August 19, 2010

Thoughts (rather long) on Fear

I’ve been thinking a lot about fear lately…. my own fears, and those of ones I love. Why is fear so paralyzing? so deadly, sucking the life out of hopes and dreams, and making the everyday stuff of life seem rather pointless?

Fear brings sorrow. It enslaves, It takes but does not give. It is, in fact, a thief. It destroys relationships or at least destroys their joy. It is controlling, and it is greedy for more control.

I think fear is rooted in a self-centered focus…. a perspective that can not or will not see beyond self: what I think; what I can control; what I understand; what I want; what I think I have to have to survive. It is grasping, clinging, manipulating.

Fear is, at its core, a perspective on life that excludes what God says. It excludes what He says about who I am, the value His love has given me, and His promises for the future.

Faith, on the other hand, is God-focused…. it is a perspective that believes what it can not see, trusting the One who created, sustains, redeems, transforms, and promises eternal life. What He thinks, all that He controls, understands and wants becomes paramount. He becomes what I have to have to survive.

Fear spawns anxiety and crippling worry. It creates an environment of self-protection rather than disclosure. And it can turn into hatred…. hatred of self, hatred of others… Faith, on the other hand, always fosters love. It fosters hope, courage, confidence, a willingness to be open and vulnerable. Fear says, “protect yourself; no one else has your back.” Faith says, “It’s safe here; you are loved.”

We live in fear of pain, sorrow, ultimately – death. We live in fear of rejection, blatant and subtle. Fears come in all shapes and sizes. Some are overwhelmingly big. Others are manageably small. And yet, even the “little” fears bring with them a thousand little deaths. Fears often revolve around the question: “What if…..” You fill in the blank.

“What if there is a BoogieMan under my bed?”
“What if my best friend moves away?”
“What if my parents divorce?”
“What if I’m not dressed appropriately for this occasion?”
“What if they don’t like me? What if they really don’t like me?”
“What if I fail this test, therefore this class, and therefore don’t graduate?”
“What if I graduate and don’t have a clue what I want to do?”
“What if I can not find a job?”
“What if I lose my job?”
“What if the right man doesn’t come along…. and soon?”
“What if the right man somehow becomes the wrong man after we’re married?”
“What if we can’t have children? What if we have so many I can’t cope?”
“What if it’s cancer?”
“What if I gain lots of weight in middle age and lose his admiration?”
“What if we out-live our income?”
“What if our children are a disappointment?”
“What if my life doesn’t really matter?”
“What if…. What if….. What if…. ???

Some people go through life coping with their “what if’s?” reasonably well, without a confidence in Someone outside themselves. But apart from a secure relationship with our Maker, the greatest “What if….” becomes stark reality in death: “What if there is heaven and hell? And what if I miss heaven?” Hebrews 2:15 acknowledges this ultimate fear: “…. who through fear of death, were all their lifetime subject to bondage.” Only the Giver of life itself, can take away fear of death, replacing it with the hope of eternal life in His presence.

Those who live this life separated from eternal confidence, must replace it with temporal and fleeting confidences, hopes and false faith. They live a life pretending all will be well; that they are the master of their own fate. Their apparent lack of fear is an illusion. They should be afraid, but aren’t.

Those of us who have reason to hope and live in great confidence, are often the ones who are afraid, when our fears are not actually based in Reality. We truly have nothing to fear. The One who promises an eternity in His Presence, because He has forgiven us, also promises His Presence for all of this life.

“Have I not commanded you: be strong and of a good courage. Be not afraid; neither be dismayed, for the Lord thy God is with you wherever you go.” (the Lord’s words to Joshua in chapter 1:8)

“…and lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.” (Matt. 28:20)

Jesus spoke with similar strength to his disciples, as He walked toward them on the water: “It is I – be not afraid.” (Matthew 14:27)

It is the very Presence of God that dispels our fears.

David found deliverance from His fears by deliberately seeking the Lord: “I sought the Lord, and He heard me, and delivered me from all my fears.” (Psalm 34:8) He took the time to spend time with the Lord, whose Presence dispelled his fears.

John captured the essence of freedom from fear: “Perfect love casts out fear.” (I John 4:18) It is the power of God’s Presence and His perfect love for us that casts out fear.

According to 2 Timothy 1:7, "God has not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind." Sometimes my mind doesn't feel so sound; I feel weak, not powerful; I'd rather not love others; and my fears feel overwhelming. These thoughts and emotions and not God-given; but they can be transformed by His Holy Spirit, if I willingly choose to submit myself to Truth.

I am encouraged by these words, and motivated to seek Him, spending time in His Presence. My fears fade when exposed to the power of His words, His promises, His perfect love, His very life.

So, back to my “What if…?” list.... In the final analysis, the answer to each of those questions is a rather loud, “So what?! God is with me. That is what matters most.” His Presence dispels unfounded as well as very real fears. And in the midst of the emotion of fear, it is still His Presence, what He says, what He does, that matters most. The fact that I am and will always be in His Presence gives me a confidence that no one and no circumstance can steal.