Fear in change
By Jack Barraclough
Changes in our lives are often accompanied by fear. Change moves our experiences from something we know and are comfortable with to new, unknown things. It highlights to us how uncertain our future is. Usually, the fear that accompanies change is not actually a fear of change, but a fear of the unknown. Change makes us feel stressed and anxious because we don’t know what will happen and fear the worst-case scenarios coming true.
Jesus has some advice for us.
In Matthew 6:25-34, Jesus encourages us not to worry because God is a good provider, and ‘each day has enough trouble of its own’. If you’re a natural worrier, or if you struggle with anxiety, this might sound like it’s easier said than done. You might think that you can’t help feeling the way you feel, and there’s no use being told to feel something else.
But we do have some control over what we think about, and how we respond to the thoughts that come to us unbidden. We can either indulge them and torture ourselves with the future’s worst-case scenarios, or we can recognise the thought and share how it makes us feel, recognise that stressing ourselves out will not ‘add a single hour to your life’, and choose to focus on the present moment’s responsibilities or pleasures instead.
For example, maybe you’re moving to a new city in a couple of months, and you are worried that you won’t make any friends. It’s important to recognise the feelings that this thought prompts in us. Some fear, some sadness.
Share these feelings with someone you trust. While we recognise these emotions, we can also remind ourselves that they are a reaction to an imagined future, not a present reality.
Remind yourself of your present reality. What can you do in it to prepare well for the future you fear? Can you start setting up a support network now? Is there an old friend who lives nearby, or can you start researching local churches?
If it’s a convenient time you could start doing those things. But sometimes our fears of the future crop up at inconvenient times. If you’re at work, or trying to enjoy time with loved ones, or trying to sleep in the middle of the night, try to bring your attention back to the present. Focus on your assignment, or your next move in the board game, or the moments in the day when you felt God’s presence. Writing down what you want to do later can also help you to let go of the distracting thoughts so that you can focus on the present.
Hopefully that will help you practise Jesus’ advice not to worry. But there is more that we can learn from Jesus that can help us to deal with fear in change.
Jesus warns people that following him will lead to hardship. In Matthew 8:20, Jesus tells a scribe who has asked to follow him, ‘Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.’ A few verses later this is vividly illustrated when Jesus has a little nap, not in a comfy bed, but in a fishing boat during a life-threatening storm. His disciples, in the boat with him, cry out in fear for their lives and when they reach the shore, the disciples follow Jesus into a confrontation with demons!
Jesus doesn’t lead us into a life of comfort but into a struggle against the forces of chaos and evil, which could even lead to an untimely and painful death on a cross: ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.’ Matthew 16:24.
Jesus tells his followers to expect hardship before they even start following him. But it isn’t just Jesus’ followers who can expect to experience hardship in life. Everyone who moves to a new city can expect to experience loneliness, to miss old friends and familiar places. But recognising that our future contains hardships is not the same as fearing the worst-case scenario that change might bring.
Going back to our earlier example, you’re moving to a new city and you are worried you won’t make any friends. This might not happen. You might arrive in your new home and be warmly greeted by neighbours who become like family. You might meet your other half for the first time on the train. Expecting to experience loneliness in your big move helps you to prepare for it emotionally and practically. But torturing yourself with hypothetical situations that might never come true will not add a single hour to your life.
When fear of change is creeping into your life, discern between the hardships you know you will face and the worst-case scenarios that might never happen. Notice your emotions and express them to others. Prepare for the hardships and refocus on the responsibilities and joys of the present.