As women professionals and academics, we often live in the world of the mind and neglect to observe what really sabotages our ability to flourish: fear. When we are afraid, we are less able to love. When we are motivated by fear and not love, we use reason to protect our self-interests. Christ shows us a better way.
When Christ came to earth, he came in human form, through a woman, partly to show us the possibilities of living a fully human life as God intended. Jesus came with good news as a Prince of Peace who draws us to a life of love. From the beginning of his life to his resurrection, peace, not fear was the message.
- The angel said to Mary, “Do not be afraid.”
- The angel said to Joseph, “Do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife.”
- When the angels came to the shepherds, they sang, “Do not be afraid.”
- Jesus told his disciples not to be afraid when they saw him walking on water.
- When he spoke to the crowds, he said, “Do not be anxious, but seek first the kingdom of God.”
- Jesus told his disciples not to fear what others might do to them.
- The Pharisees and chief priests acted with violence toward Jesus because of fear: “The chief priests . . . began seeking how to kill him; for they were afraid of him.”
- In his final prayer for his followers, Jesus prays, “Peace, I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful.”
- At the tomb an angel tells the women, “Do not be afraid.”
There are many kinds of fear. Some fear is necessary, such as the kind needed to respond for protection, but much is unnecessary and unhelpful. Unhelpful fear is the fear that uses reason to ponder pain rather than peace. We cannot flourish unless we are first fully human, and we are not fully human unless we live above fear and in love like our Savior, Jesus Christ. Jesus said not to be afraid, but how is that possible when fear rises up in us so unexpectedly?
- Professors fight and are rigid with anger because something isn’t going their way.
- Students fade away from their calling because they feel overwhelmed and inadequate.
- Professionals get angry and frustrated because a contract or client went to someone else.
So what do we do? I want to propose a spiritual discipline for addressing our tendency to experience fear rather than peace. The discipline is simple. The discipline is to eat this verse: “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” Ingest this verse into your being and chew on it over and over again. It is the antidote to the poison of fear.
The verse is found in 2 Timothy 1:7 in a letter presumably written by Paul from prison to Timothy, his protégée, a pastor in Ephesus. The tone of the letter is urgent, and according to tradition, Paul was killed soon after it was written. Some scholars believe that Timothy was timid and needed encouragement. Others, including myself, believe that Timothy was a fearless and capable evangelist and teacher as portrayed in Acts and Paul’s letters. The text is a rhetorical device used as a philosophical address to a young student. Paul is describing what Timothy should be, not what he is. Therefore, we can see ourselves in the text as students of Paul, like Timothy. The verse is a promise for all of us.
The Greek word for “fear” in this passage means anxiety — fear which shuts us down and chokes up clear thinking. But as Paul writes, “God did not give us a spirit of fear.” Instead, God has given us a switch mechanism, like that on a train track which allows the train to go down one track or another. One track is safe and clear and allows the train to steam ahead. The other leads it toward collision. God gave us a switch that does not lead us down a track to fear, isolation, despair, anger, and self-interests, but one that leads towards something completely different: power, love, and a sound mind.
Power here refers to the charisma, to the unique gifts and abilities given to you by God and to the power of the Holy Spirit to enable us to use these for God’s kingdom. We are fearfully and wonderfully made and each is given unique abilities. Timothy was given the gifts of leadership and evangelism. Each of us has been given spiritual gifts in order to serve as God’s kingdom of priests. We are then filled with the Holy Spirit. So we have two powers, the special capacities for fulfilling God’s call on our lives and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. No power on earth or under the earth is greater than the power God gives us.
Yet we doubt and become anxious about these capacities — am I smart enough, competitive enough, creative enough, good enough? We question what we cannot change. We become fearful. In a scarce resource environment we have heightened feelings of fear and inadequacy. Listen instead to what God tells you: you’re as smart and capable as you are. No more. No less. There will be more brilliant people than you and less. So why be anxious? Jesus said in Matthew you cannot add one single hour to your life. You can’t change the structure of your brain nor the family, time, or opportunities that are yours. God gives you all you need—and your capacities are sufficient to fulfill God’s calling for your life. To combat fear you decide over and over again to accept the gift of who you are. Who you are is sufficient, fully human, and designed to flourish. Eat the verse.
For the rest of MaryKate Morse's series, see also: