Lions, Tigers and Bears, Oh my!

This summer I had a fearsome encounter with a bear, but no ordinary bear! This was “The Grand Matriarch of the Tetons,” decked out in her shaggy fur coat with four yearlings in tow. A regal queen—and absolutely terrifying! She weighed at least 400 pounds and stood a bit over seven feet tall. In Teton National Park she is only listed as Grizzly 399, but everyone knows this lady is the most famous grizzly bear in the world. She has her own Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram account and several books have been written about her. How dangerous is a Grizzly mother bear, especially if you come between her and her cubs? You only have to google “bear attacks” to know why that day my heart was in my throat and my daughter Rose was screaming bloody murder! The fight or flight adrenaline coursed through our veins.


“Lions, Tigers and Bears, Oh My.” “Lions, Tigers and Bears, Oh My.” “Lions, Tigers and Bears, Oh My.”


Do you remember how Dorothy, Scarecrow and the Tin Man were paralyzed in fear as they made their way down the winding and ominous yellow brick road in The Wizard of Oz? We are all familiar with the “Lions, Tigers and Bears,” “Lions, Tigers and Bears” fear-chant. That day in Teton National Park, I wanted to shout it. When I got the call from my dear friend Tallu with her devastating glioblastoma diagnosis that same grizzly bear scary yellow brick road panic happened. The fear chant played for a week when my dad had Covid, and it’s a familiar tune every Friday night waiting for my teenage daughters to come home. With the recent kidnappings in Haiti, knowing my friend Karris, a missionary, is in the thick of danger pushes the internal panic button with zingers throughout my body. Just imagining life without David or something tragic happening to my kids, or a day when I won’t be able to call my mom is like an anvil pressing hard through my chest.  Lions, Tigers, Bears, Oh my!


As the writer of the Book of Ecclesiastes states: “There is a season for everything under heaven’s rim.” Two years ago, the Pandemic ushered in a dark season of heightened fear across our planet. We were unmercifully reminded once again of our genuine lack of control over our today and tomorrows.


I have a confession—sometimes reality can really scare me. I’m so heart-invested in my life, this beautiful old world and the people I love that it terrifies me to lose any sacred piece of it.


Dorothy and her friends made it to Oz but not before facing a wicked witch and her court of evil flying monkeys. Scary diagnoses, pain and suffering in body and spirit, natural disasters, unwanted change—and losses, and of course our impending and unavoidable death—All of these squeeze our hearts. What is next for us?


Fear can operate in our lives as both friend and foe. It protects us from being reckless, but more often proves a tyrant over us. Nothing has the power to make us small and thief our joy quite like fear.


For over a year, I was paralyzed with fear during my son’s treatment for cancer. I’ll never forget the day Charlie’s oncologist at Sloan Kettering leaned across his desk and stopped me mid-sentence in my list of what-ifs: What if the chemo stunts his growth? What if the chemo kills brain cells and he has limited intelligence? What if the chemo doesn’t work? What if the cancer comes back? Abruptly, and almost angrily, he said, “Farrell, fear will not save your son. Flipping through the rolodex of “What ifs” is a waste of your time and mine. It will get us nowhere. Focus your energy on all the possibilities of healing. Charlie doesn’t need your fear. He needs your hope.”


Humbling to hear, but Dr. K was a game changer for me.


We do not have control over all the variables of our lives, but we do have agency on how we respond. Fear or hope; panic or peace; paralysis or action. These are metaphysical, eternal choices.


Fear and anxiety are plain not healthy for me or my family or you. Regular fight or flight hormones coursing through our bodies are proven to shorten our lives. Also our consuming fears negatively impact those around us. If I walk into a hospital room as chaplain, guided by fear, not only do my parishioners feel it, but I miss the opportunity to impart hope. The same can be said in my role as mother. Humbling it was when Sissy Golf at Daystar Ministries (a Christian counseling service in Nashville for kids) said that every child that comes in for anxiety has at least one parent who operates in the world with anxiety.


I still get triggered. Sometimes I wonder if my list of fears is larger than my list of hopes. On my better days, I counter the internal fear chant with a cosmos rally: “Dear God, Be with me. Just be with me.”


