Tips  on spiritual growth, emotional health, and relational healing.


2017: The Year of Fear

Dec 12, 2017

If I had to sum up 2017 on a cultural level, one word comes to mind.


Many people I know are more afraid of the future than they’ve ever been at any point previously. Whether it’s fear of global nuclear war, national political chaos, racial tension, a changing world, or the louder voice of hate, it seems like we’ve never been more afraid.

When our phones buzz, we’re worried to check them.

Could it be another shooting like Las Vegas? Another fire like California? Another missile test in North Korea? Another march with torches like Charlottesville? Another hurricane like Houston or Puerto Rico? Another bombing like Somalia? Another earthquake like Mexico and Iraq?

I’m sorry, I have to stop. 

Go back and read that list again. 

It’s no wonder we’re anxious and afraid. We’ve just endured a year of tragedy. A year of heartache and loss. When I first identified fear as my word to summarize this year, I didn’t think about all of those events.

It’s not surprising that the most highlighted and shared Bible verse on the most popular Bible app in 2017 is Joshua 1:9. Joshua 1:9 reads, “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”).



What Have We Been Doing With Our Fear?

Fear is an experience which produces an almost-involuntary response. We’re often not aware of how fear is driving our behavior. With all of these fear-inducing events, we’ve been responding in destructive ways.


We’ve been pulling away from each other.

When we’re afraid, our natural response is to pull away. If we’re hiking and we encounter a rattlesnake, we do all we can to create space between us and the snake. If we’re going through life and encounter a person we’re afraid of, we pull back and disconnect.

This space makes us feel safer but it actually makes things worse in our relationships. We’re pulling away from each other, even as our devices convince us that we’re more connected than ever before. This study showed a direct correlation between our use of social media and our level of loneliness.


We’ve been turning inward.

When we are driven by fear, we hoard and accumulate resources to care for ourselves. Instead of living generously and sharing with those in need around us, we’re tempted to turn inward to protect ourselves. Looking out for our loved ones is a good thing; doing so while ignoring our opportunity to help those around us is not.


We’ve become angry.

Fear builds a wedge between us and others – less trust, more anger. My second choice of word for this year was anger. I’ve watched people who I know personally as calm, mild-mannered people express vitriolic anger and rage online, even over events which didn’t happen to them and don’t directly affect them. Some of us are walking around like a stove, with our anger on low heat ready for a rapid increase when necessary.

We’re afraid. We’re angry. We’re angry that we’re afraid. And as the Scriptures tell us, “Anger resides in the laps of fools.”


We’ve built our own walls. 

Fear leads us to build walls, not bridges. We feel walls will protect us and decrease our fears. But walls only increase our paranoia. Walls fail to build trust and openness, which leads to peace and rest.


We’ve bought into lies.

Fear convinces us to exchange the truth for lies. Newsweek named “Fake News” their word of the year for 2017. On a daily basis, we’re asking ourselves, “who do we trust?” and “How do we know what’s true?” Selfish people with agendas which do not include what’s best for us play on our fear each day. Like a marketer preying on our discontentment, manipulators search our ways to fuel our fears, for the sake of ratings and ad dollars.

And all too often, they win and we buy what they’re selling.


We’ve lost faith in everyone but ourselves (and sometimes in ourselves too!)

Fear tells us we can only believe in ourselves. We cannot trust anyone but ourselves – those who look like, act like, and believe like us. We’ve become increasingly tribalized, insulating ourselves into groups marked by similarity, not diversity.


We’re running on empty, especially when it comes to hope.

Fear rushes us, pushes us, and drives us. Fear leads us to despair and darkness. We feel like we must keep going, even though we are running on empty. We have no hope to propel us forward, as our fears have convinced us that the future probably isn’t as good as the past. We believe we must go to war to recover what we’ve lost.


Take a breath…

If I’m describing you, then I have to ask the question.

“How is this working for you? Has 2017 been a year of fear for you?”

If you’re tired of fear driving you and your decisions, you’re not alone. I feel your pain.


How do we overcome fear?

