Pour yourself a cup of warmth and get ready to dig in dear sister. I would like to share a slice of hope pie today. Hope in our sovereign and loving God, and maybe, through some biblical (nouthetic) counsel, some freedom from fear, too.
I had never known true fear — raw, unbridled, sneaky, ferocious fear — until the day my first-born son entered the world. And it’s not even a scary story. He was born beautifully. The fear I am talking about is not the “sudden fear” of medical complications, or the in-the-midst-of-calamity kind of fear. This is the gnawing, achy, lingering fear. Have you known it? Has it kept you up at night and carried you into your child’s room to make sure he is still breathing? Have you wept over it? Yelled at it? Begged for it to leave? Has this fear told you, “God can take back your baby, and He just might do it too,” or asked “What if your baby dies? How will you live?”
The news made it worse… and horrific news about babies seemed to clutter all media… It was water and fertilizer for that choking weed of fear. It took me down a winding path that I never thought was even possible. Before fear got a hold of me I thought I am a Christian woman and I have God. There is no way I will suffer with depression or anxiety… Then, the refining work of sanctification, the cracking and crumbling of my pride wall. I see, now, how wrong I was… how easy it is to slip… to lose footing… how people become reclusive, depressed… separated from God… alone.
All I can say is that by His grace the Holy Spirit ministered to me. I was determined to be free from this fear, and I ravenously searched for truth. I begged God for wisdom. I talked with people I loved and trusted — strong Christians who could lead me to Scripture. And in that time, when I didn’t really understand what was happening, I just kept clinging to the Lord, holding on for dear life. I had no idea this was postpartum depression because I was not depressed; I was sick with fear. Praise God, He delivered me. And I am weeping now as I recount this. I was so weak and He was so strong.
Thank you Jesus.
Before this time I thought the opposite of fear was courage. I would repeat to myself, just be brave. If only I could be brave enough then this would all go away. I looked for verses on courage hoping to find something to “put on” like armor. Nothing worked. I found many verses that commanded me not to fear. I remember praying to God specifically, Lord, you tell me not to be afraid, over and over again in your Word, but then you don’t tell me how! How do I not fear, Lord? I didn’t recognize that God was telling me how in His Word because I was looking for the wrong thing. It’s amazing when you look in the right place for the wrong thing how your mind plays tricks and you are spiritually blind to the truth. Like the time I bought a different mayonnaise and it was sitting right in the middle of the top shelf of the fridge. My husband called to me, “Where’s the mayo?” I replied, “Middle of the top shelf.” And he shouted back, “No, it’s not!” We went back and forth until I finally went into the kitchen, opened the fridge, and grabbed the mayo for him. He shrugged, “Oh, I didn’t see it, the bottle is different.” He was looking in the right place for the wrong thing, only he didn’t know it!
I was looking in Scripture (always the right place) but I was looking for the wrong thing. I praise God for His perfect timing because it was around this time my husband began studying nouthetic (biblical) counseling. He picked up a little book for me called, Fear: Breaking Its Grip by Lou Priolo. (Little did I know this would be the catalyst for my own immersion into nouthetic counseling.) As soon as I got it I immediately dug in, hoping and praying it was going to help! And this little 40 page study book provided the right application of truth that turned it all around for me. I was in the right place, but I finally found the right application. The opposite of fear is not courage. You cannot put off fear and put on courage. It will never work. You must put off fear and put on LOVE. Love is the opposite of fear; courage is an outpouring of love.
“There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love” (1 John 4:18).
God’s perfect love casts out fear. It’s not my love. It’s His mighty agape love. And the truth is, we can’t love rightly without, first, rightly understanding His love. The love we have for others is only a response to God’s perfect and overwhelming love for us! Additionally, to love rightly, which is a command of God, we must put off fear! You see, overcoming fear is no small matter; it is critical to the Great Commandment — to love God and love others (Matthew 22:36-40).
|thinks no evil||thinks little else|
|labors with diligence today; does not fear tomorrow||fails to undertake responsibilities today because of worry for tomorrow|
|leads to greater love – joy, peace, and satisfaction||leads to greater fear – phobia, paranoia, and guilt|
|is self-giving||is self-protecting|
|moves toward others||shrinks away from others|
|is stronger and greater than fear because it casts out fear||is weaker than love|
*Adapted from Jay E. Adams, The Christian Counselor’s Manual. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1973), 413-417.
