Someone recently gave me an article enumerating people's fears. There are plenty. (My greatest fear? Being caught with stolen property, as the article left on my desk was ripped out of a Reader's Digest, maybe stolen from a doctor's office!)
The greatest fear in the United States according to the research? Going broke. Compare this with the greatest fear in nine out of 16 other countries polled: loneliness.
American culture seems obsessed with appearance, but the research found Americans to be more worried about money. Maybe with the economy as turbulent as it is, worry about wrinkles and balding is fading.
Research found gender differences with fear. More women than men have public speaking as their greatest phobia. Men more than women fear going broke, which makes sense when you consider the huge male ego associated with work.
This finding surprised me - more women than men fear being alone. My observation is that women do better being alone than men do at the time of death of a spouse or divorce.
We don't need research to know fear is rampant. News reports on television, paper or online have become a phobic feeding festival. The economy has tanked, the moral compass is spinning wildly, national security is broken and people are at each other's throats.
Of course, not all fear is bad. A healthy fear of strangers may keep us out of dangerous situations. A healthy fear of an automobile accident can motivate us to buckle up and drive cautiously. A respectful fear of a heart attack can help us eat healthy and exercise regularly.
Fears that stifle life are the ones to be concerned about.
Max Lucado in his book, Fearless, states, "Feed your fears, and your faith will starve. Feed your faith, and your fears will."
If this is true, obsessing on the things out of our control is a spiritual matter.
The topic of fear is addressed in the Bible frequently. The Bible 43 times says, "Do not fear;" 16 times says, "Fear not" and 59 times says, "Do not be afraid."
The message Jesus gives to combat fear is not simple. For national security issues, we prefer big guns and tall fences, but Jesus says, "My peace I give to you, not as the world gives do I give." (John 14: 27)
In our fear of loneliness, we may wish for lots of friends and a big family, but Jesus promises, "I will not leave you orphaned." (John 14:18)
With our financial insecurities we may wish for bulging bank balances, but Jesus says, "Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust nor robbers can break in." (Matthew 6:19)
Fear of public speaking? Take a deep breath, imagine your audience sitting in their underwear and faint. This has worked for me a time or two!
Kent Stillson, a pastor at Bethesda Lutheran Church in Alexandria, writes to help people connect their life and faith. He can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.