FogOfFear

You can see it far off, looming on the horizon, a thick fog menacing off the coast and swirling in the distance. You know the signs. You’ve been here many times before, but you’ve learned to carry on.  At first, you kind of ignore it, you are aware it’s there. You don’t want to work yourself up, so you busy yourself with things in the hope that the winds will change, and the fog is driven out to sea. The winds rarely change.

In time it approaches, subtle and quiet, caressing its way—almost seducing its way back into your life. Your defense mechanism hasn’t worked, and you can’t keep up the charade. At first, it’s manageable. “This isn’t so bad,” you think, “I can handle this.” Before you know it, the fog is all around you, the thick blur is everywhere, and the familiar comforts are gone. In the fog, sounds are distant echoes, faces are veiled shapes, and the familiar becomes strange; you know it all too well. Feeling alienated and overwhelmed—unable to trust yourself, in the fog of anxiety you give up. You lose yourself in an existential madness. You have a panic attack.

For the anxious and disquieted, fog is a good metaphor.  In fog we lose our bearings, we lose our vision to see reality, and we feel isolated and alone. Sometimes anxiety comes out of nowhere. Anxiety is an existential crisis because it alienates us from reality. That is why a panic attack has a deep sense of dread about it. In a panic, we feel that we are captivated by new truths and new realities.

Have you ever had the experience of waking up from a nightmare only to be troubled by it later in the day? Something about the nightmare hangs around. It is as if the nightmare was exposing something about the real world that you can’t quite shake. Usually, in a short time, this sensation falls away, lost amidst the distractions of waking up. The nightmare, with all its teeth, is not actually real. That’s what anxiety is like, a brooding, lingering sense of unease that turns into real terror. However, unlike the nightmare, it doesn’t go away.

Panic appears to be a revelation—a disclosure about how things really are. Just as fog can make the familiar, strange—and therefore disorient us, unhinging us from the moorings that give us stability and comfort. Anxiety exposes what we take for granted by giving us a new kind of vision, a new story we tell ourselves about who we are, what we can handle, and what is real. Anxiety is a story that is always negative, always fatal, always self-harming, weak and victimizing.

What if this story is true? What if the fog is the way things really are, and the sunlight is just a mirage? What if the nightmare is real and the waking-world is false? It can be tempting to go there, but let’s not go there because nothing good can come from it. Instead, let’s be honest about anxiety and see what that does. The Psalmist says to trust the Lord like a weaned child.

Anxiety is dreadful, it affects our quality of life. Anxiety is debilitating. That doesn’t mean it is true. This is the key point I want to focus on today. The question we must return to in our anxious, fog-laden crisis is always: Is this true? It’s not.

Anxiety is not prophesy. Anxious people live as if it is. Anxiety makes predictions: “I’m going to fail”, “I can’t handle it”, “This will never work.” Anxiety makes judgments: “I’m a failure at being a Christian,” “I’m too weak,” “I’m a bad Christian.”  We need to ask, “Is this true?” Who gets to speak into your life and tell you who you are? Who gets to name and talk about you? Who gets to identify the central essence of what it is to be you? Anxiety wants to.

Does your anxiety have the right to name you, inform you, identify you, claim knowledge of who you are? No. It does not. Anxiety is not God. Anxiety is predominately demonic, because, “Perfect love casts out fear” (I John 4:18) and Christ says, “Don’t be afraid” (Mark 5:36). Fear is dangerous to our faith not because it exposes that our faith is weak, but because it tempts us to worship false gods. The danger of fear is that it blinds us from the truth, the truth that God loves us. That love—the love of God as seen in Jesus, in God’s giving of His Son for His glory should speak into our fear and counteract it. God may not always shield you from the terrors of anxiety, but his Word is always more powerful and can counteract any untruth.

That is what anxiety always is: false beliefs. “I can’t handle this.” False. “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13). “I’m too weak!” Maybe so! “But we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance and endurance produces character, and character produces hope” (Romans 5:3-4). “I’m a failure at being a Christian.” False! “For it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for His good pleasure.” (Philippians 2:13). “I’m a bad Christian.” Wrong! “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). By asking, “Is this feeling or thought true?” Is this God? We have two options; we can trust our hearts and experiences, or we trust the God who IS truth.

Essentially, what it means to live the Christian life is to live it trusting God’s words of truth. God’s words are powerful and creative, and unlike human words, God’s words do what they say. God’s words create faith when they are heard. They grant strength when we are weak. God’s words of truth counteract the negative and lying untruths of anxiety.

In the fog of anxiety, even though we feel alone, alienated, isolated, weak and near death; the feelings are real, however, the thoughts behind the feelings are not true.  We have a God who is with us always. God never abandons us as orphans, He walks with us through death-valleys, and His strength is sufficient for our weaknesses. These are all His promises. They are all true. The anxious person may have doubts and that’s OK. However, to press in through the fear and not allow it to harm us, we are to hold fast to Christ’s word and promises. I should know. I’ve experienced the fog of deep, dark panic attacks. Then, when I’m reminded of God’s promises, I feel better. Why? Because I ask myself, “Is this anxious thought true?” No, it’s not. It’s false.  I’m taken outside myself by words that give forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation. God’s words are true. He who calmed the storm with His words can calm my jittery nerves with the same words. The storms of my life are just as vulnerable to the King’s command of peace as that ancient storm was to Jesus Christ.

Out there, in the world today, in our city, our State, and our Country, there is a lot to be concerned about. War or peace. Democrat or Republican. Famine. Pestilence. The Coronavirus. Influenza A or B. The economy. Life or death. All of these things may strike fear into your hearts. However, Jesus says in John 14:1, “Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me.”

Therefore, hear God’s Word of truth for you today from Philippians 4:7, “Then God’s peace, passing all understanding, will keep your hearts and minds safe in union with Christ Jesus.”

Brothers and sisters, God’s peace be with you. Take heart! Don’t take what the world gives, but take what Jesus Christ gives. His peace. It’s eternal peace. That peace which passes all our understanding.

This is most certainly true.

~ taken from Bruce Hillman

 

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