If there was a term for the “fear of parking” I would have it. In addition to my nyctophobia (Bring on the sunshine – or at least a flashlight!), arachnophobia (Spiders are not friends), and public-toilet-o-phobia (Ew.), I also have a paralyzing aversion to finding a parking spot in a crowded place. Tight spots, backing out into traffic, and “Do I need quarters for that meter?” are not my thing.
In most of the places I frequent, I have multiple oversized parking spaces available to me and I can almost always find a pull-through. I avoid the smaller lots at crowded times and if I’m in an unfamiliar place, Google Maps “Street View” allows me to choose the coffee shop where parallel parking will not be required.
Last weekend, I took my 12-year-old out for a special lunch while her sisters were at their swim meet. We dropped Tim and the other two off, agreed on tacos, and were excited when there just happened to be a taco place we’d never been to just a couple of miles away! Unfortunately, I forgot to check the “Street View” and as we drove down Route 30 toward Wayne, my blood pressure started to rise. This location was going to require busy-street parking on a busy holiday-season-Saturday and I don’t do busy-street parking, especially on a busy holiday-season-Saturday!
When we missed the place on our first drive by, I stopped at the next light and was at a crossroads. Surely there was another place we could get tacos with easier parking – even if it meant a longer drive? We had all day, after all 😉
Parking may not be on your phobia list, but we all have things we avoid because of fear. Memories of prior trauma associated with that thing or the mental images of future discomfort that might result push us to run in the other direction or at least stay parked where we’re at.
Four times in the narrative of Jesus’ birth, angels appeared as messengers from God to people, and all four times they prefaced their message with the same phrase:
And Zechariah was troubled when he saw him, and fear fell upon him. But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. (Luke 1:12-13)
But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. (Luke 1:29-30)
And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. (Luke 2:9-10)
And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.” (Matthew 1:19-20)
The repetition of this phrase makes sense – I’d be freaked out, too, if some supernatural figure suddenly appeared and started talking to me! The Greek word for “fear” in all four of these verses is “phobéō” which means “to fear, withdraw (flee) from, avoid”.* So, in essence, the angels were saying “I may be scary, but don’t run away!”
But they were also saying, “The message I’m bringing may be scary, but don’t flee from it.” A baby born to an old woman? Another baby conceived by the Holy Spirit? A birth announcement made to shepherds rather than royalty?
For Joseph especially, he had every reason to run in the other direction. Rather than an actual appearance, Joseph’s angel showed up in a dream. How could he be sure his mind wasn’t just playing tricks on him? And even if it was true, was he qualified to be the dad of the Messiah? Yikes! And most importantly, marrying a woman carrying a child that wasn’t his might expose him to ridicule and rejection by his own people.
There’s an ounce of fear that prefaces every step of obedience and that fear often causes us to avoid it – or hang a right and drive clear in the other direction! It’s not our usual “phobias” per se, but the little things: social awkwardness, loss of comfort or security, opening ourselves up to criticism, having our weaknesses exposed, and the good old possibility of failure or frustration.
The instruction to “Fear not” or “Do not be afraid” is less a condemnation on the feeling of fear, and more a charge to not let that feeling put you “to flight”.* If we’re listening, the Holy Spirit is constantly whispering our next steps in our ear – it’s how He works. Like Joseph, we may have reason to question: “Was that really from God or just my own thoughts?”. We may have a dozen reasons to believe we’re not qualified and we may have very legitimate concern about the criticism of others.
But, man, that Kalua Pork taco with Pineapple Chipotle Salsa, Cabbage, and Korean BBQ Sauce (and the smiling company across the table)? Totally worth it!
P.S. For almost 20 years some very wise, trusted people have been telling me I need to publish the curriculum I write for Youth@Hope so that others can use it. And for almost 20 years I’ve avoided it because of my fear of it not being “good enough”. But on Monday afternoon, I hit that “Submit” button for the first time. And now I wait. And I’m kind of freaking out. Pray for me!