do not fear

The most frequent command in scripture is some version of “do not be afraid” or “fear not.” It is used a reported 365 times, though I haven’t counted. My colleague here at the Barnabas Center, Roger Edwards, leads a seminar titled “It is not what you say, it’s how you say it.” I wonder how the speakers in scripture (Lord, Angels, Moses, Joshua, Samuel, David, the Prophets, Jesus, Paul, etc.) “say it”? Is it given as an admonishment or as words of comfort? Was it said irritably or soothingly?

Those that study such things say that tone and posture make up close to 93% of all communication and the actual words only account for 7%. Because of this, I wonder what tone was used when this command was given. It is impossible to know, as scripture doesn’t usually give us nonverbal cues and I am sure that it is said in many ways.

However, I do know how our central nervous system is calmed. Parenting has taught me that.

When my kids were little, it was not uncommon for them to come to my bedside in the night afraid of the storm outside. After being welcomed in, my kids would rest securely between my wife and me. Even though I was not anxious about the thunder and lightning, I was moved by their fear and I knew enough what was and wasn’t needed. For instance, what wasn’t needed was for me to explain to them that we had a well-built home with good shingles and that their anxiety was ridiculous. Though it can sometimes be helpful, logic seldom relieves anxiety, as emotion and logic are situated in different parts of the brain.

Likewise, I know God’s posture to our own grown-up fear is not with logic and an exasperated eye roll, nor a rebuking and demanding, “What is wrong with you! Don’t be so afraid!” The anxious mirror neurons in our brain do not calm in the presence of someone who is hyper-aroused or animated. Intensity cannot lead to calm, but a non-anxious presence can. We all need the non-anxious Someone Bigger Than Us who both acknowledges our situation and offers calm presence to soothe us. For those who grew up in an unsafe or hostile environment, this can be hard to fathom.

According to my wise friend Google, John Lennon’s “Beautiful Boy” is included in the list of the most popular lullabies sung to babies.

“Close your eyes,
Have no fear,
The monster’s gone,
He’s on the run
And your daddy’s here,
Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful,
Beautiful boy.”

When the storms come into our lives, how do we perceive the tone and posture of “Do not worry, do not be afraid, have no fear”? Is possible that sometimes those commands are actually for us as we sing lullabies to our dysregulated kids? Can we experience a non-anxious, presence calming us in the midst of chaos? Will it Do you know what presence calms your central nervous system when all you are aware of is thunder and lightning? Do you notice that you can be soothed?




Kurt Zuiderveen joined The Barnabas Center in 2008. Kurt earned his bachelor’s from Grand Valley State in Michigan and his master’s in counseling in 2004 from Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, Florida. He is married to April and they have three children.
Kurt divides his time between our main office in Charlotte and our office in Davidson.

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