I’ve been thinking a lot lately about Fear. Or more accurately, I have been thinking a lot lately about how Fear has been running my life, how it has been an undercurrent in many of my major decisions, and how it has distracted me from really living.
I have a lot of ideas about this, and I’ve been challenging myself to write them out and to write about them honestly. But, in the middle of my honesty and “self reflection” I’ve come to a detour/stop.
You see, Fear is not always a vague concept that is woven into a season of our life’s fabric. No, sometimes Fear is a real, visceral, confirmed and present danger. Sometimes Fear shouts at us through our circumstances, and, if we are honest, we are nodding our heads in agreement with it.
What do we do when the face of Fear mirrors the reality in our life?
What do we do when we have been rejected?
What do we do when we face a life-changing illness? Or when we face the illness of a loved one? Or when we are told that we are dying?
What do we do when our bodies are wracked with pain, and that makes it hard to think and to control our impulses?
What do we do when we have done the wrong thing and hurt someone else in the process?
Rejection. Grief. Pain. Failure. Our fears have whispered to us that these could happen, and now they have. So, now what?
Someday, maybe 100 years from now, maybe 1000, or maybe when we are all in a place where we see things from God’s perspective -and thus there is no time, only the NOW- we will have an answer to this question. Until that day, I only have some theories.
Before I share these theories with you, there is something that you should know. I am a Hope-loving hippie child. I take my shoes off when I'm upset and run outside. And while there have been times when I have felt hollowed out, shattered, and terrified of the future, Hope has never completely abandoned me to Fear. It has simply changed and started to look different. Even in the frozen-over wintered seasons of my soul, I was looking at patterns in the ice crystals and crying over their beauty. So, if any of this strikes you as idealistic, unrealistic, or improbable, I get it. We do not share the same life experience or the same personalities. And there is something I could learn from you and your experience I’m sure.
Back to reality. Fear takes over and we feel it pounding through our mind, body, and heart. Now what?
Be Honest. I mean, you are already terrified, so might as well speak your truth. This brings a level of vulnerability often seems to amplify our fear. Honesty invites other people into your process, which is both great and terrible, because they might say something that just isn’t helpful at all, or they might just sit with you in your Fear for a moment so that you do not feel alone. And while we are at it, we may as well be honest with God. Following the epic stylings of Job, the Psalmists, and Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, we can tell Him how we really feel about this fear-filled situation. I’m good at this one. I like crying/shouting/throwing things at God, but I am not very good at letting people into my moments of deepest fears.
Let God be big. Our natural impulse is often to grapple for control of the situation to prevent greater damage, and yet… If we are small and take a step back from the situation we let God be big. For God to be big, we must relinquish control. This is a hard one for me, because I am a doer. I like to think that I am big, rather than letting Him be big.
Do not avoid the bad/dark/scariest stuff. What is at the bottom of your deepest fear? You will never know unless you fully enter into it. Intentionally examining your fear is different than being consumed by it. Henri Nouwen calls this “working around your abyss.” You don’t avoid it. You acknowledge that it is there. You ask questions about it and try to understand why you are having such a strong reaction.
Notice things in the moment. Be 100% there. I’m not really sure why this one works. I can only tell you that it has worked for me. I’ve been fully paralyzed by Fear a few times in my life both emotionally and physically, and this has been the thing that actually helped me to move. When I was 12 I stood next to my Dad’s hospital bed while he was in a coma and felt stunned. Although I was drawn to reach over and touch him or to say something, I just couldn’t. I had retreated to somewhere else in my mind and heart so that I wouldn’t feel so afraid. I remember being so grateful that he lived through that illness, because I always would have regretted not being there with him in those precious moments. Another moment of fear hit me years later when I was climbing outdoors at a place called The Quarry. I was 10 feet from the top, 1 clip away from finishing a 75-foot pitch, when the wind kicked up. I was frozen. My mind told my body that it could not make that last unprotected swinging move to clip in. My climbing buddies’ voices came from far away, as if from underwater. A few minutes later, after some deep breaths, and after shouting down at them that I didn’t think I could do it, some strange awareness came over me. I felt my hand, the cold granite underneath and the chalk beneath my fingernails, the wind tugging at my rope, and the cold sweat in my armpits. I determined that if I was going to fall than I would at least fall trying, and then I leaned into the moment. I was 100% there. The fear didn’t go away, but I was able to be myself nonetheless.
When my Fear is real, when it is pounding and taking over, these are the first things that I try. I try to be honest, to let God be big, to intentionally look at my fear, and to be 100% there.
These are my theories, what are yours?