In Mark 4:40, Jesus is with his disciples out in the boat. The waves were rough, and they were complaining that they might get thrown out of the boat. To this Jesus asks, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”
Along our life journey we have met fearful people. We could be one of them. Some of us are afraid of change, others are afraid that things are going to remain the same. Some people are afraid of moving ahead, some fear staying where they are. There are those who are afraid of what has happened, some are afraid of what is happening now, while others are afraid of what might happen.
If we are making a choice in our life to live in fear – there’s lots to choose from; there is always something to be afraid of.
Science tells us that not all fear is bad. The ‘Fight or Flight’ reflex is an ancient, imbedded code of behavior. If we face something that is threatening to us, or to our loved ones, at an instinctive level we know what to do. We do it automatically: we either face it and fight it, or we flee. It is not cowardice to run away. There is a deep-seated wisdom that prods us. But I don’t want to talk about this kind of fear. I want to talk about the fear that we live with daily; it’s the type of fear that becomes the basis on which we make daily decisions in our lives.
Everybody feels fear, so we don’t have to berate ourselves if we are afraid; there’s nothing to be ashamed of. We may feel fear at times when no one else does, and when others are afraid, we may be calm. It is an individual reaction. We will feel fear at times, but we don’t have to live in fear – that’s what I want to discuss today.
To live in fear is unnecessary. It is a choice, as is everything; it is unproductive, impedes the flow of God in our life, and blocks the good that God wants us to experience. Yet it takes awareness and practice to not allow fear to affect us. All we need are alternatives.
If we live a life of fear, we allow ourselves little peace. There will always be something to which we give access to our panic button, and fear will be a constant companion. When we walk with fear, every decision is fear-based; every relationship is shrouded in fear.
Sometimes we are afraid, and we don’t even know why. At times our fear has nothing to do with logic or experience or reality – it is fear beyond rhyme or reason.
I’ve told this story before, but it makes a point. As I was growing up, my Mom was anxious about going to the dentist. I must have adopted those fears as my own, and my fears kept me away from the dentist for twenty years. During that time one of my molars became impacted and for years was grinding against the adjacent tooth causing severe pain. After much indecision and dread, I found a dentist and had both teeth removed. It was a painless procedure. My fear of pain caused me years of pain and anxiety.
Now the real point to this story. I later went back to Mom and questioned her about her dental anxiety. I asked, “So, Mom … you’re fearful of the dentist because of the pain, right?” “Yes,” she said. “Do you actually feel pain when you are in the dentist?” “Well, no,” she said. “Then why are you afraid of the dentist?” And she said she didn’t like the smell or the pressure she felt as they probed her teeth.
There are two lessons I have gained from this experience: one, our anxiety can be caused by things we dislike; things that make us feel uncertain or uncomfortable. They can be based upon encounters that we don’t understand, and incidents we find distasteful. These can grow into a fear. Mom’s fear of the dentist is not based upon physical pain; its source is an emotional or mental pain caused by other issues.
We all have this kind of fear. It is not a physical-pain fear, but discomfort of a different sort – mental, emotional, or social. I used to fear meeting new people because I felt awkward and had no conversational skills. These feelings of awkwardness grew into a fear. I didn’t want to be perceived as a social klutz, so it was easier not to put myself into that position to begin with.
It reminds me of the joke: light travels faster than sound; that is why some people appear bright until you hear them talk. That was me. We all have areas of our lives that hold us back because we are afraid. We may not call it fear, but never-the less, we are reluctant or uncomfortable or anxious about stepping into that arena.
This type of fear can be eliminated through education and practice. I have learned how to speak with a new person; how to carry on a conversation. These are learnable skills. We may never become an expert in our current areas of fear, but we can achieve a basic level where we are no longer afraid. Although I can more comfortably speak with new people and not shrink from crowds, it is not my first choice. If given the choice of attending a big party or staying home, I will always choose to stay home.
Many are afraid to speak in front of a group of people, but this is a learnable skill, and the accompanying fear can be relieved with practice. It’s just that most of us will not take the time to learn the skills or gain the education to overcome our fears. We would rather live with our fears than change our schedule to learn something that can make us live better.
Therapy and counseling can provide positive help in alleviating fears, but many of us are afraid to go to a therapist because of what we think other people with think about us.
