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Be not afraid.

Jesus managed his fear by handing it over to God in prayer. So should we.

I REMEMBER THE 4TH OF July, 1979 clearly. My parents took me to see our town's fireworks display. While the crowds of people oohed and aahed at the fireworks, studied the sky. And for good reason: Skylab was falling.

I was 8 years old and absolutely convinced the space station Skylab would land on me or one of my family members. So I appointed myself guardian of the family to watch the sky and alert all within earshot if I saw anything suspicious. This was not a game; I was serious.

I was relieved when Skylab crashed into the Indian Ocean a week later. One less thing to worry about. But in no time I would find something else to be afraid of. For as long as I can remember I was always the worrywart of the family. To this day, if a family member is late to meet me, I immediately assume the worst. "Oh no, I hope they weren't in a car accident," flashes through my head. Or worse, "What if they've been beaten and are lying in a ditch somewhere?"

Fear is a dangerous item. If left alone, it can wreak havoc on our lives. More than once, I have let my fear of a situation get the better of me--until I discovered a small passage in the gospels.

One night I picked up the Bible and flipped to a random page during prayer. I found myself reading Matthew 10. It's the section where Jesus commissions the disciples to go spread the Good News.

What struck me most is when Jesus instructed them whom to fear: "So do not be afraid of people. Whatever is now covered up will be uncovered, and every secret will be made known. What I am telling you in the dark you must repeat in broad daylight, and what you have heard in private you must announce from the housetops. Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather be afraid of God, who can destroy both body and soul in hell. For only a penny you can buy two sparrows, yet not one sparrow falls to the ground without your Father's consent. As for you, even the hairs of your head have all been counted. So do not be afraid; you are worth much more than many sparrows!" (Matt. 10:26-31).

While it sounds scary to be thrown into hell for disobeying God, it reminds me that the opposite is also true. If we trust in God and follow Christ's teachings, then we should be well on our way to eternal life. The key is to trust.

Simple but effective. It's advice I could have used years ago when I was in junior high school.

I was in the cafeteria of Franklin Middle School. Everyone was lined up for dismissal when I found myself in an altercation with a bully. He was pushing me from behind for no apparent reason. I did my best to ignore him. Just then, the lunch aide decided to intervene on my behalf. "Is he bothering you?" Now really, what could I have said? "Yes, could you make him stop please?"?

The bully spoke before I could finish calculating the odds of getting beaten up for speaking. "It's OK. We're cousins." So quick and natural. It sounded so convincing I almost believed him.

I moved along to my next class. The hallway was crowded. Lots of people pushing and shoving. I picked up my pace, as if I'd broken away from the pack during a marathon, when all at once my breath was forced from my lungs, and try as I might, I couldn't take in any more air. I stopped walking. Confused, I looked around. I saw the bully, his fist still clenched from striking me in the back. "That's for getting me in trouble. You better watch your back, because I'm coming after you?

He ran off to join his friends. It felt like a scene from a movie except the pain in my back told me it was real. From that moment I went on full-security alert and let fear rule my life. Every corner I turned in school I made sure I looked to see if he was there. I became careful. Too careful. The school year ended a few weeks later, but I remained cautious. My solution was simple: avoid any place he might find me.

For an entire summer I did the exact opposite of what the Bible preached. I allowed a person to instill so much fear into my life that I actually stopped living.

When Jesus commissioned the disciples to spread the Good News, he knew the apostles would be taking their lives in their hands for preaching his message. Perhaps that's why he went out of his way to remind them that "even the hairs of your head have all been counted. So do not be afraid; you are worth much more than many sparrows? The apostles, however, were so confused and scared for their personal safety, they went into hiding. Only after seeing Jesus in his resurrected form did they understand all that he had said during his ministry. They were ready to trust that God considered them important.

Like the apostles' initial reaction, I shrouded myself in the fear of bodily harm to the point I lost sight of God. I felt like God forgot all about me. Maybe God missed some of the hairs on my head. Perhaps God confused me with someone else.

I spent a summer confined to my neighborhood for no reason. In hindsight, I realize the bully had no intention of tracking me down to beat me up. He was only doing what bullies do best, spreading a little terror here and there.

Since then, I have vowed never to let fear get the better of me. I need to remind myself that I need to trust God completely. Often, I want to hide like the apostles. Instead, I try to do what Christ did when he was afraid. Before Christ was arrested and put to death, he had the opportunity to spend some time alone in prayer, in the Garden of Gethsemane.

"Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, `Sit here while I go over there and pray.' He took with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee. Grief and anguish came over him, and he said to them, `The sorrow in my heart is so great that it almost crushes me. Stay here, and keep watch with me.' He went a little farther on, threw himself face downward on the ground, and prayed, `My Father, if it is possible, take this cup of suffering from me! Yet not what I want, but what you want.'"

After Jesus returned to the three disciples and found them asleep, he once more went away and prayed. "My Father, if this cup of suffering cannot be taken away unless I drink it, your will be done" (Matt. 26:36-42).

Jesus was afraid of what was coming. He knew quite well he would be beaten and forced to suffer a horrible death. Frankly, he was hoping for a Plan B. He managed his fear by handing it over to God in the form of a prayer.

And most important, while he may have asked for a different solution, he made it clear he was willing to accept whatever came his way. And he did. Amidst his trouble, he never lost sight of his purpose or faith, "Yet not what I want, but what you want."

When my wife and I were eagerly awaiting the arrival of our first child, I was afraid. Will I be a good father? What if I don't hear the baby when it cries? Will I be able to provide for and protect my family?

Rather than hiding from my fears, I say a prayer asking God for strength. Then, I put my trust in God, ready to accept what lies ahead.

THOMAS F. FERRAIOLI, JR., who, with his wife, leads a Catholic youth group in Bergen County, New Jersey.
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Publication:U.S. Catholic
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Feb 1, 2000
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