I wish I had a quick, easy way to deal with fear. I wish that whenever I felt that inability to take a deep breath, that murky roiling of the stomach, that tightening of the shoulders I could do something—snap my fingers, maybe—to make everything better again. But life doesn’t work like that. My greatest fears all center on what people think of me—which makes things hard, now that I am writing grad school applications to convince people to like me enough to let me into their program. But I can’t simply drop everything and go hide in a hole for the next twenty years to wait for everything to go away; the applications have to be written, the homework has to be done, each day has to be lived out in exactly twenty-four hours. There is no fast-forward button on life, and so no way to get away from fear but to go through.
I feel all this very strongly; but I also realize, at times like these, that there is a strong Stoic in me somewhere just waiting to get out. The problem is that Christianity is not a stoic religion. Paul told us to “rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18). It simply is not biblical to live life in a dour, hardnosed way, grimly determined to carry out your duty if it’s the last thing you do. Jesus said, “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). We are to grasp this life with open arms, rejoicing at the new hope that has been given us. At the same time, we can see clearly that even the greatest lovers of God in the Bible were not uniformly cheerful. Job railed against God, and still was not counted unrighteous; David’s psalms are littered with complaints, but God did not discard him. It is legitimate to cry out to the Lord in despair, if that’s where you are.
I’m not quite sure where that leaves us. I wish I had a better answer. Perhaps the most important thing to remember is that it is possible to pray without ceasing in all circumstances—and that it is possible to give thanks in all circumstances. Even if you have to strain to find something to be thankful for, you can thank God—for creation and redemption, if nothing else. And when you remember that, no matter what, we have been created and redeemed, your other problems may seem a bit smaller. And perhaps it is even possible to rejoice in all circumstances, if we think of rejoicing not so much as an uncontrollable emotional surge but as a certain orientation of the mind and the heart. I can’t quite put my finger on what that would look like; I certainly haven’t mastered how to rejoice in God’s love even when the world seems to be falling down around me. But the seeds of joy lie in constant prayer, constant memory of what God has already done, and constant trust in what he will do. This isn’t a quick and easy answer; but, although I haven’t seen it yet, I think that this kind of deep joy does have the power to drive out fear.