Is fear a choice?
God told Abraham, Hagar, Isaac, and Jacob not to be afraid. (See Genesis 51:1, 21:17, 26:24, 46:3.) An angel gave the same direction to Zacharias, Mary, Joseph, and a group of shepherds in Bethlehem. (See Luke 1:13, 30, Matthew 1:20, Luke 2:10.) And the prophet Isaiah several times gives us the same instruction. Here is a passage which I find particularly compelling:
Fear thou not; for I am with thee:
be not dismayed; for I am thy God:
I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness.Isaiah 41:10
These are words of comfort, accompanied by a promise of divine assistance. The message could be paraphrased simply, “You have no need to fear. I’m here.”
But it’s phrased as a command: “Fear not” — al-tira (אל־תירא) — followed by the parallel injunction: “Be not dismayed” — al-tishta (אל־תשתע). That second command means literally, “Don’t look around.” When we experience fear, we instinctively spring into action, beginning by scanning our environment for signs of danger. This is a healthy response to imminent threats, but when there is no immediate danger, it can be harmful. It can result in poor decisions, and it can distract us from the work we need to do.
The command, “Fear not,” tells us to do less, to slow down and give ourselves some space to make wiser decisions. The Book of Mormon prophet Alma told the people in the city of Gideon to “fear not, and lay aside every sin” (Alma 7:15). And Pahoran responded to an anxious Captain Moroni by encouraging him to calm the fears of the people he led: “See that ye strengthen Lehi and Teancum in the Lord; tell them to fear not, for God will deliver them” (Alma 61:21). Sometimes less activity is just what we need, so that we can focus on what is most important.
In 1787, a Baptist minister named John Rippon published a collection of hymns which included a new hymn called “How Firm a Foundation.” No one knows for sure who was the author; the name was listed simply as “K___.” The third verse of that hymn is a paraphrase of Isaiah 41:10:
Fear not, I am with thee; oh, be not dismayed,
For I am thy God and will still give thee aid.
I’ll strengthen thee, help thee, and cause thee to stand,
Upheld by my righteous, omnipotent hand.Hymns, 85
As you listen to the Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square perform this arrangement of the hymn by Mack Wilberg, think about how you can calm your fears, avoid “looking around” unnecessarily, and increase your trust in the Lord.
Today, I will trust God and manage my fears. I will remember that less activity may be necessary in order to calm myself, and that sometimes doing nothing gives me space to ensure that I am seeing clearly and acting wisely.