We’re planning on moving this summer. There I said it. The cat’s out of the bag. After 37 years of living in Minnesota, I’m ready for a change.
If I’m honest, I just want to live somewhere where my kids don’t have to wear snowsuits over their Halloween costumes or hunt for Easter eggs in the snow. These seem like fundamental human rights, do they not?
Up here it feels a bit like pre-Aslan Narnia – where it’s always winter, but never Christmas. It’s my understanding that there are places in this world that actually have – what do you call it again? – oh yeah, spring. Is this really true?
I could go on about the perpetual Minnesota “winter of my despair,” but that’s not the point of this article. The point is that we’ve been making plans to move this summer for the past 16 months. Just as we were gearing up to get our house on the market, COVID-19 hit, and everything froze in place. So here we are now trying to sell our house, buy a new house, find work, and move across the country in the midst of a pandemic.
I know we’re not alone. We’ve all had plans that have been forced to “shelter-in-place.” Proms, graduations, weddings, jobs, vacations, etc. We’re all frozen in time waiting for the powers-that-be to say, “unfreeze.”
Obviously, there are a lot of unknowns right now. It is really easy to get stuck inside my head worrying about all the what-ifs.
What if we can’t sell our house?
What if we can’t buy a house?
What if we can’t move? What if we’re stuck here?
What if I don’t get more work? What if I can’t provide for my family?
You probably have your list of what-ifs, too.
But what really surprises me sometimes is how quickly worry can morph into fear (I wrote about worry here). Everything we’ve been planning for the last year and a half is up in the air. We don’t know what’s going to happen, when it’s going to happen, or if it’s even going to happen. It’s completely out of my control. That’s scary.
Fear of the Unknown
When God delivered Israel from slavery in Egypt, He did so in spectacular fashion. He performed incredible miracles – 10 of them, in fact – just to get them out of bondage; and then He performed one of the most incredible miracles of all – parting the Red Sea for them to walk through to freedom. He provided food for them in the desert, guided them by a cloud during the day, and a pillar of fire at night.
He did it all to lead them to the Promised Land – a place that represented both relationship with God and blessings from God. The land was beautiful – flowing with milk and honey, and grapes the size of your head. There was no doubt this was the place God had for them (see Numbers 13:25-33).
There was only one problem: it was unknown.
They knew God had delivered them from Egypt. They knew God had led them to this new place. They knew this was a land of tremendous opportunity. They also knew they would have huge problems to overcome. And it was this – seeing both the problems and the opportunities, and not knowing what the outcome would be – that led them to fear.
Suddenly, gone were all the promises God had made. Gone were all the miracles God had done. Gone were all the reassurances God had spoken. All they could focus on were the obstacles. That’s what fear does to us. It grips us, overcomes us, and overwhelms us, so that we can no longer remember what God said or see what God is doing.
Here is what God says about such fear:
“Do not rebel against the Lord, and don’t be afraid of the people of the land. They are only helpless prey to us! They have no protection, but the Lord is with us! Don’t be afraid of them!” (Numbers 14:9, NLT)
But they didn’t listen. They let fear take the driver seat and they rebelled against God. Moses would later label their rebellion as “refusing to trust the Lord your God” (see Deuteronomy 1:32).
They knew who God is. They knew what He had done for them. Yet, they said, “We’re going to fear this one thing that we don’t know: the unknown.”
Three things that “Fear of the Unknown” does to us:
Fear keeps us where we’re at
“But you rebelled against the command of the Lord your God and refused to go in. You complained in your tents and said, ‘The Lord must hate us. That’s why he has brought us here from Egypt—to hand us over to the Amorites to be slaughtered. Where can we go? Our brothers have demoralized us with their report. They tell us, “The people of the land are taller and more powerful than we are, and their towns are large, with walls rising high into the sky! We even saw giants there—the descendants of Anak!”’ (Deuteronomy 1:26–28)
Fear immobilizes us. We refuse to “go in” and just sit and “complain in our tents.”
We think up all kinds of excuses as to why we shouldn’t do it and dream up all sorts of scenarios as to what might happen. And the net result is we do nothing. We stay in our comfort zone and never trust God to lead us out of it.
Fear makes us want to go back
Then the whole community began weeping aloud, and they cried all night. Their voices rose in a great chorus of protest against Moses and Aaron. “If only we had died in Egypt, or even here in the wilderness!” they complained. “Why is the Lord taking us to this country only to have us die in battle? Our wives and our little ones will be carried off as plunder! Wouldn’t it be better for us to return to Egypt?” Then they plotted among themselves, “Let’s choose a new leader and go back to Egypt!” (Numbers 14:1–4)
The Israelites started grumbling and griping, whining that they wanted to go back to Egypt and be slaves, rather than enjoy their new-found freedom with God. Fear of the unknown can make us so afraid that we don’t even want to stand at the edge of what God has for us. We actually want to go back to what it was like before we even knew God or experienced His blessing.
How often do we do the same thing? When we finally get into a healthy relationship? When we start experiencing freedom from a harmful habit or healing from a deep hurt? God leads us somewhere new and wonderful, but fear keeps us from entering into it. And we start thinking of everything that’s wrong or could go wrong with us, another person, or the situation, and we start whining like the Israelites that we want to go back to the way it was. It doesn’t matter how harmful or bad the former situation or relationship was. At least that I know. And this I don’t know.
So, we go back.
Fear keeps us from going where God wants us to go
“Not one of you from this wicked generation will live to see the good land I swore to give your ancestors…” (Deuteronomy 1:35)
When they arrived at the place God had for them, they were too afraid to enter in. They sent 12 scouts across the border and 10 of them came back, saying, “There are giants in the land. We can’t do it!” Only 2 of them – Joshua and Caleb – saw all the goodness God had for them there and they trusted that He would give it to them. But their voices were crowded out by fear, and Israel wondered for 40 years in the desert because they were too afraid to enter into what God had for them.
God didn’t just want to deliver Israel from something; He wanted to deliver them to something – to a special place where they could enjoy relationship with Him and experience His blessings.
It is the same with you.
God doesn’t just want to deliver you out of that bad relationship, harmful habit, deep hurt, depression, etc. He wants to deliver you to a deeper relationship with Him where you can experience more of His blessings.
Into the Promised Land
I don’t know if I can quite equate Florida with the Promised Land, but it sure looks like it to us right now. The point is that we believe God is leading us there. We’re just not entirely sure why, or how, or even when. All of the unanswered questions and uncertainties of the times can cause us to fear the outcome – the unknown. Such fear focuses our thoughts on the obstacles rather than the opportunities.
What about you? Are you afraid of the unknown? How is all of this “Corona craziness” going to shake out? None of us know the answer to that question.
The “unknown” will always be “unknown.” That will never change.
But the other thing that never changes is God.
After 40 years, when the Israelites were finally permitted to enter the Promised Land under the leadership of Joshua, God had to remind them once again:
“This is my command—be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9, emphasis added)
If you’re afraid of the unknown, you’re not alone.
NEXT UP: Four Ways to Overcome Fear of the Unknown