The Fear-Driven Life

The Fear-Driven Life

Phil CallawayBy Phil Callaway8 Minutes

Book Excerpt from Laugh Like a Kid Again by Phil Callaway

Chapter 4

The Fear-Driven Life

I have a fear of speed bumps. But I’m getting over it.

The presence of anxiety is unavoidable, but the prison of anxiety is optional.

Lest you think from reading my missile-to-paradise story that I get up each morning, don my “No Fear” hat, and stride bravely into the world quoting comforting Bible verses, it’s not so. Since I was about ten, anxiety has greeted me at some point each day.

I could blame my mother’s panic attacks or the bullies who found me a desirable target (I had the lethal combination of a big mouth and a small body), but fear and anxiety visit us all.

Back in the last century, the government in its finite wisdom instituted a drill called “Duck and Cover.” Our teacher interrupted math class and commanded us to lunge beneath our desks and place our hands over our tiny heads. This terrified most of the children. Not me. School was unbearably boring; this was the highlight of my day.

I had no idea that world leaders were experiencing itchy trigger fingers around nuclear weaponry, so some bureaucrat had the bright idea that children would be safest beneath wooden desks. Yes, this would be the key to survival in the event of an atomic attack. One day we would tell our grandchildren, “Atom bombs exploded. But we were fine. Others weren’t. But we had very solid desks, and we hid beneath them.”

During one such “Duck and Cover,” a classmate started blubbering, then told me exactly why we were under there: “Someone wants us dead.” And anxiety began to take up residence.

Fear says, “Duck!” Anxiety says, “Duck, and think about it a while. I mean, what if?”

By 1955, more than 20 percent of Americans thought humans would disappear from the planet by 1960.1 That didn’t stop them from building houses, acquiring mortgages, and investing in pension plans, but many thought the end was nigh. By the 1970s, books like The Late Great Planet Earth were flying off store shelves, and when the year 2000 arrived despite the Y2K scare, my parents agreed with obvious disappointment, “We never thought we’d see the year 2000.”

Today, anxiety has reached epidemic proportions. The big hand on the Doomsday Clock sits at 11:58, the closest it’s been to midnight since 1953.2 I like telling audiences that my biggest fear is having a heart attack while playing the game charades. Imagine. You’re clutching your chest—and they’re guessing. Yes, I have been hamstrung by anxiety. It’s like I’m back in second grade, hands over my head, allowing anxiety to steal my peace.

Fear can be a healthy thing, of course. For some, fear of jail is the beginning of wisdom. Fear of lung cancer helped a friend of mine kick a pack-a-day habit. Fear of licking metal doorknobs in winter kept my tongue intact (except for that fateful day in 1965). But anxiety over circumstances we can’t control defeats us in a thousand ways—choking our courage, stealing our joy.

An acquaintance of mine has taken to forwarding every frightening video he can lay his mouse on. Evil is spreading. Everything is wrong. I phoned him after watching one. “I got your video,” I said.

“What do you think? Freaky, huh?”

“I think God must be very, very worried,” I said.

There was a pause. “Uh…you’re joking, right?”

I was. We live in dark times. But God does amazing work in the dark.

Anxiety is a no-confidence vote in God. It pulverizes our effectiveness and paralyzes our joy. Change begins as we embrace the next five sentences. Read them slowly.

Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life (Philippians 4:6-7 msg).

When I was a kid, my parents taught me to pray, “If I should die before I wake…” I thought, What am I gonna die of ? I’m four. Hardening of the arteries? Kidney stones? Osteoporosis? And then my older brother threatened to kill me, and my prayers took on new urgency.

I’m still in second grade at the School of Prayer. But I’ve noticed that when anxiety arrives, those who place Jesus at the center of their lives instinctively shoo it out through the door of prayer. The more we pray, the less we panic.

One week after Nelson and Linda Reed faced their greatest fear head on, Linda wrote these words to me: “God is so good, and all his ways are good—yes, even in this! God is taking me through my deepest fear—the sudden, violent death of my child one day before his thirtieth birthday. But we are seeing God’s sweetness in all the details. Christ is walking with me through it. He did not leave me to go it alone. He is exchanging my fear for acceptance, peace, even joy!”

Christ had displaced anxiety at the center of Linda’s life.

What lies at the very core of your life?

Money? What if you lose it?

Family? What if they disappoint?

Beauty? What if it fades?

Career? What if it ends?

Or is it Christ?

What we place at the center will feed fear or feed faith.

None of us knows what lies ahead, but God does. And he has promised to walk with us through it, to give enough light for the next step.

And though it’s hard to see him sometimes, nothing can separate us from God’s love. He is in the middle of whatever has happened, is happening, and will happen to us. So let’s crawl out from beneath our wooden desks and look to him—before we have a heart attack.

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Photo Credit: Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, NYWT&S Collection, [LC-DIG-ds-01489]