“Courage is not the absence of fear, but the conviction that something on the other side of the fear is more important.”
As I sat pondering what to write about when it comes to fear, it dawned on me that I was living in some fear in that very moment. Not a fear of what I would write, or how it would be received. It was a fear of what was possibly coming. This fear was based on absolutely nothing concrete or substantial. I was not waiting on any test results, my wife and kids were not mad at me, my boss was not upset with me—so why the fear?
I had shared with a friend earlier that I had a great birthday weekend. I rode my horse, mountain bike, and tractor all in one day. For a country bumpkin at heart that dresses the part here at church, that is a great day for me. I also shared that I had a sense of the other shoe dropping soon. “Things are going to have to go south here soon, so I had best be ready for when they do…”
This fear of impending “doom” was, as is typically the case, robbing me of experiencing joy in the moment. That joyful weekend was a gift from the Lord, and for some reason unbeknownst to me, I did not allow myself to experience it. When I take a step back and look at some of the things I fear, they are irrational. In this instance, I was self-sabotaging a moment of peace.
Early in our marriage, my wife used to say to me, “It seems as if you knowingly self-sabotage. Why are you not comfortable with things going well?” I would like to say that after years of processing I have been able to draw some wisdom or find an answer for that, but based on the opening words of my reflection, I still struggle with fighting fear—fear of the unknown, fear of rejection, fear of getting more than I think I deserve.
That is likely the answer right there. I am riddled with such shame—which manifests as insecurity—that I somehow do not believe in my heart that I deserve for things to go well. This makes me ask myself, who made me God over my life to decide what I deserve and what I do not?
Fear can be defined as a natural emotional response to a perceived threat to one’s security or general welfare. It can range in severity from one feeling anxious or worried to utter terror. Healthy fear has kept me alive more than one time while skiing, climbing, or driving on a Dallas highway. Knowing my limits and respecting the fear in my gut when I try to push those limits is a good thing. The body is an amazing creation that can respond in a moment’s notice to external input that is unsafe. The Lord has given each of us a barometer to gauge our environment and respond accordingly. It is called the fight or flight system.
However, this innate mechanism to assess and avoid unsafe situations can also be a hindrance to enjoying life, specifically when it comes to interfering with our ability to love and experience peace and joy. Fear tends to move us out of community and into isolation.
Some examples of unhealthy fear would be: fear of talking to other people, fear of being vulnerable, fear of being rejected, and fear of living life without being numbed to the reality around me. Sometimes the fear of man is very functional, at least for a while. We are so afraid of disappointing people that we force ourselves to be excellent at everything we do. We do this at the expense of our basic self-care.
I think of it this way: it is a fear of being myself, because shame tells me that I am not good enough. To mask that inner fear, I will be whoever it is that I think you want me to be while neglecting my true self in the process. All of these unhealthy fears put other people, places, and things in the position that only God can occupy.
Biblically speaking, fear is not so much a pure emotion as it is wise behavior. That said, emotional fear is all over Scripture. The biblical command not to fear is a command not to panic or be immobilized to the point where one cannot be obedient to God. Fear also has the ability to keep us looking in the rearview mirror. We are so consumed with what has been that we miss what God will do. As Tony Evans says, “Satan wants to keep us looking back so he can keep us from moving forward.”
We have the choice to be a victim of our fear or a victor over it. To be a victor over fear, we must have the conviction in our heart that God is able to protect and accomplish His will in any circumstances, and that His promises can be trusted.
With that said, let’s all work on recognizing our fears. Discerning when they are healthy or unhealthy and looking to move beyond the insanity of fear in doing or avoiding the same thing over and over in hopes of seeing different results. To effectively do this, we must trust a Holy God over our fleshly selves.
Written by Daniel Lebsack, associate pastor of recovery ministries