Starting a new ministry has its ups and downs. Some days I live in fear that no one will want to participate in a gap experience and this attempt will fall on its face. Other days the fear is that it will take off and doubts emerge about my ability to deliver. It is my suspicion that this is normal and that most of us live with fear. The rise in anxiety and depression seems to be rooted in fear: a fear that we are not good enough, will not be liked, cannot manage school or work, will not have the finances to pay our bills, will miss out on the latest trend, will not be included, accepted or love. Superficial relationships rooted in technology can add to a mistrust accentuating the feelings of fear and isolation. Fear is often the source of stress, anxiety and our worst behaviors.
Maribeth and I have been watching the Netflix series The Kominsky Method. It is the story of the relationship of two older friends. Sandy is a failed actor who, ironically, teaches an acting class. His best friend Norman, who is his also his agent, just experienced the death of his wife. Norman has become a crabby, bitter curmudgeon who acknowledges his own brittleness since the death of his wife. In the final episode of season one, Norman’s grief catches up with him as his anger is unleashed on an innocent widow at a charity event. That same evening Norman goes missing, after wandering the streets of Los Angeles to clear his head only to be found by Sandy at a Police station. As Sandy drives Norman home, they have this conversation:
Norman: I think maybe I’m losing my mind.
Sandy: You’re not losing your mind.
Norman: Oh, like you know.
Sandy: You’ve just been through the f***in’ wringer, your wife died, your daughter’s back in rehab for the umpteenth time, and I don’t know if this needs to be said out loud, but you’re also like a thousand years old.
Norman: I thought I was angry . . . but the truth is, I am scared. I am scared all the time.
Sandy: Listen to me, we’re all scared. And you know why? Because it’s a scary f***in’ world. But we get through it because we’re not alone. You’re not alone.
Norman: Who do I have?
Sandy: (Exasperated and agitated) Me, you dumb s**t!
Can you see me? I am right here in front of you…….
(Waving) Hi! Hello, there. I see you. You see me? (Norman nods. Sandy pats him on the shoulder.)
Norman is angry and out of sorts because he is afraid. He has legitimate fears: he is scared because he feels alone after his wife’s death, he is afraid for his daughter and her struggle with addiction, he is afraid of his own mortality. These fears are probably very much like your own: relationships, family, purpose and mortality. As Sandy points out the answer to fear is an authentic, open and supportive friendships. Through the first eight episodes Sandy and Norman get on each other’s nerves, try one anohter’s patience, have arguments, but when the chips are down they find the ability to let down their guard and be open with the other. Norman is comforted by the fact that Sandy reassures him he is not alone. He has an authentic friend who knows his anger, fears and Idiosyncrasies who he can rely on. Sandy does not promise everything will be fine and there is nothing to fear. He tells him that whatever you experience I will be with you.
Perhaps it is an unlikely show to discover God, but isn’t this what God says to us? It might surprise you to know that the phrase that appears in the Bible most often is a version of “Do not be afraid” or “fear not.” God knows the human condition and understands the terror we feel when we are out of control. Therefore, he issues this command the most often: do not be afraid. Often people say if there was a God then that bad thing would not have occurred. My father would not have passed away, my significant other would not have broken up with me, we would not have gone through bankruptcy, I would not have lost my job. God does not promise that life will not be difficult. The command “Be not afraid” is not followed with you will not experience difficulty. No, God, like Sandy, promises to be with you. Do not be afraid I am with you.
Here are five examples:
“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.” ~ Isaiah 41:10
“When I am afraid, I put my trust in you." ~ Psalm 56:3
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” ~ Philippians 4:6-7
“Do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. Life is more than food, and the body more than clothes. Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds! Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?” ~ Luke 12:22-26
“But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, "Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid."
Our task is to find and trust in the presence of God. Like Sandy, God is saying to us, “Do you see me?” through that friend who you can rely on, your spouse, pastor, teacher, mentor, your child or co-worker. Life is not going to be easy, but you are not alone.
Hi! Hello! Do you see me??
Do not be afraid. I am with you.
Questions for Reflection
What causes you fear?
What relationships can you depend on the most? Where do you find God in that relationship?
What relationship would you like to improve? How can you meet your goals for that relationship?
What is the one thing that scares you that you will commit to trying?
Joe Nettesheim is the founder and director of 12plus1. He has been a Pastoral Minister since 1991 serving as an Executive Director of Inspirio Youth Ministries for six years. It is his belief that to renew the Church the Spirit is calling us beyond doctrine and to become humble servants like Jesus caring for people as they are and allowing God to do the rest. Joe and his wife Maribeth have a blended family of five kids, eight grandkids and an oafish Golden Doodle named TS Eliot.