The Floor of the Valley - Part 1
“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.” Psalm 23:4
During these uncertain times of disconnection, provisions flying off the store shelves and an overwhelming amount of negativity displayed over airways and through our social media, fear, and anxiety are rampant. What exactly are fear and anxiety and are they the same? The two are similar but not the same.
Anxiety is an underlying nervousness about what might be out there. It’s like saying, “I don’t know what it is or when the next shoe will drop, but I know that it’s out there waiting for me.” Anxiety taunts you as negative thoughts swirl in your head. They don’t have a name. You are not sure how dangerous they are. In response, your brain, in an effort to protect you, goes into a hyper-vigilant mode. It becomes suspicious about anything and anyone. It finds the negative in any situation in order to keep you on guard for potential dangers. Proverbs 12:25 says, “Anxiety in a man’s heart weighs him down but a good word makes him glad.” Fear, on the other hand, has a name. I’m afraid I will lose my job. I’m afraid my spouse will leave me. I’m afraid I’ll fail at school. I’m afraid we’ll have no toilet paper. I’m afraid _____ fill in the blank for yourself. Fear is real and it stares you straight in the eye. It speaks defeating words at you to wear you down.
The phrase, “Fear Not” is mentioned 327 times in the ESV Bible within 138 verses. God was well aware of the nature of fear. Neither fear nor anxiety are bad in and of themselves. They are natural emotions to warn us of danger. The problem comes when they dominate your thoughts or if they are not grounded in truth. In Romans 7:15-25 Paul is expressing frustration at his inability to get himself in check. He is confused as to why he wants to do a new thing but keeps doing the old thing. In verse 23 he states, “but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me.” He is speaking of two parts of his mind.
Fast forward 2,000 years later and science has been able to show the struggle that Paul was expressing. Brain scans show images of how our brain reacts to the world around us. Imagine two parts to your brain. The emotional brain (Limbic System) that all mammals have and the logic brain (Neocortex) that makes us uniquely human. The emotional brain is always searching for danger while the logical brain is evaluating the findings to determine if the perceived danger is real.
The logic brain has the ability to override and shut down inaccurate emotional assumptions. On the other hand, information reaches the emotional brain quicker. Unless a person has learned the skill of not reacting emotionally, the emotional brain can take over thoughts and ultimately choices. When making choices, typically only one brain wins. The more in line your logical thinking and emotions are, the wiser the choices you make. Anxiety and fear reside in the emotional brain, called the limbic system. The logic brain, or the neocortex, takes on the role to evaluate the reality of anxiety and fear. We are facing new circumstances that we have never needed to deal with in our past. When a pandemic is world-wide and our eyes can see the panic across the world, it is normal to be gripped with fear or anxiety. We are facing what can be called “Super Fears” because they are hard-wired fears that everyone has regardless of age, gender, race or nationality. These super fears are basic to our survival.
The first super fear is the ability to breathe. Oxygen certainly is not being cut off from any of us but consider breathing in a different way. When you feel smothered or buried your emotional brain can interpret this as oxygen being cut off. The regions in the brain that are affected by the inability to breathe are the same regions that an interpretation of being smothered, both emotionally and physically. So, how might we be feeling smothered? Turn on any media outlet or tap into your social media and the talk is about one thing – the danger of death. The brain responsible for keeping you alive is always vigilantly looking for dangers of death for your benefit. You’ve been asked to stay home and isolate for fear that you could catch something that could kill you. This causes you to panic making you want to go into fight, flight or freeze mode.
To better understand the emotional and logic brain, watch this video that shows how brain science is being used to help increase success for Navy Seal recruits. The second super fear is the inability to access food and water. As a world leader, we in the United States have rarely been without either. But this perceived threat is causing many to react from their emotional brain, hoarding food and supplies that we have come to rely upon. Store shelves are being emptied as fast as they are filled. People are feeling a lack of control and fear of the unknown. In response, they are purchasing large sums of supplies to give them a sense of control. The third super fear we are facing is the need to belong. Studies show that isolation increases the likelihood of death by 45%. The advice we have been given to address the monster we are currently facing is to isolate, which in and of itself is dangerous to the psyche and the body. To make matters worse, in all three of these fears, we face the unknown pertaining to how long we will be facing them. So, given that we are facing very real fears and uncharted territory, how do we move through this difficult time? If you struggle with fear and/or anxiety, determine today that you want to grow in your faith and understanding of God on the other side of your trial.
There are very practical steps we can take, some of which are noted below. However, two thoughts that need to precede those steps should be considered. First, our position with God. Jeremiah 6:14 states, “They dress the wounds of my people lightly, saying peace, peace when there is no peace.” This verse is critical to understanding peace of mind. The verse is referring to salvation. We can offer the world many ideas that come from the minds of the wisest. Yet, if that person lacks salvation, true peace is not to be had. If you have salvation through Jesus Christ, there is nothing on earth or in heaven that can separate you from the love of God. On the other hand, if you have not received the free gift of salvation that comes only through Jesus Christ, take the opportunity now to call upon God, repent of your sins and allow Him to give you peace that passes all understanding.
Second, our expectations for a comfortable life. When accepting salvation for our souls, our bodies remain under the fall and curse. We must be careful that we don’t build up expectations that any of us are owed one thing. Every good gift comes from above. Every good gift must be cherished. Once we lose our ability to be grateful for the smallest of things, we grow toward entitlement. The earliest Christians did not expect comfort from their salvation, nor should we. We live in a world that will always be filled with threats. Many people lose their faith once they hit difficult times because they lacked the understanding of what salvation means. Salvation was for the soul. Our bodies will continue to fight enemies until the day we are called home. Having a clear understanding of this is critical to maintain the faith through trials of all kinds.
Past leaders C.S. Lewis and Martin Luther King both spoke about the church facing hard times. They both were admonishing the church to focus less on real threats and place their hope in Jesus and walk (work) out their faith during trials as they would any other time. Read more about their insight that can easily be applied to the COVID 19 virus we face today.