Hurricanes, mass shootings, fatal rallies. How do we function when we feel we are only one planned or random act away from death?

Working as a hospital chaplain resident after college and seminary didn’t lessen my fear. In that year, I saw every worst-case scenario: accidents, fires, snake bites, an innocent infection gone awry. Everywhere I turned, there was danger.

Now, as a professor, my anxiety manifests as I rehearse classroom scenarios in my mind: What if an active shooter threatened my students’ safety? How could I protect them? Could I sacrifice my own life to save the ones they are just beginning?

“Have faith,” my mother told me when I would confess my terror. “Consider the lilies,” she’d add, quoting Luke 12:27-29. That was her code for “Why do you not believe God’s promises?” My constant anxiety seemed counter to having deep faith in God. Yes, terrible things happen every day. Yes, we all suffer in one way or another. But instead of focusing on fear, which often brings out the worst in humanity, how can we hope, trust, and serve one another? Even when we feel that all is lost, how can we trust the promises of scripture and learn to rely on God?

 

DIG DEEPER

What scares you? Make a list of your worst fears. Then imagine yourself in one of those worst-case scenarios. Think about how you might cope if you knew God was present with you. What practices might help you to rely on God?

This exercise finds its roots in stoicism, an ancient form of philosophy. Some stoics would use their imagination to place themselves into worst-case scenarios. They believed that, over time, this practice helped them to realize that they could indeed survive such situations. We too can prepare for times when our fears become reality. Spiritual disciplines such as prayer, meditation, and scripture reading can steady us. With practice, these tools become part of our spiritual muscle memory so that when panic strikes, we can more readily rely on God.

Rev. J. Dana Trent , an ordained Baptist minister and former chaplain, is professor of World Religions and Critical Thinking at Wake Tech Community College. Her third book with Upper Room Books, One Breath at a Time: A Skeptic’s Guide to Christian Meditation, is now available.

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