By Sarah Dobrotka
I used to think if I ever got a tattoo it would be the words “be brave” - in black script and somewhere visible, like my wrist or forearm. It would be something I could see every day, a reminder to take risks and fight against fear.
Fear is an unwelcome, but all too familiar, acquaintance of mine. Worry, hesitancy, doubt, concern, anxiety, dread, panic, terror—these are all real emotions I have allowed to wreck my mind since I was young. I’ve always been good at fighting back, but it wasn’t until recently, when God brought me to the lowest of valleys, that I realized I had allowed fear to hang on me like chains, wrapped around my arms, weighing me down. I was still moving and present in the world, but I wasn’t free.
A few years ago I developed a paralyzing fear of flying. From that I developed generalized anxiety, which became debilitating. Initially I thought these were outliers: “I’m Sarah Dobrotka! I’m brave and confident! Surely this is just a blip I can get through quickly.” It took a full-fledged panic attack to allow me to step back and see how fear and anxiety had been a consistent part of my life since I was a young child. I cried and screamed for the first three weeks of Kindergarten. In high school I lost my appetite for a month because of an upcoming missions trip to Honduras. In tears I tried to convince my mom that a sinus infection was enough to keep me from going on a three-day youth group trip to a homeless shelter in New York City. I lost my courage and chickened out last minute when it came time to audition for a high school musical because I was afraid to sing in front of people.
But God—he redeemed all of those events in my life. I grew to love school, so much so that I became a social butterfly from first grade onward. I even work with school children now, some with the same anxieties I had. My trip to Honduras was challenging, but a huge blessing. It was my first experience outside of the United States. Unlike most people in my youth group, who went on the New York City trip once, I consistently went twice a year for three and a half years. I quickly learned the power of what it meant to step out in faith even when you’re terrified. I didn’t end up performing in my high school musical, but I did sing and perform in my church’s Christmas musical two years in a row. A few years back, not knowing anyone else, I sang as part of a choral group at a local college. I stood on stage and sang Handel’s Messiah, a beautiful story of the birth, death, and resurrection of our Savior, for two and a half hours to a packed room. I praise God for his faithfulness to me. He saw my fears and he redeemed me in spite of myself.
While I still believe it to be an excellent choice of ink artistry, I’ve decided what’s important isn’t that I remind myself to fight hard on my own to be brave and trust myself, but to remember what God has done. This has become a common phrase for me. How can fear win when I think of the faithfulness of God? When I consider his love and provision?
How can fear win when, in ways big and small, God makes his mighty presence known in my life? For every plane ride I have taken in the past three years, God has provided. Whether it was the time I sat next to a pilot in an exit row, the time I was on the same plane as a friend from church, or the countless friendly faces and kindness I received from every person I’ve encountered while doing the thing I fear most. That is God. That is Jesus showing up and tangibly showing his love and grace to me.
Psalm 77 in my ESV Bible has the heading: In the Day of Trouble I Seek the Lord.
I cry aloud to God, aloud to God, and he will hear me. In the day of my trouble I seek the Lord; in the night my hand is stretched out without wearying; my soul refuses to be comforted. When I meditate, my spirit faints. You hold my eyelids open; I am so troubled that I cannot speak. (Ps. 77:1-4, author’s emphasis)
These are the words of someone in utter anguish. They are crying out to the Lord for help and seeking him alone. But they also believe he will hear them and deliver them. This is the first of two times in this psalm that a line is repeated verbatim. I don’t believe the repetition is a trivial oversight. I can hear the angst in the voice of the speaker. They’ve reached their breaking point. All they can do now is cry out and trust that the Lord will hear.
I consider the days of old, the years long ago. I said, “Let me remember my song in the night; let me meditate in my heart.” Then my spirit made a diligent search: “Will the Lord spurn forever, and never again be favorable? Has his steadfast love forever ceased? Are his promises at an end for all time? Has God forgotten to be gracious? Has he in anger shut up his compassion?” (Ps. 77:5-9)
Sometimes the hardest part about hopelessness is feeling joy is no longer attainable. It’s easy to dwell on easier times and wonder if you’ll feel joy again, to ask God, “Why?” Many times it has been easy for me to give up and collapse under the weight of anxiety. I would love to able to say I fought fear every time and stayed strong and courageous. The truth is there have been plenty of times when I gave in to the lies.
Then I said, “I will appeal to this, to the years of the right hand of the Most High.” I will remember the deeds of the Lord; yes, I will remember your wonders of old. I will ponder all your work, and meditate on your mighty deeds. Your way, O God, is holy. What god is great like our God? You are the God who works wonders; you have made known your might among the peoples. You with your arm redeemed your people, the children of Jacob and Joseph. (Ps. 77:10-15)
I like that it’s at this point that the writer has decided not to give in to the fear. This is the part where I want to shout, “Yes! Yes hallelujah, amen! You remembered! You remembered what God has done! What he’s doing!” Sometimes it’s not until after crawling out of the pit that I realize God had been at work the entire time.
When the waters saw you, O God, when the waters saw you, they were afraid; indeed, the deep trembled. The clouds poured out water; the skies gave forth thunder; your arrows flashed on every side. The crash of your thunder was in the whirlwind; your lightnings lighted up the world; the earth trembled and shook. Your way was through the sea, your path through the great waters; yet your footprints were unseen. You led your people like a flock by the hand of Moses and Aaron. (Ps. 77:16-20, author’s emphasis)
Remember what God has done? He has redeemed his people. He led his people like a flock by his hand. Psalm 103 tells us to bless the Lord and not to forget all his benefits. He forgives all our iniquities and heals all our diseases. He crowns us with steadfast love and mercy. He satisfies with good. We will not be abandoned.
In 2 Corinthians 1, Paul says God is the God of all comfort. He comforts all our afflictions so we may comfort others. Paul says that he was “so utterly burdened beyond strength” that he “despaired of life itself” (2 Cor. 1:8). He felt like he was sentenced to death.
But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again. (2 Cor. 1:9b-10)
Remember what God has done.
Recently I emailed a friend about some of the anxiety I was experiencing. She reminded me of the Israelites when they were in Egypt. They painted the blood of a lamb over their door post so the angel of death would pass over. It was a sign that declared to the enemy: you may not enter. You cannot touch us and you must pass on. And he did. The enemy knows the significance of that blood.
As Christ followers we can claim that same power over any situation in our lives because of Christ’s death on the cross. As stated in Romans 6, we know that just as Christ died and was resurrected to new life, so are we. God was victorious over death and sin: “We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin” (Rom. 6:6).
If there’s anything I’ve learned this summer it’s that I am not a slave to fear. I have been freed and can be confident in my salvation. How is this possible? Because I choose to remember what God has done, not only in my life, but for all of creation.
Choose today to remember his faithfulness.