What are you afraid of?

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This is going down as one of the most fearful years on record. There’s a global pandemic that has killed 828,000 people. There’s a recession that has left us with double-digit unemployment. There are racial injustices and unrest in the streets. There are murder hornets, hurricanes, and fire tornadoes. That’s right: fire tornadoes. Look it up.

Last fall, before our problems reached 2020 levels, the home security company ADT released a study that identified America’s most common fears by state. The “research” was little more than a Google report showing which fear-related terms were used most in internet searches. But the results were interesting.

Trypophobia — the fear of holes — had the highest search volume across the board and took the top spot in 11 states. Holes. Oh how young and sheltered we were in 2019.

Fear of public speaking was common last year, as were spiders and flying. In Arkansas and Mississippi, the #1 fear was people, which is believable if you’ve ever met someone from Arkansas or Mississippi. Maine was the only state in the union where they were most afraid of the dark.

Texans’ greatest fear was snakes, which is understandable. The Lone Star State is home to more snake species than any other state except Arizona. In Minnesota, the land of 10,000 lakes, their greatest fear was water, which is unfortunate. Residents in Iowa, Utah, and West Virginia searched most for fear of clowns, or coulrophobia, because they are reasonable, well-adjusted people who know that nothing wholesome ever came from a painted-on smile.

But the three states that caught my eye from the list were California, Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania. Those states peeled back their defenses a bit more than the others to reveal something more insidious than a fear of something that might cause physical pain. In those three states, the most-searched fear term was failure.

I get that. I fear failure. I’m 47 and I thought I would have accomplished more by this stage in my life. I fear that I’ve missed too many opportunities. I fear loss of respect. I fear that my life hasn’t been worth all that much and that I may, as Thoreau described, “when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”

Those, I think, are the most dangerous fears — not the ones like earthquakes or plane crashes, not the ones addressed by an insurance policy — but the ones that keep you awake at night. The fears that find expression in anger or greed or judgment or flattery or an extra drink.

Those kinds of fears are potent because they are born of legitimate needs. We need community so we draw lines to exclude others thinking that if some are made outsiders, we’ll get to be insiders. We have a need for identity — we need to know who we are — so we try on emperor-clothes of achievement, approval, or the numbing balm that comes from making people laugh. We fear death and disorder and the future because we misapply our legitimate needs for security, authority, and clarity.

And all these broken cisterns manifest in the ways we interact with our families, our coworkers, our social media feeds, our government, and our fellow disciples.

So what are we to do? Where do we take all these confused fears?

As you might expect, the Bible has some helpful things to say about our fears. Over the next five weeks, Barry Jones and Sissy Mathew are going to lead our church through a study of some of our most common fears and how the gospel addresses them.

This series couldn’t be timelier, because this year has made us all a little fearful. So what else to do but talk about it?

Make plans to tune in Sunday, be it online or in person (you can register now to attend on Sunday!), and consider inviting a friend or coworker to participate with you. Those outside the church are just as fearful as we are inside — perhaps more so. This year has pulled us all into the dark woods of fear, so what better time than 2020 to shine the Light of the world?


God is calling us, the people of Irving Bible Church, to become a multi-ethnic movement of missionary disciples, formed in the way of Jesus for the sake of the world.

We want to be a transformed people who experience vibrant spiritual growth together. We want the Spirit of God to shape us more and more into the likeness of Jesus as we follow him.

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