Running Scared: Fear, Worry, and the God of Rest by Edward T. Welch
When I was a young child, we had one Sunday school session which focused on fear. I don’t remember the session itself, but I do remember the conversation I had with my Mum afterwards: she told me that the Sunday School teacher had taken her aside to ask if she was sure I was okay. This concern had come as a result of one exercise we did during the session in which we had to write down the things we were afraid of; my list was at least double the length of everyone else’s and I apparently said I could have kept going when the time was up. I was a fearful, anxious child. And I am a fearful, anxious adult, just a little better at concealing that fact. A friend of mine recommended Running Scared: Fear, Worry, and the God of Rest to me a while ago as a book I might find helpful, and I have been slowly reading through it over the past few months. I’ve taken my time, both with reading and with writing down my thoughts, because this was a book which challenged me very personally and one which I wanted to make sure I was applying well.
Running Scared begins with looking at the nature of fear and worry, revealing the doubts and the lies which underpin our anxieties. From there, Welch looks at three of the biggest ‘base’ issues that drive our fear: money, people, and death. Whilst the whole book is firmly rooted in the Bible, these sections are the most expositional and also the most practical. At the end of each chapter, and occasionally after making a key point, Welch includes a ‘Personal Response’ section in which he applies the Bible truths to his life and that of his reader. The book ends with chapters which explore the peace God offers, through the death and resurrection of Jesus, of a world in which there will be nothing to be anxious about.
There were three things which particularly struck me as important aspects to think through when I am faced with fear and anxiety. Firstly, to look for the underlying base that is driving my fear. There was a helpful exercise early on in the book which got you to write down one or two particular fears, and then think carefully through why they worry you. For me, one big fear I was thinking about was my fear of the dark (yes, I am 26 and still scared of the dark) but, on reflecting, I realised that the underlying issue is not the dark: it is that in the dark I am not in control of my surroundings, and I don’t trust that God is in control.
Secondly, to listen to God’s command to “be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10). One of the biggest revelations of the book for me was Welch’s point that fear, by very nature, is impatient. It demands immediate resolution to the situation that is creating fear and worry. By contrast, God tells us to slow down, to reflect on his character, and listen to his words.
Thirdly, to ask that question I don’t want to ask, when my overarching fear of people’s opinion of me comes to a head: why is it about me? Welch’s tone is always gentle, but he doesn’t shy away from a firm challenge here. He encourages the reader to counter this fear and focus on self by making a commitment to love more. When we fear that we will lose love, or respect, or face, we are to look to God, who loves first and most, and respond by loving those around us more than we care about our status in their eyes.
Throughout my childhood and teenage years, I can remember countless conversations with my Dad in which I have mentioned my fear and anxiety to him and he has pointed me, without fail, back to the Bible. Matthew 6, in fact. He probably isn’t aware of this, but I hear his voice in my head whenever I read that passage. There are many reasons I am grateful for my parents, but one of the main reasons is that they gave me a solid model for how to deal with all that life throws our way: listen and pray. Turning to God’s Word for wisdom and committing burdens to our Father in prayer is exactly the conclusion that Welch brings the book to. And there is actually great comfort in the fact that this is far from earth-shattering, because whilst we might be looking for some great fix for fear and worry the truth of the matter is, and always has been, this: that we have a God who hears our cries, that we have a God who gives generously, that we have a God who offers perfect peace, that we have a God who loves us unconditionally. Fear and anxiety may tell me that this isn’t true, but the Bible tells me this was true, is true, and always will be true. So I need to listen, and I need to pray.