“Do not fear.”
I’ve heard claims that words to this effect occur 365 times scattered throughout the Holy Bible. I’ve been afraid to sit down and count them all for purposes of verification😊 So let’s just assume that it’s an important message which bears repeating a lot.
But when I repeat “do not fear” in this posting, it comes with a full-scale illustration in the first person. I want to share a true story of my own fear becoming what I warn about in my book, “Love’s Resurrection: its power to roll away fear’s heaviest stone.” A while back, I managed to step in the very mess I’ve warned others about for years. My own fear became self-fulfilling.
Sharing a story of my own fear is never comfortable for me in any setting. Perhaps least of all a blog page. I’d rather appear strong than weak, confident not ashamed, smart and not dumb. But I value authenticity and openness, and so here goes.
Much as I try to have my faith in love and my doubt in fear, I’m no more immune from feeling fear than the next person. As we age into our 70’s, my wife and I are no different from most folks who, truth be told, have at least questions, if not fears, about the possibility of outliving our money. Loss of wealth and health are issues for most seniors like us. Either one can vanish, given the wrong circumstances.
Such a circumstance occurred the other day when a fake-email arrived claiming to be Amazon.com’s shipping department, notifying us that the $700 television set we ordered was delivered as ordered to some strange name and address in San Antonio, TX. We’d not ordered it, and for sure didn’t want to be billed for it. So as this email containing all the proper logos and formatting for Amazon Prime indicated a toll-free customer service number, I got right on it the next day. Had to call and clear our account. We were both afraid of having already had our Prime account hacked. I would call and take control of the matter.
Don’t get too far ahead of me here.
The customer service number connected me first with the usual menu of options and, after 3 people, I’m connected with what was claimed to be Amazon Fraud & Security and a very polite foreign accented gentleman who presented every possible apology for my inconvenience and a promise of protecting our Amazon Prime account from any wrong charges or orders present and future. After being on hold several minutes, “Patrick” came back on line with the bad information. Our account had been hacked and more orders were starting to come in with deliveries this time to New Mexico as well as Texas.
The biblical injunction, “do not fear,” did not appear at this point anywhere within my mind’s conscious state. Could’ve been in the Bible 3,065 times and it wouldn’t have mattered. All I wanted to do at that moment was take control over our account and put a freeze on it, etc. to block further problems. However, Patrick went on to explain it wasn’t that simple. Our email account is apparently what was hacked and I should immediately have that password changed. From his end, however, there was a process he could offer me as their Amazon customer that would protect our IP numbers and other electronic data reported in any way through any of our devices because of this recent hack.
Now hear my next confession. I’m easily lost in conversation when it comes to anything high tech. That’s often beyond my comfort zone. So what I’d assumed to be a rather simple customer service call to clear and, if necessary, freeze our Amazon Prime account was now degenerating into a barrage of technical commentary by the voice on this other end of my phone. The less I knew for sure, the more afraid I felt. Maybe our entire identities were at risk of being stolen and what money we would have to live on the rest of our earthly lives was at jeopardy.
“Do fear” was what my own mind rather soon began to say in way of self-talk. This whole circumstance with Amazon was now likely far worse than I at first imagined. At which point Patrick went into salvation mode. “Do not fear,” he reassured me. “We see this kind of thing all the time anymore and there is a way we can take care of the problem for you that will protect every one of your accounts and any of your electronic data.” He would, with my permission, be able to take control of everything on my behalf as their Amazon customer.
Surely you know by now where this is going.
If only I had known at the time.
But what I did not know caused me to do things that were very bad and, yes, extremely dumb on my part. While still on the line with Patrick I drove to my local Kroger store to purchase what amounted to $2400.00 in Amazon gift cards for which our credit card would be reimbursed in 2-3 business days because these electronic cards would be accepted by our hackers but then blocked immediately as a kind of trick to then erase all the data they had previously stolen through out email access. This would be his way of taking control over my problem and helping me to “do not fear.” And so I said “yes” amidst my own confusion, compliant with his request to stay on the line so we can make sure it all goes as needed.
Following me here? Pretty obvious, right? I fell for the scam. In my naivete, confusion, and heightened fear of the unknown, I did what we may all do as humans in some fashion. I looked for control. And in my case for someone else who knew more than I did about how to control my problem.
What began as a fear of losing $700 if I didn’t make a phone call turned into an hour-length phone call with someone who caused me to lose $2400 that I really don’t have to lose. My fear had become for me a self-fulfilling prophecy. I had fallen for a phony email that resulted, upon my subsequent investigation, from Amazon’s being hacked and our email as a past Amazon Prime customer as one of thousands of new targets. The entire operation claiming to be the Amazon customer service number (it wasn’t), receptionist, service rep, and then Fraud & Securities Specialist, “Patrick,” was itself a scheme used to defraud people like us.
Judging myself stupid and feeling ashamed to tell anyone, even my wife, about what just transpired wasn’t even my worst experiences of this week. Rather, the worst is what I will name simply as my “ongoing grief” in the loss of that amount of money and the self-respect that goes with being such a scam-victim. The words “do not grieve” make no more sense than “do not fear” in such a circumstance.
My point in sharing all of this in a blog, as you may have been wondering all along, is to illustrate how it is fear itself works within our bodies and minds to trigger our human pursuit of control from some “other” power who then promises to take “control” for us. It is in the pursuit of “control” that we are made vulnerable to being conned. Some scams, like this one, are financial. Some involve healthcare. Some, dare I say, involve what turn out to be bad theology. Perhaps even a faith in a phony Christ or false prophet. Trust in the “other” to rid us of our feared loss, risk, or “unknown” threat is as old as the biblical Adam.
Gaining “control” involving any “other” in this world or beyond is, I believe, a fool’s errand no less than this one of my own admission above. Like the fellow who buys a business he can “own” only to find the business later owns him, our pursuit of “control” is the surest way for us to lose even more control. Or in my case to turn a $700 loss into one of $2400. The very thing I feared the most came true in spades. My fear became a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Consider how authoritarian dictators come to power politically in countries that were former democracies. They create or exaggerate fear in the voters before then promising to be the strongest one available to protect the voters from their fears. Works like a charm. Or like a scam, whichever you prefer. Voters, according to Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt in their book, “How Democracies Die,” trade away their own free and fair elections for the assurance of a powerful leader who will take control over what they fear the most.
What I call “fearful control” is a part of being human. But the best part of being human is learning to follow the Jesus who let go of that fear in order to hold on to love as its anti-dote. For Jesus, love meant giving away his control over people, empowering them to claim their own freedom from slavery to their own fears. This is the opposite of what an authoritarian dictator would do, but it’s also opposite of what a scam artist does with people like myself the other day in my own worst moment of weakness.
And the best part of following Jesus is that he didn’t just say “do not fear” and then walk away. He walked the talk from Gethsemane to Golgatha with his own actions to prove that from loss comes gain, from weakness comes power, from death comes life, and, in my case, from ignorance comes intelligence enough to never again let fear lead me into the temptation of control.
I have no control over the circumstances playing out in today’s world, but I can control how I respond to them, however unfortunate they may be. I can control what I learn from my past mistakes, and how I then apply that knowledge. (Such as turning it into a blog post to illustrate how the wrong solution can unwittingly create an even worse problem.) And I can control my future choice to let love become my next self-fulfilling prophecy.