When my husband Xylon was diagnosed with cancer there was so much I didn’t know. We had never imagined we would spend our first two wedding anniversaries fighting for our marriage in oncology wards, while he received chemotherapy and then a bone marrow transplant.
Maybe the biggest thing I didn’t know was about how the fear of cancer never leaves. How even after the Oncologist tells you they can find no sign of cancer, the creeping anxiety remains. Or how the smallest thing can set the fear off, a cold, the stomach flu, pins and needles. Common ailments that we all get, but when my husband has them it’s fight not to succumb to the fear that the cancer is back.
This battle with fear isn’t isolated to cancer; it’s just that for us it is where it rears it’s head most at the moment. In the past I have had to fight the fear of losing my job, of not finding a job, of a family member dying in a car accident, a family member dying, of speaking in public, of failing…I think you get the idea.
I have become rather systematic now when I feel fear. Instead of letting it overtake me I start fighting it. The Bible says in 2 Timothy 1:7, God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.
Any time I feel fear sneaking in, I remind myself that fear is not from God, that God is love, and that there is no fear in love (1 John 4:18) and then I fight fear with these 5 actions:
1. Pray with others
Fear tries to silence me. It tells me that if I speak my fear out loud than the thing I fear will happen. So instead I sit with the fear and it grows and grows in my heart until there isn’t space for anything else.
I recently read about a study that looked at how people tend to overestimate the strength of future emotions. In short, a team of Dutch researchers paired up their study subjects and told them each pair were going to complete a series of tests. If a team scored above a certain level they would earn a reward. Half of the pair than predicted how bad they would feel if they scored below the reward level and the other half of the pair took the actual tests. The results were rigged so no matter how the half that took the tests did they all failed and were told they were personally responsible for their team’s failure to earn a reward and then rate how bad they felt. In each case those who didn’t write the test overestimated the intensity of their feelings when compared to the feelings that those who wrote the test felt.
I think the same thing stops us from sharing our fears. We think that the fear we’ll feel when we speak our fear out loud is greater than the fear we currently feel. Just like the study above I’ve found the opposite to be true. When I’ve got the courage up to speak my fears out loud to someone else and asked them to pray with me about them, the fear that I felt diminishes.
2. Pray scripture verses
I often find it hard to know what to pray when I feel afraid. Fear makes me tongue-tied. When this happens I find it helpful to pray scripture verses, I also find that the simple act of reading the bible often calms my fears. I’ve marked the verses with little pink post-it’s in my bible so they’re easy to find when they need them. Here are a few to get you started:
· "Even 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
· “When I am afraid, I put my trust in you.” Psalm 56:3
· When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought joy to my soul.” Psalm 94:19
· “Tell everyone who is discouraged, Be strong and don’t be afraid! God is coming to your rescue…” Isaiah 35:4
· “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” Isaiah 41:10
3. Remember God is bigger than your fears
I developed a phobia once. I’m sure it has some long name. I never looked it up. While I was struggling with this fear, I learnt from a Psychologist that phobias are coping mechanisms the mind creates when a person is afraid of many unpredictable things.
Around that time I found the writings of a wise sage. This man wrote that the fear of the Lord leads to life and that there one rests content, untouched by trouble. It made sense to me what this man said in Proverbs 19:23. It made sense that the only way to not be afraid – to be content and untouched by trouble – was to fear God.
I wanted my fear of God to be greater than my fear of anything else. When I talk about fearing God I’m not referring to the type of fear that sees me shivering in a corner begging God to hold back his wrath. I’m talking about the kind of fear for God that can worship God for who he is: a creator, magnificent, a savior, a star-thrower. The kind of fear that is less terror and more awe. My God is bigger than anything I fear.
I also know that it’s a little too simplistic to just say fear God and all your phobias will go away and your life will be untouched by trouble. I think maybe what happens when I allow my fear of God to become my focus is that the things I used to fear became smaller in my heart.
4. Approach God like you belong
I’ve realized many times I feel afraid because I forget that I am God’s precious possession. Isaiah, 43:1 reminds us, But now, this is what the Lord says…Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine.”
This 5-word prayer I read in a book by Brennan Manning has become my "go-to" prayer anytime I feel anxious:
Driving to the oncologist to get Xylon’s scan results: Abba, I belong to you.
Waking in the middle of the night with concerns about work or finances: Abba, I belong to you.
Worrying over a relationship that is struggling to work: Abba, I belong to you.
Praying for a friend: Abba, [insert name of friend] belongs to you.
As I pray it I find myself remembering who God is: big, mighty, good, merciful, loving, Abba. As I pray it I find myself surrendering to who God is: in control, infinite, beyond comprehension, seeking my good. As I pray it I find myself believing who I am: human, living in forgiveness, valuable, beloved, desired by God, fearless.
5. Sing like it’s worship
Sometimes I wake up in the night and I feel afraid. It has been like this since my childhood. My parents taught me to sing when I woke in the night and felt afraid. In the last few years, there were times when Xylon had a fever while having chemo and I would lie still next to him listening to hear if he was still breathing. And then I would find myself singing. Worshipping God.
Holley Gerth says, “Worship is an act of war against the enemy of our hearts.” I love that. I love that it moves worship from just being nice sounding songs to being a weapon. There is a story in 2 Chronicles 20 about the time that Jehoshaphat went to war using worship as his weapon. He was leading a group of people who were very afraid about the army they were about to go up against. So what does he do? Jehoshaphat calls a meeting and he prays. And then he chooses a choir for God to march ahead of the troops and sing, Give thanks to God, His love never quits.
Singing seems such a silly thing to do when you’re fighting a battle. But worship is more than singing. Worship is inviting the God-of-the-Angel-armies to fight for us. As I sing I am fighting the enemy of my heart, and inviting God to fill me with love, power and a sound mind. As I worship I remind myself that the battles in my life are God’s to fight.
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Wendy van Eyck is married to Xylon, who talks non-stop about cycling, and makes her laugh. She writes for anyone who has ever held a loved one’s hand through illness, ever believed in God despite hard circumstances or ever left on a spontaneous 2-week holiday through a foreign land with just a backpack. You can follow Wendy’s story and subscribe to receive her free ebook, “Life, life and more life” at ilovedevotionals.com. She would also love to connect with you on Facebook and Twitter.