If you want to spend your life tied up in worrisome knots, just watch the news. It is chock-full of fear fodder. It’s a scary world filled with scary things. And yet we are also bombarded by messages that encourage us to override fear. Just do it, right?
I can see how fear has the potential to paralyze. It can keep us curled up in the corner, whether literally or figuratively. But I also see how fear keeps us from doing stupid things and taking ridiculous risks. Fear is sometimes the most appropriate response to our situation.
- If there is a coyote stalking you while you walk in the neighborhood you should let fear motivate you to move faster.
- If you are afraid to climb up the rickety old ladder, there’s wisdom in that fear.
- If you have a feeling in the pit of your stomach telling you someone is not a safe person, listen to what your body is trying to tell you.
One of my biggest problems with fear was planted in church through a lesson that stemmed from Job’s lament, “What I feared has come upon me; what I dreaded has happened to me.” (Job 3:25) It sounded to my childhood self that the simple act of feeling fear unleashed its inherent power to create dreadful things. I became deathly afraid of ever being afraid.
Maybe you grew up with the thought that emotions can’t be trusted. I get it. Sometimes our feelings are tainted by brokenness. They may not be the most accurate measure of reality, but they are real. And they are meant to serve a purpose.
We tend to categorize emotions as either good or bad. Fear falls squarely in the bad column along with anger and sadness. But emotions aren’t good or bad, they just are.
Here’s what I’ve come to stand on. Experiencing fear is normal, it’s how we respond to fear that really matters.
So I have a new approach when it comes to navigating fear. Try it if you like and see if it helps you.
- Accept fear not as a creative force, but as an emotion created by the Creator – one of many sentiments we have available in responding to the circumstances of our lives. It could be helpful to remember we were created in God’s image and God is an emotional being. Along with delight (Genesis 1:25,31), love (Jeremiah 31:3) and joy (Luke 10:21), he experienced regret (Genesis 6:6), jealousy (Exodus 20:5), anger (Jeremiah 30:24), sorrow (Matthew 26:37-38) and distress (Mark 3:5).
- Admit fear. This is a game changer. When I can admit I feel scared, I have just moved from darkness to light. The fear bomb is disarmed when I bring it out in the open. In the light, I can investigate the cause of my fear. I can understand the “why.” And I can only create a plan of action for things I’m willing to acknowledge. Change happens in the light.
- Address fear with the trust in God. Psalm 56:3 says, “When I am afraid, I will put my trust in you.” The Bible is full of scaredy cats. Over and over, God says, “Do not be afraid.” I used to think God was scolding people. “You silly humans, stop being so scared.” Now I see that nearly every time God says, “Fear not”, it is accompanied by the promise of his presence, “for I am with you.” God is not asking us to pretend we aren’t scared, he is inviting us into deeper trust and awareness of his nearness in the middle of our mess.