The Great Divider: Fear

I’ve spent a LOT of time doing pastoral care work the past 3 weeks – both individually and collectively – on the phone, via text, email, and Zoom. And what that time has shown me is that once again the world is dividing itself into primarily two camps: those whose days are dominated by fear (this time of the COVID-19), and those whose days are not dominated by fear.

Lots of folks in the second camp I’ve talked with have said some variation of this to me: “I am so frustrated! I understand that my loved ones have a right to feel the way they do (i.e. afraid). That’s okay. These are scary times. What frustrates me is that they won’t give me the right to feel the way I do (i.e. at peace with the knowledge that I’ve done everything I can to protect myself and my loved ones and I’m not going to worry about what I can’t control). I’ve turned it over to God/my Higher Power. So why won’t my fear-based friends quit hounding me until they get me as freaked out as they are?!”

I have a theory about that. I want to try it out on you.

Those whose days are dominated by fear tend to believe that those whose daily lives aren’t dominated by fear are putting them, their families, and the world at greater risk. They think the only way a person could be at peace these days is because they are living in denial. They assume these folks haven’t educated themselves about the situation and are therefore taking dangerous risks.

That is where an important break in logic occurs.

I’ve found that many of the folks I know who are least worried, are the most educated about the virus. I could give you many, many examples, but for the sake of brevity I’ll give you one.

I’m thinking of my friend Joe who is a doctor. Joe quit his practice due to cardiac issues a year ago. Because of the medical situation at hand, however, Joe is on the cusp of getting activated to help during the crisis.

If anyone has a right to live in fear, it would be Joe, right? He’s a person that would not only be working in a high-risk occupation – he also has underlying medical issues that might place him at greater risk than his fellow doctors! And if those circumstances aren’t enough, Joe also parents two teenagers: one of whom has special needs.

And yet Joe has used his medical knowledge to keep him grounded and calm. He is also working a 12-Step program and is very grounded in the importance of letting go of what you can’t control. Joe has taught me a lot about how to respond to challenges!

I often try to leave my postings balanced so they don’t tilt toward a particular side or viewpoint. Today, however, I want to clearly tilt my comments in one direction.

If you are a person who days are filled with fear, please know I honor that that is where you are. All I ask is that you realize not everyone will choose to land in that same spot as you. Some individuals – who are well-educated people who are very informed about what is risky behavior and what is not – have made a decision to live their days in a non-fear based place. Please don’t try to change them and force them to live in your world. To do so would crush their spirits. Instead, return the grace many of them have extended toward you and allow them to handle the crisis in the way that works best for them.

If you do that – if you allow people to live in non-fear based ways – I promise I will return the favor.  If I encounter someone from the non-fear based camp who mocks or dismisses those on “the other side”, I will forcefully defend you by saying something like, “Back off!  Their way of processing the information they’ve encountered makes them understandably concerned.  They are deeply invested in taking every possible precaution while encouraging others to care of themselves as well.  They’re doing it not because they are bossy or controlling (though – cough, cough – for some that might be the case), but because they care.”

If we do that, maybe our tendency to divide ourselves into camps based upon our degree of fear will begin to disappear. And maybe the world which we enter post COVID-19 will be a little less divided. Let’s hope so.

So how about you? What thoughts does my reflection raise for you.

About Pastor Craig

I'm a 54-year-old who lives in Los Angeles, CA with his black Labrador Retriever named Max. I'm an ordained clergy person in the United Church of Christ. My passions include spirituality, politics, and sports (Go Houston teams, go!). I use my blog to start conversations rather than merely spout my perspectives and opinions. I hope you'll post a question, comment, or observation for me to respond - so we can get the conversation started!
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4 Responses to The Great Divider: Fear

  1. Stevie says:

    You are speaking my language. When I expressed my lack of fear and worry on Facebook, the term “Pollyanna” didn’t bother me. I wear that one with pride. But being called an “uninformed ostrich” bugged me. I’m in no way uninformed. But here’s what I can do. Stay home. Wash my hands. Send some money when I can. And pray hard. And yes. Just leave me alone and let me not worry. Peace.

  2. Beverly Marshall Saling says:

    Yes! I find I also encounter people whose head is in one place and their heart in another. Maybe they intellectually know they’ve done all they can and want to let go of what they can’t, but somewhere inside their anxiety and doubt keeps cropping up. Or perhaps they feel safe because of their faith, their geographical location, and/or their underlying health, and they’re finding it difficult to motivate themselves to take the precautions they intellectually know they should.

    Even when people are conflicted within themselves, it’s still important to listen and respect their agency rather than taking this as an opportunity to recruit them for our own POV. I by nature lean towards caution, but it does no good for me to attempt to convince people who feel safe to follow recommended precautions by making them feel afraid or guilty. That’s not who they are and I need to respect that. I have to listen enough to know who they are before I know whether to appeal on grounds of protecting others, setting a good example, showing solidarity with their community, developing better hygiene habits for more general health reasons, or whatever will float their boat rather than mine.

  3. (Apologies if this is a double comment) This post resonated so much! I used to live in so much fear, so what I try to do now is have compassion for those who judge me for being happy. I don’t always succeed, but I’m grateful for the tools of the program to remind me when I’m off kilter (like yesterday). Often times I can immediately switch gears and, when I can’t, I make a quick amends, go to God and take a break. Again, not always easy. ROUGH few days, but I am aware of it, and that’s amazing. I no longer have to finger point at anyone because NO ONE… I repeat… NO ONE is responsible for my happiness. Not Coronavirus. Not money. Not anyone. Just me.

  4. Stevie says:

    Andrea….I’m referring to a specific issue, not my general happiness. I guess we’re referring to two things.

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