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Tiffany Gee Lewis: Overcoming fear in a fretful world

Lately I’ve been having discussions with friends about fear. They are worried for the future, for their children, for the planet. I hear about the anxiety levels of our teens. It seems that everyone is living on edge.

It’s made me track my own anxiety and fear. Like a person watching what they eat, I’ve been observing what I consume, and how it makes me feel.

Every time I jump into the abyss known as the internet and fall down a wormhole, I feel its effects. It’s not necessarily the news, which I believe is of absolute importance. It’s the news about the news. The commentaries about the commentaries. The analysts, the hate-slingers, the Twitter rants, the social media feeds featuring this person’s opinion and another person’s snarky reply. It’s like drinking poison, all of it.

I get worried when I think about the pace at which these crises get flung in our faces. A person can’t catch a breath between world events and domestic disputes. We have reached a fever pitch. Everywhere in my head I hear shouting.

This is when I don’t get worried:

When, on Tuesdays, I sit with my class of kindergartners and we talk about clouds. We learn to count by fives. They marvel at the taste of a pomegranate seed, the size of a leaf, the interior of an acorn. We run outside and look, there is a bubble machine! And bubbles come pouring out, an abundance of bubbles, and the kids are snatching at bubbles and squealing with delight.

These bright-eyed 5-year-olds give me hope.

I don’t get worried when I am backstage at a children’s production of "Mary Poppins," helping eager middle-schoolers with makeup and hair before they slip onstage to sing “A Spoonful of Sugar.”

Or when a cluster of young kids crowd into a hospital lobby to play a benefit concert. Music, like bubbles, has a transforming effect.

I don’t get worried when I’m gathered with friends to discuss a book, or laugh with my family around bowls of soup.

I am especially hopeful when I sit in church and we talk about hard things, the pain of the human experience and the hope that comes through Christ. I look around at my fellow parishioners, and I am grateful, beyond grateful, for community.

I am hopeful when I see the magnanimity of those around me, taking care of lonely widows, feeding those who go hungry or taking a meal to a sick friend.

In short, I am hopeful when I am living life, not digesting someone else’s take on life.

There is a difference between ignorance and deliberate consumption. Ignorance is not knowing what’s going on in the world. Deliberate consumption is choosing what is worth your time, what will uplift and where to put your mental space. I am a fan of the latter.

My husband, a media researcher, is a proponent of “slow news.” Similar to the slow food movement, it means getting your news the old-fashioned way, with a newspaper or two dropped on your doorstep. It means turning off the alerts on your phone and especially avoiding TV news, which, besides leaning toward the sensational no matter the station, never quits.

I am also a fan of gathering with people. The more we are locked into our devices, with the fears and follies of humankind right at our fingertips, the more we give ourselves over to anxiety, anger, radical thinking and polarized viewpoints. There is power in physically gathering, whether it’s with neighbors, friends, a church community, co-workers or family members.

I believe one of the greatest way for us to quell our own fears is to assuage the pain of another: spend time with a child, reach out to someone heartbroken or alone and take care of the elderly in our midst. When we are thinking of others, we place our own concerns on the back burner. We act as an extension of Christ’s hands.

It is challenging to be a person of faith in a world of fear. Where we put our minds, and how we allocate our time, can go a long way toward looking forward with a “perfect brightness of hope.”