I understand the arresting power of fear. After my first husband, David, died in a head-on collision, fear of death lingered over me like a dense fog.
Since David died at 37, people felt compelled to share how other young lives were cut short. Many died in vehicles but most were freak accidents. One woman fell through the attic. Another slipped in the shower. One died in a tornado. I heard about cancer, heart attacks, aneurysms, and invisible underlying diseases. The victims were always relatively healthy, not heavy drinkers or daredevils.
I began to wonder how anyone wakes up alive every day.
It became overwhelmingly real that human life is fragile, and death is so often beyond our control.
Worried about my children, I obsessed over dying and experienced panic attacks daily. I conjured up brain tumors, lung cancer, multiple sclerosis—I thought I had it all. I couldn’t sleep at night, wondering if I would wake up the next morning.
My fears didn’t stop with my health. Every time I rounded an overpass or went through a busy intersection, my mind raced through steps of survival if my car, or someone else’s, slid out of control. I prepared for worst-case scenarios. I felt like the Grim Reaper followed me, pointing out all the possible threats to my life.
The fear of death is real
Then my worst fear happened.
I was sitting at a red light. The light turned green, and I pulled into the intersection. But the car approaching from the other side did not stop or slow down. As I watched in my peripheral, I turned my body away from the window and prepared to collide.
I went deaf at the explosive sound of the midsize SUV ramming my door at 50 mph, shattering glass all over me. The impact knocked my own vehicle onto its side.
As I hung suspended from my seat belt, I assessed my condition: No blood. No broken bones. No pain, except a mild seat belt burn across my neck.
That’s when God said to me, “You see? Your life is in the palm of My hand, and no one can snatch it from Me.”
In the coming days, everyone was amazed at my unharmed condition. I should have had broken bones with glass shards in my face and torso. It was a miracle.
And God was teaching me a powerful lesson—the only one in control of my death is God. Not me or anyone (or anything) else. My fear of death was useless.
Fearing the coronavirus
Pastor Erwin Lutzer, author of One Minute After You Die, said, “Everyone has an expiration date. God already knows the day that each one of us is going to die.”
Until I reach God’s expiration date for me, I will not die. That’s why I’m not living in fear of COVID-19. This virus doesn’t decide when I, or my loved ones, die. God does.
That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be wise. My family acts reasonably (as with any virus) and uses discernment. We wash our hands and maintain distance with at-risk people.
I realize the coronavirus causes deep fears for many. Some people are coming face to face with the fear of death, maybe for the first time. I have friends with chronically sick kids. My Sunday school teacher has diabetes and heart disease. Several friends are concerned about aging parents and grandparents. It’s overwhelming to think one microscopic bug can end a person’s life within days.
But we sometimes forget we face the possibility of death every day. Car accidents and heart attacks kill more people than the coronavirus. Nevertheless, we keep saying, “Give me the keys, and pass the fried chicken!”
Take it from me, if we start obsessing over everything that can kill us, we won’t live normal lives. We have to learn to trust God with our lives and our deaths.
Controlling the fear of death
Some people are facing extreme fear over COVID-19. The stories range from violent acts to hoarding resources. But there’s a better way to live. Jesus didn’t tell us to huddle down, protect your own, and look out for number one.
That’s how fear reacts. Scripture, on the other hand, tells us love casts out fear (1 John 4:18). So, here are some ways to take control of fear before it controls you.
First, regulate your thoughts.
Please, get off social media, limit news coverage, and stop measuring your life by statistics.
There’s a saying in journalism: If it bleeds, it leads. Newscasters are quick to focus on gruesomeness because they know it drives up ratings. But 2 Corinthians 10:5 tells us to “take every thought captive to obey Christ.”
Don’t let your imagination run away with you. Keep training your thoughts to dwell on good news.
As boredom pushes us to smartphones and TV, grab a book instead. How about the Bible? The book of Psalm is perfect for times like these.
If you must go digital, search the internet for good stories coming from the coronavirus. There are survival stories of those who weren’t “supposed” to recover, including a 94-year-old woman (and a 104-year-old!). According to statistics, these people should be dead. But God doesn’t do math our way.
Second, if you’re healthy and not high risk, look for ways to help.
Fear is a self-focused plague. When we centralize our thinking around others, fear dissipates. Some ideas:
- Call to check on elderly neighbors and friends with chronic health issues.
- Run errands for those who can’t get out.
- Pray with those in fear over the phone.
- Drop off a gift or send a care package to a friend.
And remember parents of young children. Cooped up kids need activities to keep them busy. My daughter’s friend dropped off a small package of toys and notes of encouragement. My son’s principal encouraged kids to send letters to grandparents. By focusing on others, you stop worrying about yourself.
Third, look for ways God is using the COVID-19 trial for good.
Pray. Ask God to show you His goodness.
I read an article explaining how the gospel always flourishes during times of trouble and fear. Maybe God is setting up a time of worldwide revival. Maybe He’s preparing your heart for a personal revival of your own.
Thank God I’m not in control
My daughter’s Bible teacher said today, “I thank God He’s in control, and I’m NOT.”
I agree. Being in control of every detail and microscopic germ is impossible for us. But nothing is impossible with God.
Sadly, the control we think we have is only a façade. We can wash our hands 100 times a day, disinfect every inch, think we’ve cheated the virus, then drive off in the car and never come home again. That’s what happens when we put our trust in our own control.
But when we trust God to be in control, we can rest easy.
If we get this virus, God can still get us through it. He promised to be with us even in the valley of the shadow of death. We can go to bed knowing God is the healer, whether that’s on this side of the grave or the other. For the Christian, “to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21).
When we believe God’s promises and trust His control, we can face our fear of death, because we know the One who holds our lives in the palm of His hand.
Copyright © 2020 by Sabrina Beasley McDonald. All rights reserved.
Sabrina Beasley McDonald has been writing about God’s plan for marriage and family for over 19 years. Sabrina is currently working on a Masters in Marriage and Family Counseling from Liberty University. She is the author of several devotional books, including Write God In Deeper: Journal Your Way to a Richer Faith.