It seems inescapable. The news shows another story of an unexpected and tragic death from this year’s flu epidemic and my facebook feed is flooded with friends and fellow moms desperately trying to avoid the illness. I too have the severity of this flu season on my mind. The last few weeks have included daily doses of homemade elderberry syrup, lots of garlic thrown into everything, dutifully doling out vitamins to my family, and even sometimes choosing to stay home to avoid the possible germ exposure. In the midst of winter, I can be prone to slip into a germophobe, anxiety-ridden state of mind, fearing that ‘something bad’ will happen. At the sound of someone coughing or sharing how ill they were just 24 hours prior, my sympathetic nervous system kicks in and I feel the slight panic starting to creep into my blood.
The reality is that our worries, fears or anxieties rarely stay in our own mind. Instead, they creep into our lives, sometimes in the subtlest of ways. We might feel on edge or stressed out, and it could be just one small annoyance or inconvenience that leads us to lose our temper or crumple into tears. In those who are already prone to being anxious, another worry may be the final trigger for a full-blown panic attack. Our fears spill out of our minds into our emotions, our bodies, our relationships and even our work and families. Due to the nature in which our fears quickly pervade our life, it can be worthwhile to take a moment and contemplate what is the root of our worry.
Why is this year’s flu causing so much anxiety? Thousands of people have fallen ill, but at the same time, thousands of people have recovered. As a mother though, I am well aware that there have been over 30 pediatric deaths. However, that number is often cited outside of the total number of pediatric patients who have tested positive for the flu. As of today, there have been 37 pediatric deaths and 19,869 pediatric patients who have tested positive for some strain of the flu1. Statistically, there is a 0.18% (less than 1%) mortality rate for pediatric patients so far this flu season.
However, just as we hope that the astronomically small odds might be in our favor for some good fortune, such as winning the lottery, we also fear that we (or a loved one) might be included in that less than 1% chance of death from the flu. Why is this year’s flu causing so much anxiety? Could it be because we fear not being in control, because we fear death or because we realize that, despite how hard we may try, sometimes the odds are not in our favor? In my case, I would say my anxiety arises from a combination of all three.
Typically, in our fast-paced, technology-centered culture, there are enough distractions to divert us from the reality of death, despite death ultimately being the common end to which we are all headed. In our daily lives, we can feel self-sufficient and independent. We can usually maintain the illusion of control. And yet, sometimes it all breaks down and we find ourselves face-to-face with the reality of just how little control we have. It becomes abruptly clear that we do not have as much control as we thought we had and that, at some point, our earthly lives will come to an end. Such realizations can leave us floundering for something, anything on which we can anchor ourselves.
What are we to do with our anxieties, fears, worries, and their underlying roots?
Where are we to find a foundation on which we can build our lives– a foundation that stabilizes us in the midst of our anxiety?
Can we live a fulfilled life while we are afraid of death?
Whatever our worries are, they spill over into our lives as fear. If we worry about getting the flu, we may stay at home all winter or stop visiting friends because we become fearful of public places and other people. If we worry about failing at our jobs we may stay long hours and spend all of our time on work, neglecting our friends, families, and hobbies, because we become fearful of being seen as incompetent or even getting fired. (That being said, I also believe there is a balance in being aware of risks and making prudent decisions versus recklessly tossing all caution to the wind!) Mark Twain once said, “The fear of death follows from the fear of life. A man who lives fully is prepared to die at any time.” I would have to agree with him. Living a fulfilled life seems to be at odds with a fear of death.
Perhaps the question of how to manage our anxieties is masking a greater question:
Are you living fully?
As a Christian, this question resonates with me. In one of the gospels, Jesus says, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”2 The answers I personally give to the questions posed above, can all be found in the person of Jesus Christ.
What do I do with my fears, anxieties, and worries?
I take them to Jesus.
Seriously. When my son was first born, nighttime brought on a bombardment of worries. Would he sleep? Would I get enough sleep? Was he too hot? What if he started coughing? Or rolled over? Would he die of SIDS? During that time I memorized a passage from the bible part of which said, “…do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”3 Whenever I began to worry, I would think back on the passage and share my worries with God. I would be comforted by his peace, and choose to think about good things instead.
What do I do with the root fears of not being in control and of death?
I trust in God’s goodness and love shown through Christ’s death and resurrection. I seek to yield to the will of the Creator and to rest in his timing.
Just as my toddler does not understand everything I have him do, or that I let happen to him, I don’t suppose that I will understand everything that God would have me do, or let happen to me. Death is not to be feared because I do not believe that life ends when our earthly body dies. Instead, I believe that there will be more to come when this life ends, and I hold onto the hope being united with God.
Where have I found a foundation for building my life, one that will stabilize me in times of crisis?
In the truth of the Christian faith.
In my own life, I haven’t experienced a true time of crisis. I wonder sometimes how I would handle a tragic event occurring. Would I still trust God if my husband or son died? I hope so. I have seen Christians I know walk gracefully through the turbulence of suffering. I have heard stories of Christians in World War II or the Communist Regime about how they managed unthinkable atrocities happening to themselves and their families. Stories like that of Corrie Ten Boom, Brother Andrew, and Richard Wurmbrand, all of whom suffered immensely, encourage me that faith in God is a solid foundation in times of crisis. I hope to have their faith, courage, and perseverance if I ever find myself in a tragic situation.
Can I live a fulfilled life while I am afraid of death?
No, and that is why I am grateful for the gift of Jesus.
It is only because he came, died, and was resurrected, that I can have life and life to the full.
Share with me: How would you answer the questions? How do you handle your worries and fears? Where do you find a foundation on which to build your life? Do you think you can live a fulfilled life while being afraid of death?
Seriously, call me up, write me a note, send me a message or comment somewhere.
I would love to hear your thoughts.
- John 10:10
- Philippians 4:6&7