There’s no doubt about it—2024 is a year of big events. In the span of 12 short months, we will experience a slew of impactful happenings, including a total solar eclipse, a leap year, an American presidential election and the Summer Olympics. Not to mention the continuing wars in the Middle East and Ukraine, aggressive COVID variants and the rapid, unregulated expansion of AI. These are just a few of the “known” occurrences—we have no way to know what will be included in this list as the year unfolds. Feeling stressed yet? As we have seen in the recent past, even one large event like those listed above can cause division and tear people apart. With 2024 shaping up to be a supercharged year of stressors, it’s valuable to take some time to think about how we, as Christians, should react to prolonged instances of fear, worry or strain.
Fight or Flight
Healthline states that “psychologists have equated both anxiety and anger with the loss of control. In other words, when you’re confronted with a stressor you feel you’re not equipped to deal with, you may become anxious. If you feel even more threatened, that anxiety can quickly morph into anger.” It is understandable that loss of control can make us feel upset, especially if we don’t have all the information or circumstances are changing quickly. Our brains are wired to protect us by responding to stress with a “fight or flight” mechanism. God wisely created us to survive stressful and harmful incidents by equipping our bodies to react, even before we can think it through (think of jumping away from a spider or out of the path of an oncoming vehicle). When the immediate danger has passed, our bodies return to normal. However, many people are now in a state of constant stress and unease—this is what researchers call chronic stress. And this is causing a shift in how society is treating one another.
Events of the last several years have certainly caused people to be more divided, more accusatory and less willing to listen. But is that how God would have us react?
A Personal Example
In 2020 I worked at a large healthcare facility in Vancouver, Washington. My role involved supervising the front desk receptionists, who dealt directly with patients. Over the course of the first six months of the pandemic, I had a front-row seat to how the public reacted to the stress and unknowns of the unfolding health crisis. It amazed me that in the beginning months of the pandemic, people were very supportive of the healthcare workers—many in our community even brought us handmade cards and gifts to show their appreciation. They said “thank you” and “please.” We even had a military “fly over” to salute healthcare workers—all of which were a show of community support and comradery.
But as the stressful events continued to wear on everyone, I witnessed a dramatic change in people’s behavior. Instead of being “healthcare heroes” we were treated as the enemy. In the last six months of 2020, my staff and I were screamed at, threatened, spit on, accused, had things thrown at us and even received death threats. It was a scary and shocking turn of events! Division, anger and fear were rampant. Every day I showed up for work, I didn’t know what to expect and if it would be safe for myself and my staff. Things felt totally out of control. Yet, they weren’t! Every single day of that time, God was in control.
“My Peace I Leave With You”
The Bible has a lot to say about division and unity. God’s will is that we be one—without fractures, fissures or cracks. That we be whole and at peace. Jesus specially said that He would leave His peace with us. He followed that encouraging proclamation by instructing us “Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid” (John 14:27). How aptly He identified that fear is the enemy of peace! When we are afraid, it’s easy to look outward and begin to blame or accuse others. It’s easy to see divisions and feed into that destructive cycle.
Fear is the parent of division. As 2024 unfolds, there may indeed be much that is fearful. There will be many opportunities for people to disagree, argue, fight and divide. To yell at each other across isles, continents and families. Many in the world will choose that path. We must choose a different way—a truly Christian way, living as Christ instructed us with humility, love and the unity of peace. It’s been said that the Bible uses the phrase “do not fear” 365 times—enough for one daily reminder for an entire year. When you look ahead to this year of big events (known and unknown), choose to daily reject fear and embrace peace. God is always in control and we know that His plan is for all of us to become one through Christ. Plan now to make 2024 a year of unity.