by Becca Ehrlich
Reading: Isaiah 41:13
For I, the Lord your God,
hold your right hand;
it is I who say to you, “Do not fear,
I will help you.”
In my first year of college, I participated in an annual tradition called “Haunted Halls.” In the days leading up to Halloween, all of the first-year students decorated the basement level of the dormitories for the local elementary school children to tour dressed in their Halloween finest.
Since I lived in a triple room at the end of our basement hall, I was very involved in the decorating and staffing of Haunted Halls that year. We covered the walls with black garbage bags and various Halloween decorations and covered the fluorescent ceiling lights with colored tissue paper. Our dorm hallway was transformed into a spooky Halloween walkway.
After we decorated and before the children arrived, an older gentleman in charge of the event briefed us on what would happen. He explained that before each group of children arrived, one of his team members would come and tell us what age the kids were so that we could act appropriately for each age group. He said we had full freedom to jump out and scare the older children if we wanted to.
For the most part, Haunted Halls was a lot of fun. The first few groups consisted of younger children. We smiled and waved at them as they went by, handing them candy and commenting on their creative costumes.
Then a team member ran down the hall. “Fifth graders are on their way!” he exclaimed.
I got ready to scare them, hiding behind a pillar with excitement, poised to jump out and yell. I could hear the group making their way through the hall, getting closer and closer. When I could hear the group was just in front of the pillar, I jumped out with my scariest facial expression and yelled “AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!”
It was not a group of fifth graders in front of me. It was a group of kindergarteners.
As I watched in horror, the kids started screaming and crying. A little boy in the front of the group dressed as Superman had dropped to the floor and was full-on bawling. The teachers rushed to comfort their students, giving me death glares. I stood there helplessly, feeling like the worst person on earth. After what seemed like an eternity, the teachers eventually calmed the students down enough to move them through the rest of the hallway and out the door.
To this day, I can still feel the terror coming from those young kindergarteners after I scared them. Surprised by fear, all they could do was scream and cry. That one boy even lost control of his legs for a little while.
We still react to fear as adults. We may not fall to the ground shrieking and sobbing like we did when we were kids, but when we are afraid, we can react in other ways.
We can react through behaviors that are unhealthy and/or hurt ourselves or others. We can stop ourselves from doing things that could challenge us and help us grow. We can miss out on amazing experiences because we would rather avoid any risk than be a little afraid.
Some fear is normal and can keep us from doing things we shouldn’t. But letting fear dictate our lives can stymie us and stop us from learning and growing and encountering all that God wants us to experience in life.
The Prophet Isaiah records God’s words to God’s people, both for those who were alive back then and for us now. God knows that sometimes we will be scared—like when a big change in life happens, we experience something new or different, or we are faced with uncertainty.
Whenever we are afraid, God is holding our hand and helping us. God reminds us that fear does not have the last word. No matter what happens, God is right there with us.
This month, may we be reminded that in fearful times, God is always with us and says to us: “Do not fear, I will help you.”
Becca Ehrlich is an ELCA pastor. She blogs about minimalism from a Christian perspective at www.christianminimalism.com and her book, Christian Minimalism: Simple Steps for Abundant Living , was released in May 2021. She is passionate about helping folks connect with God and live more simply, in ways that make sense for their own life contexts.