Our flights to and from Sweden were fairly uneventful. Apart from one moment. Remember that this was only a matter of days since the Egypt Air plane crashed in the Mediterranean, possibly (probably?) caused by a bomb.
We were seated in a row of three, and in the seat next to us was a man who didn’t really make eye contact with me. He was not in a chatty mood. During the flight he looked a bit anxious and then, rather alarmingly, on a couple of occasions he leant forward and laid his head on his knees. If I mention that he looked to be of North African descent and that he looked like he was praying then you might understand how uneasy it made me. The thought did cross my mind that he might have somehow got a bomb on board the plane and was waiting for it to go off.
It’s not that I am afraid of dying – I have absolute faith in Jesus about my eternal destiny. But the fleeting thought crossed my mind in the moment of anxiety that I don’t really want to die in a painful way. And I thought that I would rather not die yet as I have lots I would like to do. And I thought of the impact on those whom I love and might miss me and I didn’t want them to be upset.
It may be that if there had not been an apparent terrorist bombing of a plane the week before I might not have been so anxious. I can’t say. But what that moment revealed about me troubles me.
Call me untrusting.
Call me suspicious.
Call me paranoid.
Perhaps even call me racist.
Those things might be true of me in that moment. I hope and pray that they are not. I need to work through with myself and God whether any of them are, and if my thoughts were unfair or unjustified. I have sought forgiveness for them and asked for God’s Spirit’s help to change me so that I am not like that in future.
In that moment I did pray. I prayed for safety. But, thank God, I did at least also pray for the man next to me – that his stress and anxiety would diminish.
As I reflect on the events from the comfort of my study I also pray the following prayer…
“Please God, cleanse me from all of the taints and tarnish of suspicion or even racism that cling to me because of what I hear on the news and events that go on around the world. Forgive me when I act and react because of them rather than because of you. Please God help me always to think the best of people, because you do. Please God help me to be like Jesus on the cross when I am in situations where I am anxious – and think of the welfare of others before myself. “
What are you afraid of? What are your phobias? Some people have some debilitating phobias and some have phobias that, to those who don’t share it, seem a bit silly, although if you are a sufferer they are anything but silly. According to Wikipedia:
Apparently ‘barophobia’ is a fear of gravity. How does that work – it’s something of a given for all of us on this planet.
Koumpounophobia is a fear of buttons. Before the invention of zips, Velcro and the like that must have been a very difficult phobia.
Pupaphobia is a fear of puppets. If you suffer from this I apologise for posting photos of Stew the Rabbit.
I am not belittling those phobias, but it is difficult for those who don’t share them to know quite how they affect someone and how a sufferer copes with them.
I think all humans share at least one phobia. It’s the fear of being found out: the fear that people might find out what we are really like. I can remember reading this (but don’t know the source – if you know it please let me know and I will credit it accordingly) – “I am afraid to tell you who I really am because you might not like who I really am, and it’s all I’ve got.”
The startling thing about God is that he knows what we are like, even the stuff we conceal from everyone else, and he is still crazy about us. He will not reject us. He will not push us away. He knows the truth. That means that we can be honest with him (there’s no point in being anything else). It means that there is one person who can help us with the fear of being found out because there’s nothing for him to find out. It means we can ask him to help us to change the things we don’t like.
Yesterday I had my car serviced and it had its annual MOT test. I always put my car in for those tests with a sense of nervousness and apprehension. Will there be something that has gone wrong that will cause the car to fail? Will it be expensive?**
It is the fear of the unexpected and unpredictable that can be far more disabling than the fear of what is expected and known. So, for example, we know that lions like to eat people, and it wise to use our natural fear of being eaten to ensure that we don’t put ourselves in a position where that can happen. We keep lions in Africa, or in zoos and safari parks, and we keep a safe distance from them. What would be scary would be if a lion escaped from a zoo or a safari park near us – we would not know if it was nearby and if it was going to attack us.
I think that is why some people are afraid of the future – we don’t know what it will bring and cannot always control it. That is why some people refer to their horoscopes in order to try to prepare themselves for what lies ahead.
There’s a great old hymn by Daniel Whittle which includes these words:
I know not what of good or ill
May be reserved for me,
Of weary ways or golden days,
Before His face I see.
But I know Whom I have believèd,
And am persuaded that He is able
To keep that which I’ve committed
Unto Him against that day.
That security does not mean we won’t be afraid, but knowing the one who knows the whole of time, what has past and what is to come, means that we are in safe hands no matter what life can throw at us.
Be blessed, be a blessing
*possibly the most ridiculous bloggage title yet
**As it happened, the car passed but needed some new tyres, in case you want to know the end of the story.