The world feels like an especially ugly place lately.
It seems like every screen I turn to shows me something more terrible than the thing before. Something more horrifying. More gut-wrenching. More mind-boggling.
And, as if it all weren’t bad enough, I also have to deal with the fact that I don’t particularly like my knee-jerk reaction when faced with this ugliness.
Because before I can get to the feelings that lead to the actions that might elicit some kind of positive change, I’ve first got to wade through something else:
It’s a both a familiar and unwelcome feeling–a sort of paralytic fear that rises and falls from my belly to my throat.
I’ve met this fear enough to know that it stems from uncertainty and anticipation and helplessness all rolled up into one.
(You know, the same kinds of feelings The Left Behind for Kids series elicited way back in the late 1900s. Please tell me I wasn’t the only one traumatized by those.)
I have prayed against this fear a lot in my life because I believe I serve a God who promises that I don’t have to be owned by fear. Fear is rooted in lies, after all.
Please take away my fear.
Please give me peace.
Please shift my perspective.
Again and again and again I have prayed these prayers.
And still the thorn remains and digs in deeper every so often.
A friend of mine recently told me a parable from the Book of Matthew that I didn’t remember ever hearing before (or at least understanding). It’s been on my mind a lot these past few weeks:
When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, but finds none. Then it says, “I will return to my house from which I came.” And when it comes, it finds the house empty, swept, and put in order. Then it goes and brings with it seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and dwell there, and the last state of that person is worse than the first. So also will it be with this evil generation.
The evil spirit leaves the man. So, the man cleans his house. Empties it, sweeps it, puts it all back in order. But he doesn’t fill it with anything.
The house just sits empty. So, the evil spirit comes back with seven of his more terrible friends and things end up far worse for the man than how they began.
Nothing can sit empty.
So, if I want to eliminate the presence of fear from my life, I have to fill its void with something else.
And this is a daily and vigilant task.
It’s a change from output to input.
It’s leaning into what God actually promises me when it comes to fear and allowing those truths to fill the unoccupied spaces fear leaves behind.
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.
For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.
When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought joy to my soul.
Cast your burden on the Lord, and he will sustain you; he will never permit the righteous to be moved. ¹
There have been so many times in my life when I’ve felt frustrated in the face of fear. I was asking God to take it away, after all, and yet, it persisted.
Now, I wonder if the problem wasn’t that God wasn’t answering my prayer, but rather that I was expecting Him to empty something from my being without seeking out what I should fill it with instead.
Fear still creeps in (I think it always will), but when I choose to breathe in words like “love” and “power” and “sound mind” in the face of that spirit of fear, I suddenly have a filler for the void fear will leave behind.
Will leave behind.
God promises as much.
The world will continue to be an ugly place. I know this because, again, I know that you can’t expect things like hateful rhetoric or twisted beliefs to be righted unless Truth moves in to fill the empty space.
So I’m going to keep pushing through the fear. I’m going to keep asking God to fill my house with the things He is: Love. Hope. Grace. Righteousness. Wisdom.
And then I’m going to ask Him to help me breathe that Truth into all the various empty spaces I can find. I’m going to ask Him to give me opportunities to love the marginalized and oppressed and hurting.
Which I know He will.
He’s the answer to the ugliness if only we will ask Him to fill the voids left in its wake.
And even on the darkest of days, there’s hope in that.
¹ John 14:27, 2 Timothy 1:7, Philippians 4:6-7, Isaiah 41:10, Psalm 94:19, Psalm 55:22