“Is it normal to be this frightened?” I wasn’t sure how to answer, nor even why she had posed the question to me. I was seated alone at a table in a small mid-town restaurant. While eating, I was also reading a book about the Grace of God. Sitting at the next table, she was reading The Times. Perhaps she noticed the title of my book and assumed I was a person of Faith. Maybe that’s why she posed her question to me. “Is it normal to be this frightened?”
I asked what had her frightened, and pointing at the paper she simply answered, “This.” Of course. It was the news. The news about the world. Life in the world had her frightened. Maybe in that moment it was the news about Ukraine. Maybe about ISIS. Maybe about Syria. Maybe about Ebola. Maybe about politics at home or abroad. Maybe about yet another hit-and-run not far from here. Maybe about the videotape on Eyewitness One of the innocent older gentleman who was guilty of nothing but walking home with a bag of groceries who was mugged on the street. Maybe about Ray Rice and the whole subsequent national conversation on domestic abuse. Maybe about Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and can everyone always trust those who are hired to protect us. Maybe about the drought out west which has been interrupted by the flooding out west. “Is it normal to be this frightened?”
My answer was, “Yes. It is normal. Ours can be an intimidating world.” “I don’t like living my life afraid,” she continued. To that I replied, “It is one thing to experience fear. It is another, in your words, to live that way. Fear encounters us on the journey, but it does not have to accompany us.” I showed her my book (though I suspect she had already seen it). “I’m a believer,” I began. “And, as one, I get just as scared as anybody else when I read the news. But, I also realize I’m not alone on the journey. I believe that God is bigger than the worst news in today’s Times.” She smiled. I wasn’t sure if the smile were dubious or dismissive, but I tiptoed ahead. “History is filled with bad news. There have always been despots. There has always been oppression and abuse. There has never been a time when humanity did not live under the cloud of threats and intimidation. But, there has also never been a time when we people didn’t seek the strength of a Higher Power. And, history shows us that all the tyrants and all the despots come and go, but we’re still here. Still standing. Still moving forward. And all the good things that Faith teaches, things like Truth and Mercy and Compassion and Joy, are still around. So, that’s how I combat fear. I remember that the Higher Power has always been with us. God has always won. I don’t think there’s anyone around strong enough to change that.”
She paid her bill, picked up her purse, and started toward the exit. As she passed my table she smiled again and said, “I hope you’re right. Enjoy your book.” And then, she was gone.
I hope I am right, too. I believe that I am. I believe, in fact, that not only Faith but also History says I am correct. Temporary threats come and go. God remains. You’ve heard me quote it not infrequently, but that’s because it is the promise that journeys with me on the road, keeping me from succumbing to anxiety. “Fear not,” said Jesus, “for I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33) I believe that. When we take Jesus at his word, even though we are occasionally frightened, we do not have to live that way.