These are days of extreme fear. Not only because of COVID-19, however. According to the National Institute of Mental Health nearly 38 million adults and about 62 million adolescents reported experiencing a “specific phobia.” That’s roughly one third of the American population. And the 2019 Chapman University Survey of American Fears reports Americans are more afraid than ever.
For many this level of fear is all encompassing. It’s a din that drowns out all other voices! How can God comfort us when fear appears so overpowering?
The Parable of the Backpacking Dog
We recently took our year-old English Springer Spaniel puppy, Sir Winston, on his first back packing trip. 13.6 miles of some of the most beautiful and most difficult segments of the Colorado Trail we’ve hiked so far. He enjoyed the new scents and sights, save one. Completely out of his element, he found the other backpackers on the trail terrifying. If the monsters came too close he would leap and snarl and bark! Fear overpowered him. We were stunned our year-old cuddly puppy could be so wild and menacing.
But haven’t you found your own cute self in that very position? You’re cruising along in your Subaru accompanying Justin Bieber on the radio when suddenly a tricked-out, monster truck with American flags flapping roars past and cuts in front of you.
“#@$%%&@@#!!!!” you shout, flapping your own finger-flag. Fear and shock work the strangest personality transformations on the best of us.
How does God comfort us when we are overpowered by fear?
Dog training experts say one of the most powerful commands to teach is “Touch.” With a treat in my hand I extend it to Sir Winston saying, “Touch.” Sir Winston loves this. I love it too! I can say, “Touch” while he’s in another room and he’ll scoot in and nudge my hand with his cold, wet nose expecting to receive from me. It draws his attention to me and mine to him. We connect.
I’ve learned this is not a command to get him to obey so much as a word combined with gentle physical contact that fosters trust and intimacy between us.
When we were on the trail and he lost his mind to fear over the strange, massive monster approaching, I’d say, “Touch” and extend my hand. If he was really gone I had to touch his nose myself and say it over and over. Sometimes I’d have to hold him close and tight. Eventually though, his head vibrating with fear and confusion, he would nudge my hand and gobble the treat. Then I’d do it again and eventually he’d calm down. In that moment he knows he’s loved and safe. We’re hoping we’ll get to the point where we can calm him before and that eventually he’ll not be afraid at all.
Be Not Afraid
God knows the same truth about us. In the time of Isaiah, the people’s world was coming apart. Their king of fifty-one years had died. Powerful nations threatened to annihilate them. Contradictory voices shouted out about their gods, their solutions, their theories. Fear alone reigned!
In the midst of it all God commanded, “Fear not!” But it was not so much a command as a call for renewed intimacy with their God.
God also speaks this “command” in the depth of our fear and frenzy.
“Don’t panic. I’m with you. There’s no need to fear for I’m your God. I’ll give you strength. I’ll help you. I’ll hold you steady, keep a firm grip on you.” (Isaiah 41:10 The Message)
“Touch,” God says and I melt into his strength. I feel his presence like slipping into a warm house on a cold February night. I turn my gaze to God and away from the monster on the trail. I feel God’s touch and hear, “I am with you.”
I was not in the market for a dog. They are a lot of work. We got Sir Winston for The Redheaded-Wildflower. But he has stolen my heart. I love him more than I ever thought I could.
Don’t sell yourself or God short either. Our relationship with God can be more than that of Master and servant, Strong Arm and Skinny Kid. Yes, we need God. God is Alpha and Omega, Omniscient, Omnipresent, Omnipotent and all that. But God enjoys being close to us and desires intimacy with us. God will extend his hand and say, “Touch.” God will hunker down on the trail and enfold us in his care because God loves us!
Please forward this blog to someone you know who is being overpowered by fear. And let me know when you’ve heard God say, “Touch.”