My first memory is a memory of fear. At four or five years old, alone in my bedroom, I was gripped suddenly by the certainty that something would go wrong. I looked up at the pink bows my mom had painted on the walls, my stomach twisting in knots. The conviction that the future wasn’t friendly made itself manifest in my body. It was the beginning of a lifelong relationship with fear.
“Feelings make excellent servants, but terrible masters,” Dallas Willard wrote. This is part of what Jesus is telling us when he commands us, “Don’t be afraid” (Matt. 14:27). The admonition not to fear is the most frequently repeated command in the Bible. It’s routinely appealed to as if it were a neat syllogism: Jesus said “do not fear”; Christians obey Jesus; therefore, I am not afraid. God said it; I believe it; that settles it.
Would that it were so simple. Fear in the form of anxiety (owing to Generalized Anxiety Disorder, which I have) is a constant companion. A persistent, irrational fear about the future is the best definition of anxiety I have heard, and it joins me daily as a heavy ball in my stomach or a fluttering hummingbird in my throat. Nothing I can do brings instant relief. “Be with me,” I pray, even though God is already with me, and it is I who need to be with him.
Yet despite fear’s unbidden presence, I have come to understand fear as a gift. The fear itself is not a gift I want, but it is part of the way I am wired in my very physiology, and try as I might, I can’t get rid of it. As hard as it has been—the panic attacks, the powerlessness, the isolation—every bout of anxiety has driven me closer to the God who is a Great Comforter. If ...1