Fear Not

To the best of my knowledge, I didn’t poison myself.

At least, that’s the conclusion I’ve reached three hours after eating a bowl of chili. No nausea. No vomiting. No stomach cramps. No diarrhea. I could probably eat another bowl tomorrow, if I’d like.

And I may, whether I’d like to or not. I have a hard time wasting food under any circumstances — probably due to my grandmother’s influence. These days, I am even more likely to stretch my leftovers and to eat them before I indulge in preparing something fresh.

That frugality, however, planted the seeds of fear regarding food poisoning. Yesterday, I started some chili for a potluck at church. Since I make mine with pinto beans instead of kidney beans, that means throwing the ingredients in a crockpot in the morning and letting it simmer all day.

Unfortunately, when it was time to head for the potluck, the beans were still hard — not as hard as they’d been at 7:30 a.m., but definitely crunchy. I decided not to take it. By bedtime, the beans still weren’t soft, so I decided to let the chili simmer overnight. By this morning, it was cooked to my satisfaction, so I put the chili in the refrigerator.

Over the course of the day, I started wondering why the chili took so long to cook. One possibility was the beans were old, that perhaps they’d been unearthed at the back of a cupboard when the kitchen was packed for my move and probably should have been thrown out. Another was my crockpot wasn’t functioning properly and the temperature wasn’t adequate to cook the beans.

The latter is what led me to the fear of food poisoning. I could have inadvertently prepared a culture for some kind of bacteria which would make me very sick. A sensible person with that fear would probably have thrown the chili away, but I couldn’t bring myself to do that. Instead, I ate a small bowl as a test.

What I find myself wondering at present is how many of our fears — or, at least, my fears — are the result of the imagination working overtime? If some of the fears that create barriers are imagined, how can they be managed?

The only answer I have sounds glib, but is not — by trusting God.

I have lived most of my life with fear as a companion — and made poor decisions out of that fear. I know the roots. My parents, both of whom are deceased, instilled that fear with free use of the razor strap as a disciplinary tool and rules their own fears generated. Since punishment for breaking the rules involved being struck with the razor strap, there was no room for boldness — at least not for me.

Losing Mom while still in high school didn’t help, especially since Dad’s temperament and hearing disability didn’t enable him to help us in any way navigate grief. And then, I made such an abysmal mess of those first years after leaving home. For those who haven’t figured this out, ignorance is not bliss. Ignorance is a hell in which you can make mistakes that handicap you for life.

Fortunately, God is good and out of the morass of those years came the sweetest blessings in my life — my daughters. (I should probably note that my grandgirls pretty much tie them in the blessings department these days, but this is about fear, not blessings.) Sadly, even after I started figuring out how life worked, thanks to a gifted counselor, circumstances still cultivated fear in my life. Friends betrayed me. Supervisors (with two incredible exceptions) treated me unfairly. And, it must be confessed, my own poor judgment was sometimes at the root of my difficulties.

However, I am learning these days God does not want fear to maintain a stranglehold on my life. He wants me to trust that He is at work in my life.

“Do not be afraid,” the angel Gabriel said to Mary (Luke 1:30). “Do not be afraid,” the angel said to the shepherds (Luke 2:10). “Do not be afraid,” Jesus said to the synagogue official whose daughter is sick (Mark 5:36). “Do not be afraid!” the angel said to the women at Christ’s tomb (Matt. 28:5). This New Testament mantra continues what is found in the Old Testament. “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom do I fear? The Lord is my life’s refuge; of whom am I afraid?” (Ps. 27:1).

But the words themselves aren’t enough. We must not only hear them with our ears and our hearts, we must respond. We must be willing to let go of our expectations and to trust God to work in our lives in unexpected ways. Does this mean we sit back & twiddle our fingers? No.

No, we must each day do what needs to be done. We must each day respond to what God brings into our lives. We must each day open our hearts to God in prayer. We must each day seek his guidance. We must each day be co-creators of our lives, but allowing God to call the shots rather than expecting our will to be done.

Is this easy? Is breaking a lifetime habit ever easy? Not for me, but I am finding it easier than living in fear.

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