Gabriel Told Mary Not To Fear Being Pregnant?

[From the archives: a Christmas guest post from Dorothy Greco.]

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Americans generally don’t associate fear with Christmas. We tend to sanitize and commercialize the holiday, throwing in omniscient Santas and schmaltzy music for good measure. Even when we dramatize the Nativity, it’s safe and tidy with the generous magi showing up like long forgotten uncles. But there’s more to this narrative–and that more is far from safe.

The back story could easily earn an R rating and instill fear in the most courageous of souls: angelic visitations, high risk pregnancies, a last minute escape, a jealous king, and the infanticide of baby boys. Mary, Joseph, and Zechariah were not the only ones who needed to hear, Gabriel’s word, “Do not be afraid!”

Two things strike me about the angel’s exhortation. First, God understands humanity’s innate tendency to gravitate toward fear. And second, there’s an unspoken implication that choosing not to fear is an actual option.

christmas-Dec-1212-001-©DGreco

Copyright D. Greco

I haven’t always felt like I’ve had a choice in this matter. Raised in a home with an alcoholic parent, there was a notable lack of predictability which left me grasping for control. As a coping mechanism, I developed the sensitivity of a deer grazing in broad daylight–ever poised to retreat at the slightest indication of a coming storm. Eventually, that hyper-vigilance became as much a part of me as my dimples and brown hair.

Regardless of our upbringing, few of us have entered adulthood without witnessing or experiencing at least a few frightening events. Accidents, health crises, and large scale tragedies (such as 9/11 or the Boston Marathon bombing), all leave fault lines. For some of us, fear gets normalized due to years spent living in crime-ridden neighborhoods or being in abusive relationships.

Though each of us has unique histories with fear, our bodies respond in a similar fashion. Adrenaline surges, the heart goes into overdrive, muscles contract, body temperature drops, and organs deemed unnecessary for fight or flight (like the stomach) essentially shut down. And if fear persists, it impacts far more than our adrenal systems; it seeps into our souls and conditions our expectations. For some veterans, the simple sound of a car’s backfire can send them into a reflexive drop and roll.

So, was Gabriel onto something? Do we have a choice or is fear simply a chemical chain reaction–a byproduct of evolution–and therefore beyond our control? Based on my own life experiences and my understanding of Scripture, I think we can actually take back some of the territory lost to fear.

We first have to learn to recognize what fear looks like in our lives. For most of us, fear is connected to everyday worries. In contrast, many of the 40 million American adults who suffer from diagnosed anxiety disorders can recognize fear with their eyes closed because the anxiety they experience is far more acute. Understandably, some of these individuals organize their days to keep a safe distance from their personal cliffs.

But fear has many manifestations, some of which are difficult to identify. Sometimes it’s connected to a specific place (the dentist’s office) or activity (flying), but not always. In our current culture, most of us unreflectively say we’re “stressed” without piecing together that stress is little more than a euphemism for fear. In my own life, I’ve done some risky things (like sleeping under a highway overpass with runaway teens) and regularly enjoy the #1 fear on most people’s lists: public speaking. However, I continue to do hand to hand combat with fear on a routine basis.

Take last summer’s vacation. While in Zion National Park, our sons wanted to do the Angel’s Landing hike which has multiple dire warnings; “Not recommended for anyone fearful of heights. This hike has sheer drop offs.” My fear based imagination envisioned a sudden gust of wind pushing them over the edge. I tried to dissuade them but when that failed, I prayed non-stop until they re-appeared over the ridge.

This tendency to catastrophize, to expect the worst case scenario, has been with me as long as I can remember. While it’s impossible to discern exactly where it came from, I am convinced it has spiritual dimensions. It’s as if the enemy notices my moments of vulnerability, sidles up to me, and tries to convince me that my Father is not who He claims to be and is therefore, not to be trusted. Isn’t this the same tactic Satan took with Adam and Eve?

Paul wrote, “For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.” For us to walk in that power, love, and self-discipline, we need to ruthlessly part company with fear. In my own life, this has meant confessing any and all faulty theology. If I begin to doubt God’s advocacy or love for me, I recall Jesus’s willingness to come to earth and die on my behalf. If the fear persists, I’ll address it directly; “In Jesus name, I rebuke you spirit of fear. Go to the cross.”(It’s counter cultural and won’t necessarily endear you to the random person standing next to you in the elevator, but trust me, it’s effective.)