I’ve been reflecting on how we overcome fear, especially on the level we’re experiencing it as a culture.


1. Step out of the whirlwind and re-engage with the source of peace

You’re not going to find the end of fear on social media. In fact, you’re not going to find peace there either. The whirlwind of breaking news, updates, and hot takes only fuels the chaos within us.

I’m not suggesting you ignore reality and disconnect from the world entirely. Because that’s not what peace means. As many have said, peace isn’t the absence of problems; it’s the presence of God within the problem.

Whether it’s jumping off social media for the rest of the year, setting aside times you won’t get online, or focusing on the people in front of your face not those on your phone, it’s time for all of us step out of the whirlwind.

2. Trust God to remain as faithful in the future as He’s been in the past.

When we’re facing down fear, it’s tempting to believe that God’s faithfulness has run out. We deceive ourselves into thinking God’s faithfulness was sufficient in the past but it won’t be in the future. But if God has carried us through the mountains and valleys before today, we need to trust God to remain as faithful in the future as He’s been in the past.

Fear focuses us on the size of our problems, while faith focuses us on the resources of God.

3. Focus on solutions, not problems.

In this cultural moment, it’s very easy to become consumed by all that is broken in our world. As a recovering cynic, I can tell you cynicism draws you in with an opportunity to point out all that’s broken.

Fear tells you to always look for what’s broken, preventing you from seeing what’s working or what could be great in the future. Focusing on the solutions, not merely the problems, lifts our eyes off of the challenge of this moment in order to see the potential of the future.

I gave my dad a gift years ago which sat on his office bookshelf. It read something like this:

Pressure is inevitable.

Stress is optional.

Fear sees the problem.

Faith sees the solution.

4. Reject those who are playing on your fears for their own gain. 

Fear sells. Fear keeps our attention and those are marketing to that end know it!

Watch cable news and you’ll see how fear of being out of the loop or potential news keeps you watching through commercial breaks and show changes.

Pay attention to the ads you encounter today and you’ll see how fear of missing out becomes the platform to sell you another product or experience.

When someone who doesn’t have your best in mind trying to manipulate your fears for their own gain, reject their efforts! Refuse to be played like an instrument for someone else’s gain.

5. Move closer to the people you don’t understand. 

We live in a world where it’s easy to create Us vs Them scenarios. These make the world simpler – good guys and bad guys, those of us who get it and everyone else.

While this is a simpler, neater world to live in, it’s not always real or true. When we label people, it’s easier to pull away from them as a result. And it’s in those gaps that fear, anger, and hate grow.

One of my mentors taught me, “The quickest way to mess with your politics or religion is to meet someone on the other side and discover you like them.” When an issue is no longer sterile and it becomes something which affects a friend, someone you care about, the issue changes.

It’s easier to fear or hate something or someone from a distance. When you know them up close, it’s much tougher to reach for those responses.


6. Build longer tables, not bigger fences.

One of the best things I read in 2017 was the following quote.

“If you discover that you have more than you need, build a longer table, not a taller fence.”

Sharing meals with other people is one of the best ways to build relationships. It’s no wonder that dinner table conversation is often different than board meeting dialogues, social media fights or hallway chats.

Some of my best conversation have come over food, as I got to know someone on a deeper level and found more layers and complexity to them than I formerly understood.

In a world where we’re often on our phones waiting for food to arrive or being more engaged with someone through our device than the someones we’re sitting across from, we need long tables today. We need tables where we put our phones down and really connect. The spaces at our table are the places where we exchange fear for courage, hate for understanding, or distance for connection.


An Uncertain Future

I’m not exactly sure what 2018 holds. None of us do. If 2017 is any indication of what lies ahead, we’ll have even more opportunities to choose fear and feel overwhelmed.

Why not get ready for tomorrow by learning to dance with fear today? Fear isn’t going anywhere, so we need to learn to take action and live our lives in the face of it. Fear isn’t always a bad thing – it can protect us from danger or point us to wisdom.

But it cannot be our filter through which we engage the world. And it cannot be the driver of our decisions.


A decision made from fear is always the wrong decision.

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