Overcome fear—act in the living now

“Scary.” “Dangerous.” “Terrifying.” “Horrific.” Those were some of the answers given in a poll of five hundred Massachusetts residents about the first thing that came to mind regarding the coronavirus outbreak (The Boston Globe, March 30, 2020). Over the last few months, I’ve been striving for the right balance in getting enough news to keep informed while not allowing myself to get pulled into the vortex of fear regarding the pandemic’s global impact. Prayer to feel and know God’s governance of every detail of my life has always been my first response for resolving challenges. Prayer has helped me overcome fearful situations in many ways over the years, and I’m confident that each instance of conquering our own fear through prayer can contribute to neutralizing fear’s debilitating effects on our neighbors and the world.

While in college, I had an experience that shook my confidence, bringing my self-esteem to its lowest ebb. I was a music performance major and was trying to earn permission to give my senior recital by performing in a piano jury—a final exam in front of the entire piano faculty. During this exam, I uncharacteristically became frozen with fear. My body seemed to be out of my control—my fingers and arms weren’t able to move freely; I was playing wrong notes; and I struggled to remember the music that I had so carefully and completely memorized. Feeling totally helpless and unnerved, I tanked.

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The whole intimidating experience made no sense to me, especially since during that same year I had already collaborated successfully with three different musician friends on their senior recitals. As a consequence of my failure to pass this jury, I was denied permission to give my own recital. I also failed at two subsequent attempts as the school year progressed, and as a result, I couldn’t graduate with my class.

Here’s how I was finally able to face down and overcome this severe anxiety. During the summer following my senior year, I had one last opportunity to convince the piano faculty that I was worthy to give my recital at the beginning of the upcoming fall term. I probably spent more time praying to overcome my fear than I did practicing my pieces. I knew the music, and I knew I was ready. But I needed to figure out how to overcome the crippling anxiety that was interfering with my ability to perform well under these circumstances.

Acting in the living present meant I didn’t need to let the memory of uncontrollable fear run across my mental screen. 

One of my favorite Bible passages speaks of God’s love in these terms: “God is love. Those who live in God’s love live in God, and God lives in them…. No fear exists where his love is. Rather, perfect love gets rid of fear” (I John 4:16, 18, GOD’S WORD Translation). As I pondered the meaning of these words, I realized I didn’t need to accept the feeling that I had to live through a scary situation where I felt out of control and hopeless. In truth, I live in God, divine Love, and God’s perfect love lives within me, dispelling fear. I knew that as long as I leaned on that spiritual truth, nothing could shut out my awareness of the fact that Love was actively asserting its total goodness and care as I performed.

Honestly, I struggled to give myself completely over to that feeling of God’s love for me. Whenever I thought of those three previous attempts, it was hard to shake mental images of those jittery feelings, and I was terrified that it would happen again. Then I found this guidance in Mary Baker Eddy’s writings: “Faith in divine Love supplies the ever-present help and now, and gives the power to ‘act in the living present’ ” (The First Church of Christ, Scientist, and Miscellany, p. 12). 

That’s what I needed to do—act in the living present, with consistency and dominion. As I prayed to feel divine Love’s power, I realized that there was no past, current, or future circumstance preventing me from feeling God’s love every moment. For me, acting in the living present, the now, meant I didn’t need to let the memory of uncontrollable fear run across my mental screen like a scary movie. I might not be able to change the previous circumstances, but I could view them through the lens of God’s love, giving me the power to live in the present moment, regardless of what had happened before. 

I didn’t need to try to humanly manage the future either—vaguely wishing it to be what I wanted it to be. I could just let my present moments be filled with the conscious awareness of God’s ever-presence, trusting that each moment of divine Love supporting me now would lead me to the next moment of Love’s nowness. That would bring me to the point mentally and musically where I would be able to perform my best. I cherished the knowledge that each moment under divine Love’s care is filled with freedom, including the freedom that would allow the music to flow through me without hindrance from panicky thoughts.

As a result of this renewed trust in divine Love being present with me at all times, I walked into that fourth jury with confidence, expecting only good. I felt divine Love empowering me to keep panic out of thought and perform “in the living present.” The result was that I earned the requisite permission, gave my recital the very first day of the fall term, and a few days after, flew to Paris to continue my piano studies for another two years. 

I had finally shaken off that paralyzing fear, and I’ve never forgotten that victory. And I’ve continued to grow in my efforts to give myself wholeheartedly to God’s love for me, even in the most unsettling and frightening circumstances.

Holding to the idea of God’s loving power being with us at all times shuts out thoughts of fear or panic. Fear can’t be present in God’s love or when God’s love is felt. When we take a mental stand for divine Love’s constancy in displacing fear, we can’t experience any opposite to that all-encompassing Love. That’s divine Love empowering us to “act in the living present.”

Seeking safety in a storm
August 17, 2020

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