One of the hardest things I have faced in our 15 plus years living in Central America occurred at the end of 2017 during disputed presidential elections here in Honduras. In 2017, I was in a dark place. I first realized that the political unrest surrounding the disputed presidential election was categorically different than the common protesting that is prevalent in our region when the protestors burned the brand-new toll booth to the ground and blocked all exits to the city. It didn’t take long for the looting and burning of local businesses to start. Hours of anxiousness turned into a day, and then two.
Announcements started to circulate on social media about the protestors plans to target the electrical grid, cell towers, and gas stations to disrupt the local economy unless the president stepped down. It was also announced that gangs were going to enter the gated communities (like the one we live in) to loot and plunder the privileged elite class because of their oppression of the poor. Evangelical churches were warned that they would be targeted for vandalism if the pastors did not demand the president to step down. Grocery stores had been emptied by looters and delivery trucks could not resupply because of the blocked highways. Every day there were clashes between protesters and police forces—tear gas, home-made explosives, vandalism, burning tires, death.
Then the police went on strike to protest their wages. The hardest thing I’ve had to do as a husband and father was to sit my family down during that period and talk about our escape plans in case a mob showed up at our house—how we would sleep in clothes appropriate for survival in the woods; how we would go out of a bedroom window or out the back door at the first sound of trouble; how I would pre-position a ladder near the back wall and climb over into the abandoned lot on the other side, complete with assignments on who would go first and who would go last. We talked about contingency plans about where to meet in case we got split up; we talked about where the passports and emergency cash were hidden. I envisioned the land route to the nearest border with Guatemala if it came to that. I watched my barely-teenage-sons’ wide-eyed expressions as they soaked it all in. We prayed, they placed their running shoes at the foot of their beds, and pillowed their non-drowsy heads, their minds racing.
Praise God, we never had to put our plan into action, but the unrest and accompanying anxiety didn’t subside. There were five days where we couldn’t leave our neighborhood because the protesters cut down trees across the highway leading into town and built barricades of tires that they kept burning constantly. My mind drifted to possible scenarios: What if there was a medical emergency? What if we ran out of purified water? When would the food run out? Will this ever end? I could not concentrate. I could not breathe well. Fear was creeping in and dominating my existence, and I knew this was not God’s will. I tried to put on a brave face in front of my family, yet inside I was in knots.
Here are four truths that God used to help me remember that we can be fearless in a fearful world.
- I am His child.
Who am I at my core? If I were to strip everything away—all relationships, all titles, all degrees, all positions—who am I? My essence is not being a Caucasian American male. I am not first and foremost a husband, a father, a son, a missionary, a friend, a college graduate, an athlete, etc.
I am God’s child.
That does not mean that I don’t carry all of the other identifiers as well. However, my status as child of God should guide and govern everything else that I am. The day that I responded by faith to the Holy Spirit’s working in my heart for salvation, was the day that my main identity came to life: a born-again, redeemed child of God—and that makes all of the difference in the circumstances of life.
Fear is a natural emotion when facing uncertainty, but the child of God can always trust an uncertain future to his unchanging God. Like a small child looking to his father in the midst of a frightful storm, the psalmist reminds his readers to look to God in moments of fear. He cried out to God saying: “What time I am afraid, I will trust in thee” (Ps 56:3). In those dark days where fear was taking hold in my life, I did well to remind myself that my Father says,“Be careful for nothing” (Phil 4:6), not because of who I am, but because of who He is.
- I am His subject, He is the King.
During this difficult time of waiting at home I felt paralyzed by fear. I could think of nothing else. Normally, I would enjoy my free days to read or relax—but that was before home felt like I was trapped! It was a sobering reminder of how truly powerless I was to control my circumstances. I meditated on the fact that God is King and thus He is in control.
My father knows best.
Instead of trying to change the circumstances, the better question is “what does the gospel compel me to do during these circumstances?” The light of the gospel shines brightest in the darkness. React to God’s sovereignty in your circumstances by resting in Him. No matter what would happen, I knew my soul was secure. I knew that God cared for me and that He desired to work His purposes through me despite what I considered adverse circumstances. God’s strength is made perfect in my weakness (2 Cor 12:9). React to God’s sovereignty in your circumstances by following His plan. We are on this earth to make disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit. Instead of being paralyzed, I needed to mobilize for the cause of Christ. The gospel teaches me to choose to trust God in my circumstances and not indulge my fears. Gospel opportunities abound in the most difficult times.
- I must keep my mind on target.
A key to positive mental health is placing your focus on the right target.
My meditation affects my feelings.
Part of my problem in the beginning was knowing too much. Ignorance might not be bliss, but it certainly would have helped my mind from going to dark places. In my desire to understand the situation, I was reading online news articles, I was reading status updates on social media, I was asking our church family for text updates—and I was bombarded with bad news, fake news, uncensored news, and worst-case scenario news.
It didn’t help that virtually everyone owns a smartphone connected to the internet. My connectedness was killing my peace. It wasn’t until I intentionally stopped feeding on the information that was contributing to my anxiousness—stopped reading the online newspaper, stopped clicking the Facebook links, stopped believing every forwarded message, etc.—that my mind was partially helped from going down the dark path of anxiety and fear. I say partially, because I had to also intentionally fill my mind with the Word of God. The prophet Isaiah declared that God “wilt keep him in perfect peace, Whose mind is stayed on thee: Because he trusteth in thee” (Isa 26:3). When you are fearful, step back and analyze the information that you are meditating on. Peace is found in the mind that is resting on the Person of God and trusting in the Work of God.
- I am not alone.
My flesh wanted to construct a false front and hide my feelings from others, but the Gospel teaches me the benefits of Christian community.
I am not designed to walk this path alone.
Sometimes you just need someone to talk to—someone to talk you off of the ledge. It’s even better if that someone is in a good place spiritually. I remember texting one of my best friends in the States, and asking him: “Do you even care?” (I probably screamed it in all caps!). I just assumed that what was front and center in my world must be headline news everywhere else, but it wasn’t. My friend called me and asked what was going on. We had been in contact about the unrest, but he thought it was the typical unrest that flares up and calms down just as quickly in places like Honduras.
My cry for help let him know that things were not normal. It was extremely helpful to share my feelings over the phone and get a sympathetic ear, good counsel, and promises of prayer. I was reminded of Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 which says, “Two are better than one; . . . For if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow.” When you are fearful, do not isolate yourself; seek out a solid friend who will hear you and help you in your time of need. When fear begins to rear its ugly head, the worst thing you can do is hide those feelings and act like you’ve got it all together. Surround yourself with Gospel-centered friends and mentors who will speak truth into the situation.
Are you facing circumstances that have you anxious or fearful? The inspired words of the Apostle Paul to the Philippian believers rings true: “Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” (Phil 4:6-7). When I turned everything over to my sovereign God and remembered that my times are in His hands, I was released from the shackles of anxiety and I was able to say with the psalmist, “I will both lay me down in peace, and sleep: For thou, Lord, only makest me dwell in safety” (Ps 4:8).