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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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]
Michele, the wisdom and depth of insight you share above eclipses anything I can even understand, much less contribute. The fears I have had to face down in my lifetime do not even compare to what you and Lindsay have faced.
Of course, I do take to heart the Word, as you note above, and Romans 8 is exceedingly encouraging – we are “hupernikomen” – super conquerors! That will infuse us with encouragement!
Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are Mine! When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; And through the rivers, they will not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched, Nor will the flame burn you. For I am the LORD your God, The Holy One of Israel, your Savior… (Isaiah 43:1-3) and …
The Lord is my light and my salvation – whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life – of whom shall I be afraid? When evil men advance against me to devour my flesh, when my enemies and my foes attack me, they will stumble and fall. Though an army besiege me, my heart will not fear; though war break out against me, even then will I be confident. (Psalm 27:1-3
Thank you for sharing this posting. This is one I’ll copy and save for future reference.
Victoriously in Christ!
One of my favorite Bible passages, for many reasons, is 2 Chronicles 20. When Jehosophat was told the enemy was coming to make war against him, his first response was fear. And I love that because it reminds me of his humanity. He’s just like me. He felt fear. But Jehosophat chose not to allow the fear to control him. He immediately turned His attention to God and prayed. That’s not what I naturally do, because I’m not a very brave person. I can easily get consumed by the fear. All the what-ifs. Then I heard Beth More say something that really helped me. She said that some of want to be brave in the worst way, but the fact is we’re just not. But knee shaking obedience is still obedience. And that eliminated my guilt for feeling the fear. Which helps me turn to God and be honest with Him about how I’m feeling and what I need from Him. Which calms my fear! He is so good! He knows our emotions and our thoughts and wants to meet us right in the middle of all that messiness.
I was diagnosed with a brain tumor in 2015, age 56. A few months before I had followed a sister, on line, as she lived and died with brain tumor/cancer. I followed her story and I prayed for her. One day, in prayer, Isaid, “Lord, I do not know if I would have the faith and the testimony this woman has, if I had a brain tumor…” A few months after her death, I was diagnosed with a brain tumor at the brain stem, effecting my balance, vision, throat. Fear knocked!! Oh, the thoughts of cancer, death, this world, my family, my purpose.. they came pushing hard… but with each thought/image, Christ met me with His Word… His purpose.. I stayed quiet, in His presence, letting Him lead me through His Word, listening, praying.. Surgery was scheduled 3 weeks afyer my diagnosis. In the middle of the night, praying, the Lord clearly spoke to me this: “Do you trust me?”… Fear fled and faith came in… and stayed… Whenever fear tried to cone in again, I would hear His word, Do you trust me? I could mot deny Him.. He is my Savior, Lord, in Him I move and breathe and have my being…
I had brain surgery 6/26/15. A meningioma, non-cancerous, was removed. Several cranial nerves were injured during the surgery resulting in swallow difficulties, vocal cord paralysis, pain, muscle weakness, stomach issues.. The Lord restored my body, according to His will.. I have some residual “issues”, like Jacob who wrestled with the Lord… there were times fear raised it’s head, but faith prevailed.. His grace was and is sufficient in my weakness.. He knew all along that it was His faith and His grace that would see me through a brain tumor.. the “test” was to reveal to me His strength, in me… fear no longer has a hold on me… I trust in Him…
This hits home with me today, I’m not facing cancer right now, but instead a second more extensive major back surgery with all of the risks that go with surgery. I’m bouncing between praising our Lord that I know I have one of the best surgeons in the state and recognizing that even so, so many things can go wrong in a spinal surgery.
I need to be real and know the risks but I also need to trust that no matter what happens, our Lord will be sufficient. Your answers help.
Frankly I suffer from the same fears…not dying, but the process of dying. When it becomes overwhelming I focus my attention on heaven, and on all the people who I have waiting for me there. I imagine as best I can what it will be like to meet Jesus face to face and to see people I have loved deeply, knowing I will never again have to say goodbye. This usually calms me enough to allow me to focus back on tasks at hand and it shrinks the fear.
Just over a week ago, my husband lost his dear Dad to a horrible disease named “Pancreatic Cancer”. My father-in-law took his last breath on the very same day we were celebrating My Mom’s 90th birthday! So after a joyous dinner at a favorite Italian restaurant, singing songs, being with friends/family and laughing uncontrollably at times, we were hit with losing my father-in-law at 10:30 p.m. that same evening. I have never experienced such highs and lows in one 12 hr. period and was at a loss for words. I felt such guilt at first because I still had my Mom and my husband didn’t have his Dad. However, after some serious soul searching and lots of prayers, I feel God wants me (us) to savor and enjoy every single celebration because we never know what will be thrown our way. We cannot fear the unknown, but instead embrace every little moment. Our day was nothing short of “bittersweet”. When life is sweet we say Thank You and Celebrate; and when life is bitter, we say Thank You and Grow! Thank you, Michelle, for being such an amazing example of hope and fearlessness for your readers. ~ a grateful follower
Michele, seeing this first thing this morning on Facebook was literally an answer to prayer. I have been dealing with a lot of fear lately, and last night it was all just too much. Waking up to your wise words this morning really showed me that I’m not alone, and God hears me.
Michele-How wonderful to see you share the words that comforted me! You are a blessing to countless people! Lindsay
Oh, my dear friend, such wisdom you have! Like you, my daily exercise of going to the word and journaling has been the thing that has kept me grounded. It was my anchor. But a brain injury after a car accident impacted my ability to focus and read. So I haven’t been able to maintain that joyful exercise. And that made me fearful. I have always said my greatest fear would be losing my faith. I could handle the brain injury but not that. Without my daily writing and listening and speaking to God, I felt lost at sea. I kept repeating over and over that God knew and He was still WITH me even though I wasn’t speaking or listening well. I even considered tattoos on the inside of my wrists w my favorite life scriptures: Luke 1:37 and Psalm 46:10 to remind me. But, my sons reminded me of my own advice to them to not make lifetime decisions while under duress…
Instead, a new prayer came to me in the still of the night: I began thanking God for the plans he had for me. Trusting him. Thanking him for being with me and for understanding that most times I couldn’t finish a prayer without being distracted by the chatter in my head. So now, I repeat my thank yous each night and as often as I can during the day. It helps. The anchor feels a little smaller, but it is still doing its job of keeping me from getting lost at sea….
I don’t know how I find peace when fear threatens. I know what I’m supposed to say. I suppose I seek peace in a variety of ways. Prayer, friends. The situation shouldn’t determine how I seek peace. Your story is incredible. After working with you–witnessing your attitude and strength–I’ve learned some lessons about facing life. You immensely and relentlessly pour into others. And, you take care of yourself. Learning about your struggles has been a life lesson, too. Thanks for being real.
To face down fear I, admit to myself I am afraid, tell God about it and let him strengthen me through His word, and like you said, invite community into my reality. Thank you so much for your encouraging sharing.
I absolutely loved your list! As I thought it over I realized I do one additional thing…I lean into the love of God by recalling all the past times that He has been faithful and brought me through a difficult situation. I also make an effort to recall every time I’ve had an answer to prayer or have seen God at work in my life or the lives of those around me. It helps connect His past faithfulness in my life to my present.