Bears are definitely not my favorite animal. Not only are they big and mean looking, they also have the audacity to think they have a right to inhabit the great outdoors. That created some real problems since my sisters, Barb and Annette, and I often took our families on vacation to the mountains.
One summer we took our families and rented cabins next to each other in the Sierra Mountains at beautiful Hume Lake.
We were warned about bears in the area and cautioned never to leave our bagged trash outside our cabins. For some reason bears consider that as an invitation to a picnic. Instead, we were to dispose of the garbage in the bear-proof lockers that the camp provided.
Inevitably my husband, Alan, and I got lazy and neglected to follow through. We left our full trashcan out on the deck. It only served us right when we were startled wide-awake in the middle of the night by a loud crash!
The trashcan rattled as some kind of animal knocked it over and pawed through it. The scraping, tearing, grunting sounds that followed only confirmed our worst suspicions: a bear had decided to make our leftovers his dinner!
Alan and I lay frozen, paralyzed with fear and unwilling to leave the security of our bed. Neither of us would look at the other, fearing that the dreaded “You take care of it!” look would be in the other’s eyes.
It wasn’t until the next morning that we dared to venture outside. Sure enough, the rubbish that had once been neatly contained in Hefty bags was scattered all over the deck. While that annoying bear had left a big mess for us to clean up, it was our own fault. It was the logical consequence for ignoring the oft-repeated warnings of the camp personnel.
“Oh well”, we thought. “At least it makes for a good story.”
When Annette came over to inspect the debris, she laughed as we recounted our terror in the night.
“No bear did that.” she said. “See those raccoon paw marks? The only bear here last night was in your imagination!”
I hate it when she’s right.
Nevertheless, the idea of a bear took root.
The very next night Barb and her husband, Cam, had put their three kids to bed in the upstairs area of the cabin and were enjoying the quiet. Belatedly, Barb remembered that their trash had been left on their front porch. With the memory of the “bear” that had visited us the night before still fresh in her mind, the fear of attracting a real one battled with the fear of actually meeting it in the dark if she were to venture out.
She wrestled with the dilemma for a time, but figured she wouldn’t be able to sleep if she didn’t take care of it. With great reluctance she made her way downstairs.
The front door creaked open, and Barb peeked nervously into the darkness outside. Glimpsing the trash bags lined up right at the edge of the dimly lit porch, she gathered her courage about her and made a dash for it. She was hoping that if she moved fast enough the bear that was surely lurking in the area wouldn’t have a chance to react.
No such luck.
As soon as she was close enough to lay her hands on the trash she heard a low, menacing “Grrrr” behind her.
Terror-stricken, she froze. Then adrenaline kicked in, and Barb dropped the trash and dashed for the safety of the front door.
The next sound she heard was that of her husband, Cam, howling with laughter! The ferocious growl of Barb’s bear had been nothing more than his idea of a practical joke.
The only bear around on either night existed only in our imaginations. There never was a bear, but our belief that one existed affected our behavior as surely as if there were.
Fear is like that. Most of the time it is entirely groundless and the thing we fear most never happens. Nonetheless, we behave as if it will. Left unchecked it robs us of the peace, the joy, and the trust that is promised to us as children of God.
Yes, we know we don’t have to live in this kind of fear because “God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, love and a sound mind” (2 Timothy 1:7). We know God’s word encourages us more than eighty times to “fear not”.
So what do we do? How do we fight against it? Fear is, after all, a natural human reaction.
We only need to look at Him. All-knowing, He is aware of what we fear. All-loving, He cares about our circumstances. All-powerful, He is in control of them. He is so much bigger than our fear. He is with us no matter what and promises to always be so.
When we focus on Him rather than our fear our spirit is calmed, allowing faith to take over. Fear shrinks in light of the bigness, the goodness, and the power of our God, allowing room for faith to change our perspective and dictate our response. Then we are able to “Cast all our anxiety on Him because He cares for us” (1 Peter 5:7). And as we lean hard into Him we begin to trust Him differently. More fully. More completely. More confidently. Because that trust is not misplaced and does not disappoint.
Looking at Him instead of our fear is a choice.
I choose to recognize that He is bigger than my fear.
I hear He’s not even afraid of bears.
So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.
1. What do you fear most?
2. How do you allow your trust in God to outweigh your fear?
3. Write Isaiah 41:10 on a 3 x 5 card and put it in your wallet (the verse is written above). Pull it out and read it every time you feel the first stirrings of fear.
Father, You are Almighty God. You spoke all of creation into being and nothing is too hard for You. Today I choose to acknowledge that You are bigger than anything I fear. I trust You to be with me in every situation. Please help me choose to respond to life’s circumstances with faith rather than fear.