How do you deal with fear? This is the question I’m asked more than others. It makes sense. After facing my mortality, fear became a regular—albeit unwelcome—factor in my daily life. It paralyzed me. I couldn’t eat. Couldn’t sleep. Couldn’t think or function beyond the terrifying “What if … ?” After all, this human life supplies good reasons to be quite afraid.

A few weeks ago, I received the following email from a reader. After asking her permission, I’m sharing her question with you, as I know many of you wonder the same:

I was wondering if you had any insight on how you deal with the “fear” that this cancer thing brings. I have now experienced the loss of two distant friends, women whom I have met via the web who have been diagnosed with our crazy tongue cancer as well. For some reason, it is hitting close to home. I can certainly cling to the Word of God, which is refreshing. But, if I can be honest, I’m scared of this terrible disease and the possibility of it coming back. I’m fearful that my sweet boy will grow without his mother. My new mantra has turned into “Lord, get me to grandchildren!” I’m scared I will miss out on all my future can hold … and I feel so selfish!!!!! Just wondering if you have anything that brings you comfort, when a loss hits close to home. —Lindsay

To my friend Lindsay and you, here’s my response.

I totally understand your fear. You’re not selfish—you’re HUMAN. For the first two years after my initial diagnosis (2010), fear was my biggest struggle. The fear wore me out nearly every day. I was so scared of it coming back again. Now that it’s come back twice, the fear has dissipated. I still feel it creep up from time to time, but it’s not as debilitating. Truth is I’m not afraid of dying. But I do, at times, fear the pain and suffering that would return with another diagnosis. I’m more afraid of the process, than dying itself. Even so, I feel peace. But it’s taken me over six years to get to that place.

So how do I fight the fear? Here are the strategies that work for me: 

  1. Savor the reality of God and heaven. I read the Bible, journal and pray every day. I know this sounds churchy and cliche. But it’s my anchor. Period. I carry a powerful verse or two on an index card with me just about everywhere I go. A couple of my memorized favorites include 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 and Romans 8:35-39. Both invite me to consider the glory and goodness of what is yet to come—heaven! When I do this, I cling less tightly to this life and eagerly anticipate the next one. 
  2. Acknowledge God’s uncompromising character. When I start to feel afraid, I say out loud: “I trust you, God. I trust you! You will give me exactly what I need when I need it.” I remind myself that He is good, and I can rest in His sovereignty. 
  3. Consider the universality of suffering. In our digital age, it doesn’t take much effort to get a glimpse of the vast sea of suffering around the world. Terrorism. Refugee camps. Disease. Famine. Poverty. Trafficking. Abuse. Violent crime. The fact that I have access to healthcare and doctors, a safe home and medications, a family and friends makes me one of the richest and most privileged people on the planet. Suffering is not reserved to me. It’s everywhere. When I connect with the universality of suffering, I feel less alone in my own. Compassion releases me from self-consumption. 
  4. Catalog life’s abundant gifts. I’m married, have six children, am forty-five years old. I have two eyes that work, ears that work, feet that have carried me incredible places. How many people never experience any of those things? What a miracle that I’ve been given so much! Of course, this is merely the beginning. Reminding myself of my long list of treasured gifts and experiences quickly reminds me that waking up this morning was nothing but gravy. More than I could ever deserve. 
  5. Remain in community. Fear isolates. To be afraid is to be alone. Thus, the moment I feel fear creep into my bones, I mention it to a friend or family member, matter of factly, just to give it voice. I admit the fear, but don’t talk myself deeper into it. This invites community into my reality, and shrinks the fear down to a manageable size. 

Fear is a beast. I suspect it will be an ongoing struggle for all of us until we’re finally relieved of our flesh. Even so, I TRUST HIM. I do. And these strategies help keep fear from stealing my peace. 

[reminder]How do YOU find peace when fear threatens? [/reminder] 

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