I have been struggling with a lot of fear of the future lately.
It’s not debilitating fear that gives me anxiety or panic attacks. It’s those lingering worries about the future and my ability to handle the things that may happen. It’s a constant lack of self-confidence.
I’m in a wonderful season right now. I’m writing a novel like it’s my full-time job; I love my life with my husband and family and friends; I love my home and the daily routines I’ve created here.
But I think this comfort is partly why I’m so afraid. I’m afraid of things changing, which is inevitable (unless I choose to go Mrs. Harvisham* and refuse to change). For some reason, I keep finding myself believing that things won’t ever be as good as they are now.
But that’s a lie that I have believed over and over again in my life. I thought high school would be better than college, but then college was such a great experience that I didn’t want that to end, either. Before I got married, even though I was in love and looked forward to my new life, I mourned the change.
Time has consistently proven to me that things get better. I will never ever tell anyone what people told me when I was in high school and college: that these are the “best years of your life.” No. That wasn’t true.
But I’m too realistic to believe that, just because something worked out before, then it will work out again. I know that’s not true because I have seen people suffer in unimaginable ways. I know I’m not so special that I can avoid suffering. I know it’s just a matter of time.
So I worry about the future.
I’ve heard some people say it’s best to believe things will go well. Even if things don’t go well, you won’t have wasted unnecessary time worrying. Worry, as we know, won’t add a single hour to our lives. But I have a hard time with the “believing things will go well” part. How can I believe something that I can’t possibly know? Maybe it’s not about “believing” but hoping or expecting. Maybe we don’t have to trick ourselves. Instead, we use up the energy we would have spent on fear towards hope instead.
But hope in what?
This is where I think the issue truly pivots from self-delusion to genuine, actionable hope.
We don’t try to believe that our lives will be perfect, or that we won’t get sick, or that our families will be safe forever. We can hope and pray for these things, but we also can’t fall into the trap of believing that just because we have faith that we are safe from the world.
Instead, we orient our hope towards this: that, with God, we are strong enough to handle anything.
As Paul writes: “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.
“I can do all this through him who gives me strength” (Philippians 4: 12-13).
Paul didn’t mean that he could get the best job or have plenty to eat or be well all the time. He meant that, whatever happened, he would be given the strength to go through it with faith.
I don’t think I’m as afraid of the future as I am afraid of how the future will affect me. Will I be strong enough? Will I lose faith? Will I despair?
But Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 12:9: “But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.”
Paul wanted God to take a burden away from him. God didn’t. Instead, God promised that His grace was sufficient.
This is the hope I have.
I’m still afraid. I wish I wasn’t. Sometimes I wonder if I don’t have enough faith. But sometimes fears are so engrained that we can’t expect them to simply dissolve away. We have to work hard on them, and even then the instinctual fear may still be there. We can still choose courage. We can still believe, even when our bodies try to make us run, that we are strong in Christ.
This isn’t the kind of convenient hope that Christians are sometimes blamed for.
This is hope backed up by the promises of God.
“And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us” (Romans 5).
*A Great Expectations reference for my literary friends