By Joël Malm, Crosswalk.com
A time is coming when men will go mad, and when they see someone who is not mad, they will attack him, saying, 'You are mad; you are not like us. – St. Anthony the Great
When I was in elementary school, I read a book about the end of the world that was not age-appropriate. For weeks, I was terrified of what impending doom was surely headed our way. That sense of impending doom has been with me for years. I pinpoint my lifelong struggle with fear and anxiety reading that book.
I’ve been afraid of dying, afraid of failing, afraid of someone I love dying or being sick—and that was just yesterday! But through the years, I’ve learned to process my anxiety and fear in a way that has actually set me free.
Now, I write, speak, and provide counseling to help people who are struggling with anxiety and fear. Unfortunately, anxiety is on the rise like never before. And when anxiety, worry, and fear are high, those emotions have the power to create havoc and destruction in our personal lives and society.
The good news is, anxiety doesn’t have to ruin your life. In fact, you can become an instrument of peace by holding on to a few truths I want to share about how to manage your anxiety in the middle of a world gone mad.
Two Kinds of Madness (Anger and Fear) Are Connected
For the record, there are two kinds of madness going on right now—but they are connected.
There’s angry madness—people are lashing out and taking to the streets to express years of pent up rage.
But that kind of madness is the result of another kind of madness: the insanity that happens when we are driven by fear. To understand that fear-driven madness, you need to understand fear.
Whenever we feel fear or anxiety, it’s always because we feel a threat to our:
1. Security (physical, emotional, or financial),
2. Connection (relationships, feeling valued, self-esteem), or
3. Control (our empowerment and ability to make choices).
All three of those areas are being threatened right now.
When we feel threatened, rational thought goes out the door and we just react to whatever we feel is threatening us. Typically, that reaction is anger. Anger is always a result of fear. So both kinds of madness are directly connected to fear running wild in our world.
Fear Is Primal, But Not Necessarily Rational
Fear is the first emotion Adam and Eve felt when they realized they were naked and vulnerable. We’ve all felt fear, anxiety, and worry ever since. Because fear is primal, it isn’t necessarily rational.
In fact, when we feel afraid, our mind shifts into fight-or-flight mode. Brain activity moves from the pre-frontal cortex (the rational problem-solving part of your brain) to the cortex (the primal brain). Fear drives us to action, but it’s not necessarily good or rational action.
And this is the battleground for managing your anxiety.
Because fear is a primal emotion, it’s not necessarily rational. There is some fear you can talk yourself out of with evidence-based logic, but it’s a rare person that can do that. Fear is a strong emotion that can drive even the most rational among us.
Most of the time the only way to drive out fear is with something stronger. Fortunately, there is one thing that is much stronger than fear.
There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear. – 1 John 4:18
Photo Credit: ©Bethany Pyle
Love Over Fear
The only way to manage your anxiety, worry, and fear in a world gone mad is to overrun your fear with a personal experience of love—God’s perfect love.
We start managing our fear by recognizing that “neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38)
That’s the kind of love that gives us the courage to move forward and live our lives, in spite of fear. We can’t just sit around and wait for fear to go away. It won’t. It has to be faced. When you face the thing you fear in small doses, God sustains you, and it builds your faith. But you have to take the steps of faith first.
Which is why fear and faith aren’t opposites. Fear is just faith that bad things will happen. Faith is believing that God’s love is available in a real way to comfort and encourage us through our fears. But that kind of faith requires action. Faith is stepping into the uncertainty based solely in our confidence in God’s love, even while feeling fear.
But it’s nearly impossible to take action on faith when you’re cowering and hiding, living on a steady diet of fear and bad news. You have to recognize the cumulative effect of consuming ongoing bad news and negativity.
You can’t live in faith by feeding yourself with a steady diet of fear. Faith comes through experiencing God’s faithfulness. When you experience his love in action, it builds more faith.
Express Your Faith in the Face of Fear
But you don’t just sit in that love and faith. You have to step out and express that love to others. You have to take the risk, face your fear, and step out in the mad world so you can show love.
Faith takes action, based on belief. Faith is needed when things are really dark and you can’t see the path ahead. Faith is a risk. Loving a world gone mad is a risk—you may get hurt. But when we take the risk, two powerful things happen:
1. We gain the benefits of experiencing God’s love flowing through us, which naturally drives out our own fear.
2. The world experiences God’s love flowing to them, through us, which drives out their fear.
God’s Love Is the Answer
God’s love, experienced and shared, is the answer for a world gone mad. Don’t sit around waiting for fear to go away before you express love—do it afraid.
It’s risky. It’s scary. But the great things God has for us and the world are usually on the other side of facing our greatest fears. This is our moment!
Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/Sanja Radin
Joël Malm is an entrepreneur, author, and leadership coach based in Texas. Holding an M.S. in Counseling, Joël has a passion for helping people through life's hardest moments and helping them pursue God's plan for them along the way. His latest book, Love Slows Down: How to Keep Anger and Anxiety from Ruining Life's Relationships releases September 1 through Salem Books. You can find Joël at joelmalm.com.