12 August 2012

Fear (from our Obstacles page)

I can talk about fear quite easily because it's been such a big part of my life -- actually a driving force behind many of my actions (and inaction) for all of the years the I've been on this planet.  Fear has been with me since early childhood and the fear of getting in trouble or the fear of a spanking, through my adolescent years with the fear of doing something wrong and the fear of rejection, and through my adult years, and the fear of being alone and the fear of things falling apart out of my control, though I'm happy to say that the fear has diminished a great deal over the last few years.

I've come to learn that fear's kind of silly in most situations.  It does little except make me nervous and aggravated, but it doesn't change the situation at all.  Now, if fear actually helped I'd be all for it, but it usually doesn't do much good at all.  It's the result of unrealistic expectations, and there are those who believe that we aren't actually afraid of situations or people themselves, but of what we consider those situations or people to be.  In other words, we create our own fears through the way that we look at the world and the way that we see things.  If we see something as a threat, we feel fear; if we see that same thing as a challenge, the fear becomes thoughts of how to overcome that challenge.

We see this principle in action in athletics all the time.  How often have we seen someone conquer his or her fear and perform wonderfully in sports?  We give our children pep talks and tell them that even though they may be afraid to get out there and play, they'll never know how well they could do if they don't at least try.  And if they trust us, they'll take us at our word and go and try, usually finding out that it isn't nearly as bad as they thought it was.

We have an awesome power as parents and adult role models to help kids get over their fears if we want to help them in that way, and in that power is a great responsibility.

We adults also have plenty of people in our lives who try to help us by encouraging us to face our fears, but since we're their peers, we usually don't allow them to have the same power of authority over us.  My co-worker or wife can encourage me all they want, but I'm an adult now, and they don't know any better than I what's good for me.  So except in certain situations, I'll listen to their input, but I'll act on what I know to be true.   In this way, fear keeps its hold on us.

Fear also can be self-sustaining.  If I'm afraid to make friends, my fear will cause me to do very poorly when I finally do try to do so.  Because I do poorly, the situation is extremely awkward and difficult, and chances are very good that I'll fail in my attempt.  Because of the failure, my fear grows, and my chances of success the next time are even slimmer.

In many ways, fear is a form of a lack of faith, and those who feel a great deal of fear aren't trusting life or their God to be with them.  Of course, I'm not talking about the kind of fear that we feel when a car comes careening around a corner right at us at sixty miles an hour--that's an instinctive, reflexive fear over which we have no control at all.  But the fear that keeps us from helping other people, from improving ourselves and starting school again, from giving of ourselves for fear of rejection, from sharing our feelings for fear of ridicule--these fears show that we're not willing to trust that even if there is rejection or ridicule or failure, God will be there with us and for us, giving us the support that we need to deal with those fears.

Many of our fears--the fear that a relationship will end, the fear that we'll lose our jobs, the fear that the world will end tomorrow--are fears that have been with us since our very young years, caused by some sort of lacking in our childhood.  It could have been the lack of a trustworthy adult role model, or the lack of intimacy, or the lack of a stable place to live, but whatever the cause, it has stayed with us and makes our lives difficult today.  Adult children of alcoholics or of gamblers, for example, have very strong issues with fear, and it's a lot of work--spiritually, emotionally, and mentally--to overcome the fears that have been built over years.

The most important thing that we can do about our fears is to acknowledge them, and then take steps to understand them and their sources.  Once we take this step, we can work to overcome them.  Fears are our way of keeping ourselves "safe," but the safety brought about by fears is the false safety that we could get by locking ourselves alone in a small room for the rest of our lives.  We wouldn't ever catch the flu again or get hit by a car or face rejection, but we also never would grow into the people we were meant to be.

All of us must face rejection, failure, pain, humiliation, the anger of others, and many other unpleasant aspects of life.  Dealing with these adversities, though, is what helps us to develop our characters and define who we are.  If we listen to and obey our fears, we'll never find out just how strong and admirable our character may grow to be.

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