by Linda Ryan
Fear looks back, worry looks around, faith looks up. – Unknown
Looking at a map of the US right now, it looks like it should be the United States of Disaster rather than the USA. Floods, fires, threats of either, both or even something else makes it seem like there’s hardly a square mile anywhere that is exempt from some kind of disaster or other. Sometimes it isn’t a local issue, but a personal one and it can feel pretty overwhelming. Then there are the memories — whether the memory of a flood, fire, or, as we will be remembering on Monday, the anniversary of planes hitting two very tall buildings in New York City. A lot of times, memories bring fear of a repeat of the event, and worry that something else will happen that will rip the scabs off the still-healing wounds caused by losses.
Have you found or noticed people who seem to be fearful, whether or not there is the reason for fear? Granted, if I were in Florida right now, I’d be rather fearful as to what was going to happen to me and my cats, much less my house. If I were in Oregon (where I have lived), I would be concerned about my world exploding in flames (or ending up a modern-day Pompeii from volcanic ash). Mid-America has tornadoes at the drop of a hat, The Northeast is not exempt from hurricanes, although Nor’easters are more common. In parts of the country, like Arizona, for instance, 2 inches of rain can feel like a flood, and 80 degrees is balmy. We bake — and we dread the heat of summer and the possibility of being stranded in the desert with no extra water and a broken-down car. Maybe not much of a fear, not like those faced by Texas, Louisiana, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, Utah, Nevada, Alaska, Florida, and the East Coast. Still, fear and worry seem to be a national pastime.
There’s a state of being that says, Maybe I can’t do anything about this all by myself, but I have confidence that God will help me get through whatever it is I have to face.” A cancer diagnosis, a flood or fire appearing over the tops of the nearby mountains, rising water, a possible merger in the company for which I work, there are a lot of things to worry about that are really quite serious. Can I do anything about the fire by myself? No, but I can help support the first responders and I can also get out of the way so that they have the room to do what they need to do. Can I stop the floods? No, unless I want to build a wall of sand bags all around my house while other people have few or none and whose houses become mold-ridden, soggy masses that will either be horrendously costly to repair or be torn down and rebuilt at an even greater cost. Other things I may have some control over, but that doesn’t mean I don’t worry or fret about them.
I don’t believe God brings floods, fires, cancer, tornadoes, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, or any other kind of disaster. I don’t think God plays those kinds of games with us. It’s not the kind of God that I would have faith in, because I would feel like a puppet, like God was pulling my strings and that’s not a picture of a person with free will. I can’t see God using me as a chess piece much like Job was used. I just don’t think God works that way. I realize there are people who do believe God causes those things, and they are welcome to their beliefs. It’s just that I can’t accept that for myself, and I have faith in a God who weeps with me but isn’t necessarily handing me the Kleenex box in the process.
In order for me to have faith I have to have a God I can trust, a God who isn’t going to solve all my problems for me because then I won’t grow. Much as I’d like to have God plant a money tree in my yard or cause one to grow suddenly, it’s not gonna happen, so I might as well figure out what I can do for myself while having faith that God will be with me in the struggle even if God isn’t shouldering the burden.
The saying is that fear looks back. Was Lot’s wife looking back because of fear? Perhaps, or perhaps it was to take a last look at a place she’d never see again, a family left behind?
Worry looks around, as if to try to spot incoming trouble or storm clouds ahead. Faith looks up, for the source of providential help. Another threesome that could represent these three aspects are the pessimist, realist, and optimist.
Pessimists look back, seeing the past as the right and true way. They usually fear change, and even the thought of change makes them itch. Realists pride themselves on seeing things as they “really” are, but sometimes it is hard to tell whether the perceived “real” is really the true real. Optimists often looks around and chooses to see the better parts of life while still being aware that there are other parts far less attractive, far less happy, and far less enjoyable. The optimist chooses to see things in a good light; they tend to look up.
Some people are congenital pessimists, while others are congenital optimists. Realists sometimes start out as one or another and gradually move to the middle. Personally, I think that, in a way, the optimist has a natural faith that things are going to work out. Meanwhile the pessimist, the fearful one, has to work to find faith that will help them get through whatever trials they are having to face. Which is better? That question would vex a Platonist — or maybe an Aristotelian, if not both.
People of faith should be looking around, not looking up all the time as if God were going to appear in the cloud at any moment, although it isn’t that God won’t do that at some point in time. The person of faith isn’t going to be a pessimist, looking at all the bad parts and feeling hopeless about doing anything that would make any slight difference at all. People of faith look around, not with worry, but with a sense of there is something there that can be done and it’s their job to do it, and it’s a challenge they accept.
God expects us to be people of faith. God expects us to help the poor, widows, orphans, the imprisoned, and the whole list of people who will require help, including the aliens in our land (who are mentioned in the Bible as people that we should be taking care of), but we also have to accept that faith is going to compel us to do something, not just think about it. It’s going to require us to look back, around and up.
This week I’ve got to stop my worrying, although with friends and family both in the possible path of hurricane or major fire, it’s a little hard not to worry. But this week I’m not going to spend a lot of time looking back or looking up. I need to spend my time looking around and seeing where faith is telling me I need to go and telling me what I need to do. I need to be part optimist, part realist with maybe a sprinkle of pessimist just to make things lively. Most of all, I have to have faith.