Oklahoma Conference of the United Methodist Church

Fear and focus


The letter of instruction ending with four ominous words: “Watch out for rattlesnakes.” As I finished packing for the mission work trip, those words jumped out at me again.

I have never liked snakes, especially rattlesnakes. My last encounter with a rattler had been almost a decade prior to this trip.

I was a director at a church camp for elementary children. I happened upon a camper who had discovered and was approaching a rattlesnake. I quickly got the child away from the snake, sent someone to get help, and established a safe perimeter.

Before help could arrive, about eighty campers encircled the area. One of the campers threw a dirt clod in the direction of the rattler.

It exploded on the wall of the building and showered the snake. The rattlesnake darted straight toward me! It stopped and rattled in panic mode, still ready to strike.

“Who threw that clod of dirt?” I shouted to the group. No one admitted to the toss. Thankfully, camp personnel came to the rescue about that time.

My assignment on this mission trip was to clear a half acre lot of weeds to prepare for future construction. As I worked, I keep a sharp eye on the ground around me. I wanted to be sure I saw any rattler before it could see me.

On the second day of the trip, it happened. I felt a sharp stinging pain. I had been bit! My first thought was, “It is a rattlesnake!”

When I mentally isolated the location of my pain, I realized it was my elbow that hurt. I recall thinking “How can a rattlesnake jump four feet to bite me there?”

As it turned out, I had been bit, but not by a snake.

As I lifted my eyes to look in front of me, I realized I had just attacked a huge wasp nest built in the top of the weed I was clearing, and around it was a whole swarm of wasps. The next day fire ants stung my leg.

Not once during the trip did I encounter a snake of any kind. All that misplaced worry and fear. The misplaced worry and fear that had focused only on rattlesnakes had blinded me to other threats of the work.

Worry and fear are siblings. They are thoughts and attitudes that undermine peace and contentment of the soul.

Worry and fear are products of an imagination that projects harmful outcomes. They champion loss, embarrassment, and harm.

In his letter to the Church at Philippi, Paul combats worry and fear with focus. He writes, “From now on, brothers and sisters, if anything is excellent and if anything is admirable, focus your thoughts on these things: all that is true, all that is holy, all that is just, all that is pure, all that is lovely, and all that is worthy of praise” (Philippians 4:8).

What we think about shapes how we live our own lives, how we interact with our families, communities, churches, and the world. What are you thinking about?


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