There was a television show a few years ago that was disturbing and fascinating in equal measure. Called A Thousand Ways to Die, it reenacted one-in-a-million circumstances that led to actual deaths.
It was my worst nightmare.
The show was proof that every irrational fear I’ve ever had wasn’t so irrational after all. And that everyone who tried to comfort me with “What are the chances…” didn’t know what they were talking about. It doesn’t matter if a particular sequence of events happens once in twenty million times if you or a loved one are the one.
The laws of probability are no comfort. The show proved their worthlessness.
In researching the history of the show for this post, I learned the writers took considerable artistic license by embellishing and altering facts to maximize entertainment value. I didn’t know that when I was a viewer. It doesn’t matter. Sooner or later some of their fictionalized deaths will actually occur.
I’ve known for a long time that my mind quickly jumps to the worst possible outcome. It took a long time to realize that not everybody’s mind does the same.
A bit of dizziness? The start of a brain tumor.
A mistake on a bill? Evidence of identity theft and I’ll be homeless soon.
A loved one doesn’t text back right away? They’ve been abducted.
You get the picture.
Sometimes these thoughts just pop into my conscious awareness. Other times, I initiate the process with a “what if…?” question.
What if this bridge collapsed right now?
What if there’s a brain-eating amoeba in this water?
What if there’s a blackout while I’m in this elevator?
If not immediately dismissed, these thoughts quickly become seeds that take root and grow faster than weeds in a summer garden.
Sometimes even I feel sorry for myself. It’s hard to live this way.
I’m also well aware that I spend more energy than I should fighting these fears. Energy that could be spent more productively.
I take solace in realizing I’m not alone, because someone wrote a book called The Worst Case Scenario Survival Handbook (by Joshua Piven). Another like-minded soul spent hours and hours contemplating all the worst things that could happen and then turned it into a profitable and helpful project.
Many people thought the book was funny. I considered buying multiple copies.
My fears are not typically about getting caught in quicksand, or having to escape killer bees, but you never know. Under the right circumstances, I could imagine those catastrophes too. Then the guide would come in handy.
Actually I always have the ultimate survival guide nearby. The bible has a lot to say about fear. One of the most straightforward commands is:
Do not let you hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.
There are many more verses like it.
And when fear burrows deep inside, I remind myself of God’s promises:
So do not fear for I am with you; do not be dismayed for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.
This reignites trust and bolsters courage. Scripture never ceases to loosen the grip of fear with truth and light. It reminds me I’m never alone, no matter what calamity I fear awaits me.
Scripture also reminds me I was not created to live this way:
For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.
2 Timothy 1:7
So when fearful thoughts come unbidden and unwelcome, destroying my sense of peace, I remind myself to exert self-control to turn away from them. To see them as the thieves they are. Unchecked, they steal joy, contentment, harmony and trust.
So I give these thoughts a quick and strong shove out of my mind. It’s a daily chore, much like flossing; a nuisance, but necessary.
Luckily the bible doesn’t only tell us what not to do. It also instructs us how we should think:
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.
So, instead, I turn my attention away from the chaos that runs through my mind and focus on peace, beauty, blessings, and love.
And in addition to refocusing my thoughts, I look up and remember God’s promises. It is there, and only there, that the laws of probability are rendered pointless because I’m already certain of my future.
A Thousand Ways to Die ran from 2008-2012. It’s back in reruns on two stations; MTV and Comedy Central. Comedy Central? Does anybody really think this stuff is funny?
Well. Maybe a little funny. And THAT is progress!
Do silly fears ever enter your mind? How do you give yourself a reality check?