Beautiful and terrible things are going to happen to us whatever we do or don’t do; whether we have faith or not; no matter if we are good or bad. I return to the Psalmist’s confession of faith: “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil for Thou are with me.” The Psalmist knew there would be those lions, tigers and bears on our yellow brick roads, but he fully pressed on and sought a rich and meaningful life.


My friend Kate Wilmot is the Bear Management Specialist at Teton National Park. I called her immediately after this summer’s epic run-in with Grizzly 399. She said, “Harmless black bears and dangerous grizzlies are everywhere. Never let that discourage you from trail-blazing. Usually, they show up when we least expect them so best be prepared. Travel in a group and carry your bear spray. If you come upon a bear, whatever you do, don’t panic. Bad things happen when you scream or run. Pull the group together so you look big and tall in the face of the bear. Respond in the moment with a calm, non- anxious presence. Wait patiently. The bear will move on.”


Her “bear safety” protocol for the park is applicable to day-to-day life.


Did you know that only two fatal bear attacks happen in North America annually? So much real estate in our hearts is given to fears that actually never amount to anything!


No matter how strong your faith armor or how pleasant your current yellow brick road, fear will come for you and zap your heart. For this reason, God proclaimed, “Do not be afraid,” 365 times in the Bible. God knows we are built to do brave things.


Following are some ways to temper your fears:


  1. Include God on your daily yellow brick road journey. The greater the intimacy and closeness I feel with God, the less fear has power over me. God makes me brave and more peaceful in whatever circumstance.
  2. Speak your fears. The moment you share the burden, it loses power over you.
  3. We are going to encounter real and metaphorical “bears.” There is no avoiding them so find your scarecrow, your tin man, and your lion, family and friends of faith. God gave us each other for a reason. Commit to the discipline of prayer, breathing exercises and meditation, so your first defense when the fear chant erupts is not panic, but peace. Regular physical exercise eases the fight and flight reflexes. Put away the rolodex of “What if’s,” and focus on what can be managed right in front of you.


And finally, bind this gospel truth to your heart:


Whatever happens, you are never alone.

God is with you and invested in your outcome.

God will put people in your path to help you.

No matter how devastating the winter,

your spring will come.

God is making all things new.

Love will save us all.

  • Ruth C

    November 1, 2021 at 6:17 am

    Just what I needed this morning as I face a serious procedure tomorrow. Bless you

  • Pat Johnston

    November 1, 2021 at 7:18 am

    Perfect, Farrell. Thank you.

  • Lindi Jobe

    November 1, 2021 at 7:30 am

    So beautiful Farrell! Thank you!

  • Kat Gilleland

    November 1, 2021 at 7:45 am

    Thank you, this really speaks to me. I am printing it and highlighting passages for the days ahead.

  • Susan Foster

    November 1, 2021 at 7:45 am

    Speaks in bold print to me- thank you

  • Tasha Green

    November 1, 2021 at 7:49 am

    Love this, Farrell.

  • Sallye Galloway

    November 1, 2021 at 8:08 am

    Once again you have written just what I needed and just when I needed it. It’s like you are reading my thoughts, yes, and my fears. Thank you.

  • Rosie Bruce

    November 1, 2021 at 8:14 am

    Love this Farrell. Thank you !

  • Susan Hammonds-White

    November 1, 2021 at 8:29 am

    I can’t thank you enough for this timely reminder of what fear can do to our hearts and minds. Blessings on that doctor who set you on the path of hope – a path that has given hope to so many. I can’t tell you how many times I have said to folks that living in the land of “what if” keeps us from the beautiful land of now.

  • Diane Tucker

    November 1, 2021 at 10:35 am

    Another home run on the journey of our lives! This pandemic has really played a number on me. You’re the best!

  • Anonymous

    November 2, 2021 at 11:07 pm

    God’s peace is not usually the first thing I feel when fearful events happen, but reminders like this help me to know that if I choose it and allow God to calm me, He will let me know that peace. Thank you Farrell. (I hope I don’t meet a bear.)

  • Faye Tevebaugh

    November 2, 2021 at 11:09 pm

    God’s peace is not usually the first thing I feel when fearful events happen, but reminders like this help me to know that if I choose it and allow God to calm me, He will let me know that peace. Thank you Farrell. (I hope I don’t meet a bear.)