The world would be uninteresting without uncertainty. There would be no fear, yes, but also no surprise. There would be no pain but there would be no joy or wonder, either. That’s why people enjoy scary movies in which the monster isn’t revealed until Act III or never at all (like in the movie Bird Box). If we had complete certainty in the world, we wouldn’t have walk-off home runs or game-winning Hail Mary passes. We wouldn’t need to wrap gifts or feel nervous before a first date. If we had 100 percent certainty, we wouldn’t have free will.
Still, uncertainty can bring with it negative emotions: anxiety, worry, and fear. This type of uncertainty scares us, makes us act irrationally, and causes us to have racing thoughts. Racing thoughts block clarity of mind. And as our insecurities swell into fear, anger, and helplessness our mind only continues to race more and more.
A comment from a peer or family member can cause our minds to spin out of control. A post on the internet can send us reeling, knocking us far off the road of tranquility and into a ditch. Concern over a child can drive us to extreme worry. Then there is the concern for money, always money (mostly its absence…), which can bother us a great deal. Plus, we have our schemes, plans, expectations, fears of missing out, and so on. There is no shortage of ways anxiety can invade and even conquer our minds in a manner of minutes.
Having control (or being under the control of someone else) helps to mitigate our fear. That’s why scary movies and rollercoasters excite us more than they cause genuine fear, because we know we’re safe. We can pause the movie or recall that thousands of others have been on this same roller coaster and gotten off it all right.
Real fear is when we realize we have no certainty or control over a situation. It’s the kind that seeps into our mind and clutches our heart with its cold hands. Sure, we might be able to dull such fears for a night with alcohol, drugs, or some other unhealthy distraction, but they often just make things worse since they create a spiral of obsessive behaviors that we need to act out to keep pushing away our fears.
This type of fear is best met with prayer and radical trust in God. Because this kind of fear comes from ourselves. It’s the fear that stems from a focus on the self, from the craving for control and certainty. Trusting in God pulls us outside the self and is, therefore, the only cure for this type of fear and anxiety. God’s grace confers the right kind of certainty: the certainty that we are loved by Him and under His divine care.
Of course, this is hard to do.
For those of us battling drinking, drugs, pornography, or some other unhealthy attachment, trusting God is necessary to stave off fear and anxiety. In other words, the antidote to the anxiety and fear that leads to addiction and sin is radical trust in God.
There is a passage in Chapter 6 of John where Peter reveals to us what trust means. This is the only chapter in any Gospel where Jesus loses followers. After seeing some followers leave, Jesus says to Peter, “Do you now also want to leave?” Peter replies, “Where else would I go?”
I read that response from Peter and it hits me like a current, straight to the heart. I recall the first time I read those words and actually understood what Peter meant by them. I had to set the Bible down because I knew it was true. Peter’s simple answer summarizes the depth of his faith: there is nothing else without Jesus.
Once we know the answer to all of our life’s questions is found in a carpenter from Nazareth, we realize there is nowhere else to go. There is no drink, drug, behavior, or human person that can satisfy us. Once we understand this, we don’t ever want to leave Jesus’ side. And we learn to respond to uncertainty, anxiety, and fear by dropping to our knees and trusting in Jesus, the one whose peace surpasses all understanding.
Peter Flies lives in Rochester, MN with his family. He writes about wayward ways, endurance sports, conversion, and Catholicism on his website Why Did Peter Sink? He is also the author of the novel A Town Called Immaculate.