This is a true story. Earlier this month I sat gazing at a horseshoe bay rimmed with sugar sand where coconut palms and pine trees dip their lush extremities toward a turquoise sea. This bounty was the result of marrying a good man and working with people who deal generously with me. But that is a longer story.
What here connects the man, the people, the postcard view, and me is this reality: I am like essayist Alain de Botton, who upon arriving in temperate Barbados in winter, thought about a nagging sore throat and worried about unreturned phone calls until it dawned on him: "I had inadvertently brought myself with me to the island." I too was the main obstacle to my front-row view of paradise, hobbled by past cares and future worries until I forced myself to take a mental inventory: Just what is it I'm so afraid of?
So herewith is my seaside catalog of fear-listed with the raw misorder of a paranoiac:
War without end, taking whole or maiming in part promising young men day by day. A break-in at a nuclear site setting off Armageddon, or worse, partial Armageddon. A mishap involving height, speed, and my 19-year-old son. Meltdown of the 401(k). The mysterious disappearance of a daughter. Falling out of an airplane, being buried alive, or drowning in the sea. Naked knowledge of what other people think of me. A season where Democrats control the White House and both houses of Congress. Cancer. Wrinkles.
I am not proud of this list. It ranges from the sobering to the silly. It displays a remarkable lack of imagination. Or at least overflows with fear of the known, seeing that just days after making this mental list two Palestinian suicide bombers attempted a terror attack near Israel's Dimona nuclear facility, and 13 college students in Tennessee found themselves buried by tornadoes in the rubble that was their university (see p. 66).
My list stems from workplace hazards-forcing myself to read the Pentagon's casualty reports on a daily basis-to cultural shoals-watching too many reruns in the era of Jaws and The Poseidon Adventure, reading Cormac McCarthy's The Road, and watching even a fractional amount of Natalee Holloway--obsessed CNN.
Worst of all, my list reveals undeniable evidence that I fear those who kill the body more than I fear Him who can destroy both soul and body. What is my remedy?
Some will rightly say that the antidote to fear is faith. They might ask whether my professed faith is concrete or abstract. But I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last He will stand upon the earth. It's the days in between, where fear-well-founded in some cases, fear for my children and grandchildren and fear for my country and for my young ROTC friends-seeps its miasma of despair into thoughts that should be otherwise preoccupied.
A nearer antidote to fear in this case is praise. Not only the orchestrated praise of fellowship and worship, but the workaday praise C.S. Lewis defines as "inner health made audible." My list signals a crabbed interior life where I spend too much time working over my role in the universe and not enough time making much of God's work in renewing it. I believe this also explains why conservative leaders-Christians among them-have made bitter spectacles of themselves in this election season. Inner health in the spiritual life driving conservative political expression has turned self-interested and self-consumed. Like my sadly preoccupied self at the shore, they resemble Martin Luther's homo incurvatus in se, a curved-in race that bends the best gifts of God to seek "all things, even God, for its own sake."
Charles Spurgeon preached, "We shall not enter heaven, dear friends, as a dismasted vessel is tugged into harbor," but that "the whole ship shall be floated safely into the haven, body and soul both being safe." In that is there comfort enough to drive out today's fears, mine and yours? To take a front-row seat in paradise, untroubled and free?
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