Empty threats, release valves and a healthier way of dealing with fear

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Yesterday, actress Lena Dunham boldly declared that if Donald Trump is elected President of the United States of America, she’s leaving America and moving to Canada, joining the tens of celebrities and dozens of average Americans who’ve made similar threats in every election cycle since at least Bush v Kerry in 2004.[1. Though there may have been some in 2000 during Bush v Gore, but I don’t remember.]

But let’s be honest: no one who is making this threat is going to move to Canada. Ever.

You know how I know? I live here. And I know you won’t like it.

Come to Canada… but get ready to wait to get here (and wait when you are here)

Sure it’s pretty and we have lots of maple syrup, but Canada is a socialist state, albeit qualified as a democratic one. This means we have a shrinking population demanding a higher level of service from an inefficient (and financially irresponsible[2. Our federal debt is more than 622 billion dollars as of this writing.  My own province holds an additional $300 billion of debt of its own. Our combined federal and provincial debt is expected to exceed 1.3 trillion dollars in 2016. For a country of 35 million people, that’s kind of a big deal.]) government, whose only recourse is to charge higher taxes and borrow more money.

Our publicly funded healthcare system is on the verge of collapse, with shocking wait times and now news of the federal government outsourcing treatment for certain patients to US hospitals. You must wait anywhere between five and twelve hours to be seen by a doctor. You can sit on a waiting list to get a family physician for ten years or more. You might be able to see certain specialists—say a neurologist—once a year, or, if you’re particularly blessed, twice. And you have no other alternative.

Then there’s the fact that, despite what Hollywood tells us so frequently, Canada is, in fact, a country. It’s funny to think of Canada’s citizenship requirements as being like this:

  1. Do you want to be a Canadian?
  2. Really?[2. Credit for the joke belongs to the writers of How I Met Your Mother. But mostly Neil Patrick Harris for his delivery.]

However, we have a real immigration process, and not just for citizenship. So if an American is going to come to Canada on a visitor’s permit, it’s going to take 13 days on average to process which isn’t too bad. But here’s the bad news: visitors can’t work, legally. So unless you’re independently wealthy, and/or have no plans on working at all during your (limited) stay, you’re probably not going to want this option. If you want a work permit, it’s going to be around three months (assuming you have an employer sponsoring you). If you’re self-employed, though—you’re looking at 105 months. That’s 8.75 years, for those who don’t feel like doing the math. So if Trump wins, and then wins again in 2020, you’re through his two terms and into the next presidency before you’re welcome to come to the land of poutine and the superfluous U.

(Also, in all of my research, I have yet to find a permit or visa for which “I don’t like [insert name of politician here]” qualifies as a valid reason. Not even for humanitarian or compassionate reasons. Sorry.)

But let’s say you do find a way to come to Canada. And you fall in love with our passive-aggressive ways, our broken social welfare system, and our insistence that you pronounce “foyer” correctly. If you want to become a citizen, I have good news! You can—so long as you are willing to pledge your allegiance to our ruling monarch, Queen Elizabeth II and all her heirs. (And despite what you might have heard, she’s not just a figurehead.)

What’s behind the threat?

But, again, let’s be honest—almost no one who is making the threat is going to make good on it. You know it and I know it. So why do people do it?[4. And by people, I mean “normal” people. There are some people just want attention. Generally, this is where I put most celebrities, who seem to revel in saying silly things, which people then write about, thus giving them a greater sense of importance (or at least notoriety).] Why does the person who works at the bank, the public school or the gas station make these sorts of threats that they will never make good on? It’s probably the same reason that, despite our (I believe legitimate) concern/frustration over Target’s change to their washroom policies, many of us will still shop there.[5. Please do not read this as condemnation of those who are obeying their consciences and choosing to discontinue shopping at Target, because it is not.]

They are a response to fear.

These sorts of bold declarations—be it the threat/promise of moving to Canada, or boycotting a major corporation—act as a release valve for the fear we feel. Whether we’re socially liberal or conservative, whether we’re Christian or not, there’s a tremendous amount of changing going on in North America, and it’s more than a little terrifying. For some, the idea of Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton being president, and others the continued push for radical inclusivism and the celebration of lifestyles out of step with God’s created intentions, are fearful prospects. And when those fears as dismissed as being irrelevant, unfounded or the fruit of bigotry—when people are afraid and believe no one is listening—they need a release.

But maybe there’s a different way for us to deal with this fear we feel.

A healthier way to deal with fear

Most of the time when we talk about fear as Christians, we become afraid that we’re in for a spiritual beating—we’re afraid of being afraid because we’re told to fear not. Or at least, fear God only. Now, this is true, at least in the sense that the Bible describes it. But as fallen, foible, and often foolish people, we’re going to have some trouble there because we don’t fear perfectly. We do succumb to a spirit of fear, and we do struggle with the fear of man. But we also don’t know what to do with our fear. This is where the Psalms are so helpful to me because they show me what a faithful “release valve” looks like. And it starts with prayer.

Consider Psalm 17. In this psalm, David writes of surrounded by enemies; he is mocked and belittled. He is chased by those who oppose him. No doubt as he hid in caves and ran from the swords of his countrymen, David would have felt tremendous fear and anxiety. But what he does is astounding: he tells these fears to God. He gives them to him, not in a pat “let go and let God” sort of way, but by laying them out and preaching the gospel to himself:

  • He reminds himself, as he speaks with God, that the Lords is the “Savior of those who seek refuge” (Psalm 17:7).
  • He asks that God continue to show his steadfast love, and “hide me in the shadow of your wings” (Psalm 17:8).
  • And he declares that, whatever the circumstances, that he “shall behold your face in righteousness; when I awake, I shall be satisfied with your likeness” (Psalm 17:15).

I’m sure in praying these truths, David didn’t necessarily feel them right away, or that his confidence didn’t waiver periodically. Given how often he prays such things—given how often he needs to remind himself of the truth of God’s love for him regardless of the circumstances—there had to have been some pretty dark moments spiritually. But still he prayed. Still he turned to his Savior. Still he turned to the one who would give him refuge.

And perhaps this is where we need to start as well. When I look at the prospects of what’s happening in the world around me, I do get a little nervous. As a Canadian, I have concerns about the outcome of the next American election. I have fears about the state of our healthcare system in Ontario, and flagrant disregard for accountability and common sense so many of our politicians exhibit. I have moments when I’m tempted to find a quiet plot of land in the Deep North and hide until all the crazy dies down.

But I don’t do it because if I did. I’d still be afraid. Hiding doesn’t change my fears, anymore than boycotting a company, ranting on the Internet, or googling the requirements for a foreign work permit would (at least for me). But bringing these fears to God—telling him of them, reminding myself of his character and his goodness and his promises, really does help. And prayer is the faithful release valve I need because it reminds me of these truths.

I’m not saying prayer makes the problems go away. It doesn’t. But what it does do is help us see the situation with more clarity, as people not ruled by our fears and gut reactions, but as those who know a love that casts out fear, who find rest in the sovereignty of the One in whom we seek refuge. And perhaps that’s enough.

Posted by Aaron Armstrong

Aaron is the author of several books including the Big Truths Bible Storybook, Epic Devotions, Awaiting a Savior: The Gospel, the New Creation, and the End of Poverty, and Contend: Defending the Faith in a Fallen World. His next book, published by Lexham Press, will release in Spring 2023.

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  1. […] in this election leaves them wondering if they can get the heck out of Dodge. (Or move to Canada. Which they won’t.) I know of a few people who have suddenly started to praying for Jesus to come back tomorrow (or […]

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