When I first recognized that the Psalms were not nearly as ‘tidy’ as I’d imagined—but were immensely human and raw—it opened up new ways for me to encounter God. While the Psalms provide us with words to express robust conviction, they also give us words—and permission—to express our doubts. When a child dies or a parent leaves or God seems a million miles away, the Psalms teach us how to gather our fears (not ignore them) and carry them to God.
When we first welcomed a fifteen-year-old Chinese exchange student into our family, we thought it would be for only one year of high school. But years later he’s still part of the family. And we’ve added his younger brother to our growing group. Both young men were quiet and a bit reclusive when they first arrived—adapting to a new culture. But it’s been beautiful to see their hearts open to God’s love and to our own. Their faces now typically display smiles, and laughter effortlessly spills from their lips.
Marilynne Robinson, the Pulitzer-winning author of Gilead and Home, has, in addition to her marvelous fiction, also spent much time pondering the current plight of modern America. Robinson has especially contemplated Christian faith in these times, and how modern pressures erode and distort our faith in insidious ways. Though there are numerous causes for our predicament, Robinson suggests that these questions always return her to a two-part conviction: “First, contemporary America is full of fear. And second, fear is not a Christian habit of mind.”
When the radio station I worked for relocated, I was suddenly out of a job. Although qualified as a teacher, hosting radio shows had felt like a better fit and it was all I’d done since graduating. When I couldn’t find employment back on-air, however, I returned to the classroom. It was difficult. I felt out of my depth, and the experience humbled me. But although the adjustment was challenging, I’m convinced the skills I gained in the classroom prepared me for my next job—back in radio with a national broadcaster.
My best friend from college, now a missionary in France, stopped to see me during one of her furloughs. I remember her telling me that she had to leave by 4:00 p.m. As she prepared to depart, the wind started to pick up. Menacing clouds rolled in. She ran to her car, and we quickly waved our goodbyes. About five minutes later, the winds roared to life and shortly after, it grew dark as night. Concern for my friend’s safety gripped me as I surveyed the storm. I’d never seen anything like it—nearly pitch black during the daytime. Fortunately, my friend made it home safe.
When I visit my nieces and nephews, my two-year-old niece almost always (after handing me several “blankies” and stuffed animals to make her stay comfortable) stretches out her arms to be held. Like any proud auntie, I’m happy to oblige.
Coming from a family where I was the oldest of five children, I just assumed my husband and I would easily begin having children soon after our wedding day. Our hopes began to fade however as month after long month passed with no joyful news. One morning, however, my hair stylist asked, “Have you had a baby recently?” I was shocked. She explained that the quality of my hair indicated that my body had experienced a rush of hormones, leaving her to wonder whether I’d recently given birth. I hadn’t, of course, but I soon found out I was pregnant—with twins! In the midst of my fear and sadness I heard news that ignited hope of a future filled with joy.
Piloting an aircraft can be challenging, but for bush pilots who are trained to take off and land in remote areas, it’s especially hard. Those who fly in colder climates can face whiteout conditions in which it’s impossible to navigate by sight. In these situations, the pilots are trained to rely on their instruments, not their senses. They know that their instruments are more reliable than their personal judgment.
At the height of an African government’s struggle with a terrorist rebel group, the president turned to the church for help. As people began to pray, an army chaplain declared that the war wouldn’t be won in battle, but through prayer. Thus began “Operation Gideon.” A team of intercessors gathered for several weeks of prayer and fasting. In time, a systematic breakdown of the rebel group’s influence occurred.
Charles Spurgeon, Martin Luther, poet and hymn writer William Cowper, Mother Teresa, and contemporary author Ann Voskamp—each has been recognized for their devotion to Jesus. And each has also battled depression.
There are two ways to be fooled. One is to believe what isn’t true; the other is to refuse to believe what is true,” said philosopher Søren Kierkegaard. The story of the Israelites illustrates how easy it is to be fooled into believing what’s false and to disbelieve the truth.
Fear is not a Christian habit of mind,” the novelist Marilynne Robinson has remarked. Yet fear is one of the most powerful and consistent forces in human behavior. Even outward obedience can be driven more by fear than love. What does it even mean, we might wonder, to live without being motivated by fear?
After walking into a sandwich shop, I sensed the Holy Spirit nudging me to reach out to the young man who took our order. Unsure of how to start, I gathered my food and followed my husband to the patio area. Shortly after we sat down, the same young man came outside to sweep the area. I set aside my fear and began an unscripted conversation. In this unexpected moment, God provided the opportunity for us to discuss how Jesus’ love and the power of the Holy Spirit could help the young man overcome the situations he was facing.
My friend was walking through a sculpture park when she saw the sculptor Rodin’s statue of Eve, which captures the moment Eve understood what she had done against God. My friend wept at Eve’s desperate, twisting figure, shattered by shame and fear, hanging her head and raising her hand in an attempt to block Him from smiting her.
A friend of mine grew up in a rural part of Hawaii where her family had no electricity. As a child, the dark hours of the night frightened her. Without streetlights or the occasional lamp-lit window, it was easy to imagine a scary ogre or hungry beast lurking around the corner. Eventually, my friend left Hawaii to attend college in another region of the US. Although modern lighting brightened the evening hours, her fear of the dark persisted. Finally, as a married adult with children, she began to ask God to help her overcome her fear, and He answered her prayers. She’s no longer afraid of the dark!