When Fear Comes Knocking

Finding Confidence in a World of Worry

When I was fifteen, my family visited the coast of California near San Francisco. It was beautiful. You could climb tall cliffs and look out over the Pacific, and follow grassy hills of sand all the way to the inlets by the ocean. You could stand in the shallows and feel the gentle power of a near infinite pool of water dancing with your ankles.

There was a little cottage nearby that functioned as a restaurant and bed and breakfast, and my mom wanted to take us there for afternoon tea, because, you know, she’s my mom and she’s a travel wizard and she’s amazing. So there we were at this long wooden table in a room full of California sunlight, being served English tea by a waiter telling us about the weird political geography of the region. He claimed that San Fran had kicked all the rural folks out of the city for being too liberal!

Everything was perfect. We were together, on vacation, experiencing this unique time with tea, but I was incredibly anxious. I was scared of being away from home. I was scared of our liberal waiter. These little irrational worries haunted my mind and nearly drove me frantic--enjoyment or relaxation was out of the question. It took a long time to figure out the realities of clinical mental illnesses like anxiety and depression in a fallen world, but regardless, fear and anxiety is essentially a human condition. 

Fear has been the bedrock emotional pulse in my life, and in the lives of countless others in the world. Right now, amidst the coronavirus, political uncertainty, etc., fear is literally controlling human beings and whole nations, throwing what may have once been a comfortable life routine into a collective existential crisis.

So why do I mention our time in California, drinking tea by the sea? I remember, very distinctly, looking up from our table and seeing a mantelpiece with golden lettering engraved in the wood that read: “Fear knocked on the door. Faith answered. There was no one there.” The quote may sound cheesy, but at the time my anxiety melted away with relief and assurance, and from that moment on I began, little by little, to understand all of life as existing in the tension between faith and fear.

Faith is confidence in the reality of God’s presence and security and love. Confidence. Fear? Fear, when given control, means disbelieving that God is real and present and able to keep you utterly safe, no matter what happens to you. That’s right. No matter what happens. When we submit to fear and anxiety, we take things in our own hands and frantically demand control. But we aren’t in control. Times like these show us how dramatically out of control we really are. Mortality is a tragic fact that likes to hide its head in times of ease. But the cover’s removed. Something happens, and we’re reminded that we are dust to and to dust we shall return.

Despair is the typical response to our lack of control. But when we live in faith, through radical trust in the kingdom of God, it doesn’t have to be. Now is the time to recognize realities stronger and deeper and brighter than the many corruptions that plague our world, from sickness to evil to death to depression.

Faith is not superstition. It is confidence in reality. That reality is God. His kingdom, His Presence, His death and resurrection. And He calls everyone who is full of fear and despair, as we so often are, to rest secure in Him. It’s not fairy-tale dreaming. It’s real. And once you become the kind of person who chooses faith over fear, trust over control, you can become an unshakeable presence in your community.

“Fear knocked on the door. Faith answered. There was no one there.”

Peter Biles is the author of Hillbilly Hymn and Keep and Other Stories. He graduated from Wheaton College in Illinois in 2019 and holds a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from Seattle Pacific University. He has also written stories and essays for a variety of publications, including Plough, Dappled Things, The Gospel Coalition, Salvo, and Breaking Ground.

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