It’s been a long weekend for Jessica, and she’s glad to be back home. She’s dirty, sweaty, smelly, and exhausted. The family went camping—the kids had been begging for months, and her husband had gotten new gear, including a comfortable sleeping pad for her. He knew how much she values her comfort. What he doesn’t know is how viscerally Jessica hates camping. He wouldn’t know, of course, because she makes a point of not letting her preferences get in the way of theirs. That’s what a good wife and mom does, right?
Actually, the family loved it so much, they agreed to go again next month. She agreed to go, too. She is not looking forward to it, but it’s vastly preferable to being home alone all weekend anyway.
Jessica is extremely loyal to her loved ones. She asks their opinion about everything before making a decision, and then asks their feedback about everything she has done. She enjoys being with them 24/7. Actually, one of her greatest fears, causing sheer panic at the thought, is to be alone all weekend at home. She would hate that even more than camping.
Her loyalty is one of her key defining traits, in her opinion. It’s not just with family. Jessica prides herself on being a good friend and follower. She may not be gifted at taking initiative, but she thrives in following loyally. This means the occasional sacrifice, but isn’t that what friends do for each other? And this applies to her church family, too. For example, she often gets called on to cook meals for her church body, when a new mom has a baby or when someone is sick. The truth is, she doesn’t enjoy cooking at all. But Jesus said we are to bear our cross, right? Plus, they really need her.
Jessica values looking young and good. She is always put together, with a smile on her face. Projecting such a confident image serves two purposes, in her mind: it makes Christ look good to outsiders, and it helps her avoid the anxiety she knows she would experience if she was seen at the grocery store with less than her best makeup and outfit on. With every passing year, she becomes more and more health conscious and seeks to ward off aging. She is always the first to get her flu shot. She eats well, knows all her vitamins, buys expensive anti-wrinkle cream, and exercises several times a week. Plus, it beats being home alone when the kids are at school and hubby is at work.
She stay informed about what is happening in the world, and especially the tragedies of life. She spends a lot of time imagining how she would react if those calamities happened to her. Her mind always goes to the worst-case scenarios; she calls it wisdom in being well-prepared. She is not sure how that happens, but she always lands in the same hypothetical scene: what would happen if her husband died and she was left to fend for herself? She knows it does not sound very trusting in God, but she really doesn’t know what to do about it.
So, Jessica prays that the faith of her church friends will somehow rub off on her, because she does not seem to be able to muster much of it on her own. And in the meantime she seeks to forget her growing anxiety by numbing it with escapes to a world of make-believe: she spends a lot of her days watching innocuous shows on Netflix and reading copious amounts of romance fiction. And then there’s always the escape of the ever-comforting deep house cleaning.
She has more and more often found herself deep-cleaning at three in the morning when sleep would not come, despite the sleeping pills she’s gotten accustomed to. House cleaning is soothing. As she is scrubbing the kitchen tile again, she wonders: is she living the best version of her life?
What would you tell Jessica? Would you pick up a brush and join her on her kitchen floor? Would you make her a cup of tea and tell her to take a deep breath and chillax a little?
Proverbs challenges us with two options when fear paralyses us: to numb it, or to expulse it. Proverbs 31:6-7 describes the numbing through wine and forgetfulness. Jessica would recognize herself there.
The alternative to numbing is expulsing the fear. Thomas Chalmers writes in the 1750’s about the “expulsion power of a new affection.” He means that removing fear is not enough; it needs to be replaced by something else: a deeper, more powerful affection. Jesus shared the story of the demon-possessed man who found himself in a worse situation when seven more demons came to invade the house that had been cleaned, but not filled (see Luke 11:24-26). In other words, fear is always a secondary motivation in the transformation process. It needs to be kicked out, but then the void left must be filled by something superior: faith and joy in God are the alternative proposed in Scripture.
Joy is always a more powerful motivator than fear, because joy in God existed before the fall of man which ushered in fear. Joy in God predates fear in the garden of Eden. Joy in God will exist through all of eternity future when fear is but a dim memory. We will experience lasting change today when we choose to rejoice in God more than we choose to fear hypothetical scenarios, or even the consequences of our very real actions.
Fear comes from a disordered life, which is the result of disordered loves. Jessica loves, but she loves disorderly. Her loyalty is sincere but misguiding. Fear and love cannot truly, deeply cohabitate in the same soul: perfect love drives out fear (1John 4:18, NIV). We see this most evidently in the relationship that God calls us to have with Him: we are called into the love of the Father, even more than we are called away from sin.
Fear is self-centered, while faith is Christ-centered. Faith is grounded in who God is; fear is grounded in who I am on my own. The cure against anxiety and unbelief is not more information; it is joy in God. Faith and trust become more real when we choose to delight and rejoice in God, rather than fear our own inadequacies. This is what Jessica needs to discover. If you have faith in man, you will live in the fear of man; if you have faith in God, you will delight in the fear of God. Fearing God, in the Proverbial sense, is true wisdom (Proverbs 1:7, Psalm 110:10). Don’t think of the “fear of God” as cowering before a powerful tyrant. The fear of God is a well-placed, reverent awe of His greatness and beauty and power. His great love does not preclude His majesty, but only enhances it.
We must expulse fear, but we can only do so when we replace it with something more powerful and lasting: joyful faith in God. We are salt and light as result of experiencing the transformative glory of God through Christ.
We invite you to discover Jessica’s full story from fear to faith on the Gospel Spice Podcast this week, and to hear more about joyful faith in God as YOUR daily reality, starting today. Don’t wait. God awaits you there.