Guest Post by Jennifer F. Riales

Pulling into a parking space at the local grocery store, I glance at the passenger seat to quadruple-check that my mask made it into the car when I left the house. Before stepping out, I pull the mask straps tight and force a few slow deep breaths to get used to breathing behind a barrier. I grab the reusable shopping bags and make my way to the entrance.

A tremor runs through my clammy hands and my gut tightens as other shoppers walk in my direction, their darting eyes the only visible part of their faces. My steps feel urgent as I grab what I need from the shelves, wasting no time. Heart racing with adrenaline and fear, the person behind me in the check-out line stands closer than six feet apart. Mentally measuring the distance, I fight the urge to turn around and tell them to please take a step, or three, back.

My mind shifts to the willow tree just outside our newborn’s bedroom, flowering with delicate pale blooms. In my mind, I watch the flexible, thin limbs sway in the gentle spring of 2020 breeze, petals floating through the air like snow, and peace floods my body. After bagging my groceries, replacing my cart and getting my quarter back, I whip off the mask, gulping lungfuls of cool, fresh mountain air, letting my heart come back down to a gentle rhythm.

Our son was born two weeks before the global pandemic reached us here in the U.S. During his first two weeks of life, we made trips back and forth to the pediatrician to address his weight loss, and to learn all we could to help him thrive. We were struggling to feed him enough to get him back up to his birth weight, of which he’d already lost more than 10 percent (that’s a lot for a newborn baby).

My husband and I opened the door to let fear in as a constant companion, facing a fatal virus with a newborn in tow. The more we learned about the coronavirus, the more space I gave up to fear in my heart. The stakes were too high for us to gamble on COVID-19 with our son, and the cost was too great if we lost.

I’d never forgive myself if my actions led to our son contracting COVID.

From the moment the lockdown to flatten the curve went into effect until today, we have sheltered in place. The longer we stayed isolated, the more my soul hungered for connection with other believers. If it weren’t for that nagging feeling in the back of my mind, fear. Our church, like many others, found creative ways for their congregation to meet. One way was a drive-in sermon, except there were no cicadas or lingering summer heat.

Three months postpartum and into our isolation, I convinced my husband that we should attend the drive-in sermon. I was full of hope as we drove into the parking lot, so familiar and foreign. Gathering again would surely fill my soul. But as soon as our son began to fuss in the back seat, needing me, I realized this sermon was no different than watching online from our grey couch.

More than once in recent months, I asked about taking our son to church for the first time, only to feel a flood of anxiety and fear crash over me in the same moment. Fear was my banner, walking ahead of me, assessing the situation, and determining the risk was too great. I wanted to hope, to hold tight to the promises of God, but it seemed like too much of a long-shot in the moment.

Like me, you probably grew up hearing how God didn’t give “us a spirit of fear, but of power, and of love, and sound judgement” (2 Timothy 1:7). Until our collective experience of the pandemic last year, I didn’t have any real experience with the concept of a spirit of fear. I’m not an overly fearful person under normal circumstances but add a brand-new, fragile baby and a deadly global pandemic, and even the most courageous of us waver in their hope.

When we choose fear over faith, we are telling God we don’t trust Him or the hope He offers. I’m not saying you need to attend your local church to beat fear and lean into the hope Jesus offers. Jesus never lived in a church, and after His resurrection the disciples rarely found Him in any one building. Going to church is not the answer here.

Our choice is simple: fear or love. We can choose to let love lead us in all we do or let fear push us around, hold us back, and keep us separated. Fear isolates us, but love connects us back together.

Don’t let fear make you chicken out of what God has for you in this season of uncertainty. Chicken IN, and choose love!

Jennifer F. Riales

More about Jennifer: She lives nestled alongside the Blue Ridge Parkway in Roanoke, Virginia with her little family of 3. She loves to read, to make her son giggle, and to take walks with her dog. You can typically find her talking about being a recovering people-pleaser and finding her worth in Jesus at Jennifer’s Website. IG: @jenniferfriales FB: @jenniferfriales Quiz link: What Kind of People Pleaser Are You Quiz

Are you struggling with fear? Check out Chickening IN-from FEAR to Courageous FAITH and let the 8 Pillars of Transformation guide you on a journey to overcome fear and trust in God.