"The fearful are caught as often as the bold.” Helen Keller
The dim shape hunched threateningly near the closet door. Across the darkened bedroom, I waited under tightly pulled covers, terrified to move, lest the shadowy creature sense my presence. The light of day would reveal it as an amorphous pile of clothes draped over a chair. But my 4-year-old eyes couldn’t imagine that. Not in the dead of night.
With intuitive wisdom, my mother slipped in to sit at the bedside and rub my back until sleep overtook unfounded fears. With morning light, beasts were banished and all was well. Yet no amount of parental explanation seemed to calm an early tendency toward these night terrors and my overactive imagination.
Today we could wish for unfounded fears. We could long for a bright new morning with a sweet voice assuring us that the fright was all just a bad dream. We could pray for no new suicide bombings or terrorists run amok. But truth is, recent years have seen a significant increase in global acts of terrorism and terror-related fatalities.
The sordid work done by fanatical extremists is indeed evil. But I pause here for a bit of statistically ambiguous editorializing. We're far more likely to bite the dust after getting tangled up with a deer, home appliance, bathtub, bed, ladder or, as someone once observed, a toddler, than a terrorist. You can add in all sorts of other things we should be more intentional about solving — alcohol, diabetes, obesity, cancer.
But, aside from toddlers, none of those inspire the kind of fear we see every day on television news and forwarded on Facebook. Media moguls and, yes, even evangelists have found that terror sells a number of topics. According to online headlines I have read recently, we should be quaking in our boots over a litany of candidates. Take your pick: stock market declines, vaccination irregularities, ISIS atrocities, immigrant terrorists, homegrown militia extremists, local gang activities, climate change, the Zika virus, and on and on. This week’s crisis will be so “yesterday” — just wait until Monday, and you'll really freak out.
I don’t intend to be cavalier. These issues and related tragedies require thoughtful response, to be sure. But they are also “click-bait.” Click on an online link, and find yourself sucked into a subjective universe where facts are few and fear is abundant.
Terrorism’s real strength is not among the dead and wounded. It relies on the fear it instills in those who look on. Why do we fall for this? Why do we buy into the rising cultural anxiety around us? Because we have allowed it to grab and hold our attention. What we behold, we become.
So let's turn the tables. In a world of bad news, let's fix our prime focus on the Good News. And, instead of wrapping ourselves in darkness or ignoring it altogether, let's run toward it as lightbearers. “Walk in the light, as He is in the light,” says the apostle John. In today's world this must be an intentional, daily choice. And as we absorb the character of Jesus through valuable time with Him, we are equipped, day by day, to step forward with light to diminish the darkness.