While we all need some measure of healthy fear to keep us from stepping in front of a moving train, I believe that God wants us to appropriate Christ’s resurrection power whenever we feel limited or constrained by fear. If that’s the case, Gabriel’s exhortation to “Fear not!” is just as relevant–and comforting–for us today as it was for Joseph, Mary, and Zechariah two thousand years ago.

Please Note: For those of you who have diagnosed anxiety disorders, this does not mean that battling in the spiritual realm will erase the valid benefits you receive from your therapeutic work and/or prescribed medications.

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[Dorothy Littell Greco spends her days writing about and speaking on transformation. You can find more of her work on her website, Twitter, and  Facebook .]

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13 Responses to Gabriel Told Mary Not To Fear Being Pregnant?

  1. dorothygreco says:

    Thanks for posting this Tim. May it bring freedom from those who struggle with fear.

    • Tim says:

      Thank you for allowing me to run it again this year, Dorothy. It’s a wonderful reminder that we can take all our fears to God, who gives us comfort.

  2. Jeannie says:

    Thank you for this post, Dorothy. I appreciate you sharing your personal experiences and encouraging all of us who deal with fear. I could relate to so much of what you said here.

  3. Pastor Bob says:

    This one sentence spoke very loudly:
    “… there’s an unspoken implication that choosing not to fear is an actual option.”

    Many I know fear the ordinary, this is a reassuring thought to share.

    Thanks!

    • dorothygreco says:

      Pastor Bob, Once, many years ago after I preached on this topic, a woman comae up to me and said rather unreflectively, “God made me fearful.” I nearly cried but instead gently challenged her to rethink her conclusion. Simply because we don’t remember another feeling/desire/etc. does not mean that we can’t become more like Christ. Bless you on the journey.

  4. Anonymous2 says:

    Dorothy, did your sons enjoy Angel’s Landing?

    That has been a “right of passage” hike now for our family for many years.

    The first time we did the trail, we stopped at the point on the trail that featured a 18-inch wide path with an 800-foot drop off on either side. (I’m sure you know what I’m talking about.) I thought, I’ve consigned my awkward 12-year-old ADHD son to a certain death.

    I was frozen.

    “Mom,” he said, “If we turn back now, we’ll just have to come back next year and tackle it.”

    Fear not.

    So we did it. It was exhilarating.

    We look back at that hike as a turning point in my son’s maturity and courage.

  5. Tim says:

    I was thrilled in many ways when I made that climb too, many years ago. I’m so glad that was a special hike for your son.

  6. Ruth says:

    Thankyou Dorothy and Tim!
    Just had a melt down from a family member dealing with fear of the future, and wondering why God never seems to bless him, as others in his family ( a holiday blues thing which we have every now and then). Usually I. Curl up in an emotional ball inside and feel the fear… Not this time! God made it clear what I was to share, and the manner in which to do it, and I felt so happy, he is content now. Sorry he went a bit haywire, but in some ways he has cause, however, this so affirms the Peace and Control of God in our lives. 🙂 as for praying about a fear in a lift…I’m too frozen to think, and I won’t go in one on my own either!
    This wonderful time of breaking down, sharing, and talking it through, then recovery amd peace is the highlight of Christmas for me, couldn’t get a better present anywhere…God’s are always perfect.
    Yes we are still have serious problems, but if we look up and over the problem to Jesus, and see a clear way to the end of it on His clouds of Glory, amd don’t try to work it out for ourselves, then I find a peace that makes no earthly sense, but makes me smile and know the future is now, because Christ has done the vital thing for our lives.

    • Tim says:

      I am so glad you were there to help him through it, and that God’s peace was evident. You’re so right that it is by looking to Jesus that we find that true peace, even though it makes no earthly sense. As you said, we can smile in knowing that the future is now through him and his victory.

  7. Headless Unicorn Guy says:

    Also, up until high-tech medicine in the 20th, the chance of fatal complications from pregnancy & childbirth were high enough that pregnancy WAS something to fear. Even in Victorian times, wives would make out a will when they found they were pregnant.

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