Caution Is Not the Same as Living in Fear
How proclaiming "Faith over fear" gets it wrong
In Embracing Curiosity, I step away from writing about travel to comment on the bigger journey of life, exploring my faith and politics with curiosity and nuance.
I’ve never been a fan of scary movies. I’m not into grotesque blood and gore and I’m not a fan of surprises. That and the lack of common sense drives me crazy. If you are well aware of danger then you shouldn’t be walking into a dark basement alone. You just shouldn’t. Everyone knows that. You should be turning on lights, carrying a strong flashlight, or taking a capable and trustworthy friend with you. Any reasonable human being would see that as being cautious, not fearful. You are recognizing the potential for danger so you are making sure you are not taking unnecessary risks.
Like many who have taken numerous precautions during our 21st century global pandemic, I’m tired of the claims that I am living in fear. To be honest, when we knew so little about the disease, there was a lot of fear involved in keeping our family on near lockdown for the first two months after things started to shut down. Between teaching and helping my own children with their online work, I obsessively checked CDC numbers to see where our cases were in a given day, comparing the situation in Texas to other states. I watched hours of the news. I checked Twitter multiple times a day.
It was a lot to take in and while I was well-informed, it also did little to quell my fears.
But eventually fear transitioned to caution. I learned to have a healthy fear of the virus and my husband encouraged me to take baby steps back out into society. We always wore masks when inside any building but our home, we used hand sanitizer when we were out, and we insisted that all interaction with other people be outside.
Eventually, we allowed our daughter to do a week of basketball camp and our son to play flag football (outside of course) before we left on a socially distant vacation to Colorado. I went to a large George Floyd protest in Houston armed with a mask and hand sanitizer in 90+ degree heat. I taught summer school and interacted with my small group of students while also keeping distance.
We were seeing more people but with reasonable caution. But when we saw my sister-in-law for the first time in over a year and she joined us for over a week of camping and national parks adventuring, we let the barriers down. We hugged and brought her into our circle for the time that we were together. We reserved our caution for the time we spent outside and near strangers, avoiding unnecessary interactions like we would also avoid rattlesnakes if any of them had crossed our path.
We know more and we know how to do better. We are not living in fear; we are living cautiously.
Living cautiously doesn’t mean that I’m being oppressive when I insist that the stores I visit require patrons to wear masks.
Living cautiously doesn’t mean that I’m being overly protective when I limit my kids’ interactions.
Living cautiously doesn’t mean that I am not living in faith. Recently a friend reminded me that trusting in God’s promises and healing power is not the same as testing those promises. God promises that he will watch over us and guide us through difficult times, but he never promised that we wouldn’t have difficult times. He promised to protect us, but that didn’t mean that we wouldn’t get sick. When Satan tempted Jesus in the desert, Jesus responded, “‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.” (Matthew 4:7) Living our lives with precautions like wearing masks and washing hands and avoiding long exposure to crowds while praying for good health is both faithful and prudent. Taking unnecessary risks is both faithless and irresponsible.
Many of us are facing difficult questions right now. Do we go to work or keep working remote? Do we go to that social gathering or do we stay home? Do we go to church or do we continue to worship in our living rooms? Do we send our kids to school or do we homeschool until we are certain risk has been mostly eliminated?
There are no easy answers here, but as long as we are acting in the interest of our families and our greater communities, we can let go of fear and act with the caution that our individual community situations require.
Like generations before us who have been handed similar life and society-changing challenges, we will get through this. We just need to do it with the caution that will help our communities get to the other side healthier and stronger than ever.
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