What a comforting truth — love is mightier than fear! Now as a mother, this illustration from Adams hits home hard, “Although under other circumstances she might be frightened by a mouse, a mother is not immobilized by the fear of a wild animal attacking the child that she loves. Foolishly or otherwise, her love overcomes fear and casts it out as she throws herself into the fray. Love thus demonstrates itself as greater” (Adams, 414-415). Certainly, if our God-given adrenaline can do this for us, we mothers, illumined by these truths, can subdue our bodies and take captive our thoughts in willing submission to our Lord!
To lay aside any confusion, there is another verse I want to focus on for a moment: Proverbs 1:7, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge. Fools despise wisdom and instruction.” There is righteous, reverent, holy fear that is the fear of the Lord. This is good fear. What we are discussing, and the fear that gripped me, is self-centered, idolatrous, sinful fear. Fear that is a deed of the flesh — a sin that needs to be mortified.
Understanding that I must put off sinful fear and put on love is the first and greatest truth that has helped me overcome my fear. The other thing that has helped me is understanding God’s attributes of sovereignty, wisdom, and love. Understanding His sovereignty has helped me to trust Him! My fear-weed grew out of don’t-trust-God soil. Dear sister, if you think you trust God, but are harboring this kind of fear, question your trust.
God wants us to KNOW Him, to study Him, to understand him, to rely on, TRUST, and LOVE Him. He has given us FREEDOM and PEACE in Him – if we will claim them. If we are willing, in submission to God, to do the hard work of study, prayer, worship, and obedient living for His glory.
Jerry Bridges, in his book Trusting God: Even When Life Hurts, shared this:
“The Scriptures teach us three essential truths about God – truths we must believe if we are to trust Him in adversity. They are:
- God is completely sovereign. [in control of EVERYTHING]
- God is infinite in wisdom.
- God is perfect in love.
In His love God will always do what is best for us. In His wisdom He always knows what is best, and in His sovereignty He has the power to bring it about.”1
The postpartum depression magnified a sin, fear, that I had struggled with my entire life. I was afraid of the dark as a child… Oh my, I was afraid of so many silly things. And fear often wells up in me, still. This is a sin I have to continually mortify. It’s an ongoing battle. It’s easier than it used to be, but I would be lying if I led you at all to believe I have complete “VICTORY!” over sin, because I just don’t. Like Paul, who does what he hates (Romans 7:15), I find myself slip into fear at times still.
However, I recognize the sin, and I must mortify the deeds of the flesh (Rom. 8:12-13). Additionally, we can’t mortify the deeds of the flesh with our own flesh; we must rely on God (His sovereignty, wisdom, and love) and the Holy Spirit (as indwelling counselor). God is faithful to deliver us!
And when calamity or grief strikes, no one can explain it, but God gives a greater grace and a greater peace to those who are suffering (James 4:6). They seem stronger, don’t they? And they look back on it saying, “I don’t know how I got through that, but God himself got me through it.” And God gets all the glory.
I won’t always understand why certain things happen, bad or good. But I trust. I trust because I know God loves me and knows what is best for me, even if it is painful. My life is in His hands.
Lamentations 3:32, “Though he brings grief, he will show compassion, so great is his unfailing love.”
Lastly, if this all seems overwhelming, take heart. It’s hard work, and you, likely, aren’t going to change overnight. It takes thoughtful diligence, one step at a time. The first step is to store up God’s word in your heart on these matters, and I have listed some verses below.
Psalm 119:11 says, “I have stored up your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.”
Verses to store up in your heart:
- 1 John 4:17-18
- Luke 12: 4-5
- Matthew 10:28
- Proverbs 1:7
- Psalm 27: 1-3
- Psalm 56:4
There is so much more to be said on this topic. If this article ministered to you, please consider further study. The resources below are most helpful!
Fear not. God is with you.
- Lou Priolo, Fear: Breaking Its Grip. Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2009.
- Jerry Bridges, Trusting God: Even When Life Hurts. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 1988.
- Jay E. Adams, The Christian Counselor’s Manual: The Practice of Nouthetic Counseling (Jay Adams Library). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1973. (see especially chapter 36 – “Helping those Who Fear”)
- Jerry Bridges, Trusting God. (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 1988), 16-17. ↩