The Fear of Bad News

“We got a few updates,” my husband begins as he walks through our bedroom door after his late-night conference call with his Army Reserves unit.

“Are you getting deployed?” I blurt out the words before he reaches the bed. My heartbeat hammers and my fists clench, anxious for him to answer my question.  

He rolls his eyes and sighs as he sets his tablet on the dresser. “No, I’m not getting deployed,” he reassures me. It’s just a change of his drill weekend. No need to worry, just like there was no need to worry after last week’s conference call.

I should be used to this—the army dictating everything from our weekend plans to his haircuts to family vacations. Yet every time I hear him walking down the stairs from our office after a virtual Army meeting, my stomach plummets and my brain races with the question, What if?

After years of anxious waiting and cycles of “worst-case-scenario” whenever my husband had a conference call, he now prefaces any news with “I’m not getting deployed, but…” Even if it’s still bad news (or not-so-good news), as soon as I hear that deployment has been taken off the table, my body relaxes and my heartbeat returns to normal. I just want to know the worst of it so I can prepare my heart, so I can prepare myself.

Because to me, the only thing worse than the bad news itself is being caught off guard by the bad news.

The call after a doctor appointment with the diagnosis of cancer.

An email rejecting the project I poured my heart and fingers into.

The article in my news feed reporting horrific tragedy and injustice.

I live in fear of these moments, anxiously checking my email and refreshing my browser. This fear reveals my deep belief that if I could just know about the bad news sooner, maybe it wouldn’t hit so hard. Maybe if I knew more about it, I could have greater control over it. However, this strategy never works. No matter when and how the bad news comes, my heart always sinks.

Yet the psalmist has the conviction to declare that righteous men and women who fear the Lord have no need of such fears. “He is not afraid of bad news; his heart is firm, trusting in the Lord” (Psalm 112:7). How can we face the worst of news—illness, rejection, tragedy, and more—without feeling afraid? It’s not because we can control it or know all about it as I attempt to do. It’s because we can trust God—the God who is with us, who is sovereign over us, and who is gracious to us. These three truths have helped my heart remain firm in the face of my worst fears.

1. God is with us, even in suffering.

We had been married six months the first time my husband had to leave for an Army training. He would be gone for twenty-eight days, most of which we would have no contact. It was also my first time I lived alone for an extended period. In my loneliness and fear, God reminded me, “The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing” (Zephaniah 3:17). God is not turned away by our suffering; instead, he enters into our suffering with us. Even if we don’t have answers to the questions of why? or how long?, we can be confident that the Man of Sorrows is acquainted with our grief. We may suffer, but we are never alone.

2. God is still sovereign over “bad news.”

When bad news comes, it often feels like everything is out of control. But that’s not true. Throughout Scripture, we see God’s sovereign hand using hardship to bring about the good of his people. God uses the enslavement and imprisonment of Joseph to save his entire family. When looking back at the suffering in his life, Joseph had the faith to say to his brothers, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good” (Genesis 50:20a). Further, God would sovereignly ordain the murder of Jesus to be the means by which his people would be saved. While God is not the author of evil, he is not surprised by bad news like I am. Instead, his providence has woven the good and bad into my story in a way that will bring about my good and his glory.

3. God will give us grace for the next challenge.

One day, my husband might walk through the door announcing he is in fact being deployed. I’ll probably cry, because faith still leaves room for grief. However, the morning after he leaves, God has promised he will give me the grace I need to thrive while my husband is deployed. “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness’” (2 Corinthians 12:9a). I don’t have what it takes for him to leave today—but that’s okay, because he isn’t leaving. Like the Israelites relied on the Lord to provide the manna they would need the next day in the wilderness, I trust that, if my husband is deployed, God will give me the grace I need that day. He will give me the grace I need for whatever bad news comes my way.

In Proverbs, King Lemuel describes the woman who fears the Lord, “Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she laughs at the time to come” (Proverbs 31:25). The fear of the Lord dispels her fear of the future. She doesn’t laugh at the time to come because she is in control or knows that everything will work out. She can rejoice because she trusts in the sovereign goodness of the Lord who holds the future for both her and her family.

I can’t guarantee that I will laugh like her the next time my husband enters the room with bad news, but I can face the bad news with strength and dignity, knowing that the Lord is with me. He is in control. And he will give me grace for the time to come.

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