There is a second point to my dental story: Mom’s fear, although she said was pain, did not originate from physical pain, but from other sources: the pressure, the smells, and the other things that made her uncomfortable. In contrast, my fear of the dentist was based upon something that was totally imaginary. I thought she didn’t like the dentist because of the pain; so, I adopted that fear as my own. It was a preemptive presumptive fear based on ignorance, hearsay, someone’s opinion … something that didn’t exist.
I think this kind of fear is the most destructive kind of fear because it is not based upon reason or anything real at all. We’ve heard that fear is an acronym for False Evidence Appearing Real. On a social level, this is where many of our fears originate – from ignorance; fear based on the imaginary. This is the birthplace of homophobia, racism, xenophobia, and Islamophobia.
When we live in fear, we can no longer make decisions based upon what is good for us; we can no longer determine that. Our minds instead are too focused on avoiding that which makes us afraid.
Where do these fears come from? We must be taught these kinds of fears. Some is passed on by our parents, friends, and culture: Phrases like, “Don’t talk to strangers. Look both ways before you cross the street. You can’t be too careful. Stay close to me.”
I’m not saying we shouldn’t teach our children to make wise decisions. I’m just saying that we are good at teaching fear; we are good at teaching each other that there are predators and killers out there. But we need a balanced education. When do we get the education that 99.9% of the people out there are good, loving, and helpful, doing the best they can? When do we get that education?
Despite all those things to fear ‘out there’, it is the fears we create within ourselves that offer the greatest challenges: the fear of not being good enough; the fear of being alone; the fear of becoming ill; the fear that if we become ill, we will not regain our health again. The fear to be ourselves because we won’t be accepted, approved of, or appreciated, and the list goes on.
Sometimes all we need is a new perspective. Hear the words of author Marianne Williamson:
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
We are all meant to shine – like children. Innocent, open, trusting, and shining. This quality is in every one of us. Regardless of the situation we are created to be serenely neutral and nonjudgmental. Within us is the wisdom to handle every instance as it comes and not judge it as good or bad.
Have you ever noticed that most fears are based upon future events that we are anticipating? Even if it is something that we fear from the past, isn’t it our fear that it may happen again in the future? It hasn’t happened yet, but it could – so we fear.
The common types of fear are: the fear of pain and mutilation, fear of loss, fear of failure, fear of non-gain or unachieved potential, fear of loss of autonomy, fear of extinction, fear of uncertainty, fear of separation and rejection, and the fear of shame, disapproval, or unworthiness. Yet they all share one thing in common: they haven’t happened, and it is all about expectancy. I can’t think of any fear that is not based upon an anticipated future occurrence. Even my fear of heights – I have a fear of heights because I am afraid that I may fall off a high ledge. There is no immediate danger, but an anxiety that exists of what might happen.
It is a cruel truth that there is little that causes humans more anxiety than from not knowing when something is going to happen. The only solution is to stop anticipating some nonexistent future disaster and live today the best we can. When we release fear, we let Spirit flow and we can again feel the peace, joy, love, and power of Christ.
Psychologist and philosopher, Ken Wilber states that as people unfold and develop spiritually, fear starts to leave them. As we differentiate ourselves from our bodies, as we realize that we are not the body, we release the fears that pertain to the body. Yes, we can still feel the pain of injury and disease, but we drop the fear because in truth we cannot be hurt by the injury or disease.
We can release our fear, no matter what face it wears – dread, terror, concern, anxiety, or gloom, by reconnecting with the indwelling Spirit and becoming aware of the presence of God within us. Knowing and accepting that we are a Child of God sharpens our awareness that there is nothing that we can face that is too far beyond us with the help of God. There is nothing that we will be asked to do that is beyond our capabilities with the help of God. There is never a situation so dire or a catastrophe so great that we cannot find resolution with the help of God.
It is that Child of God nature, the innocent, pure, trusting nature of who we truly are that strengthens our connection to Spirit. Our physical minds and egos may invent fears, evils, and obstacles, but it is our Child nature in Christ that leads us back to the Divine where we are welcomed with open arms. Even if everything our earthly mind holds to be true crashes around us, those fears we thought were the truth and the erroneous foundations of our beliefs are washed away by Spirit.
My prayer is that we can recognize more fully our divinity and contact the oneness and unlimited supply of love, peace, joy, and wisdom within us. I pray that we recognize the fears that we create to be what they are – phantoms, specters, creations of our minds that we can be dissolved in the Light and Love of God. I pray that we can acknowledge that we are supported by a power that cannot know fear. At our spiritual core, our Child of God center, there is only truth, openness, innocence, love, joy, courage, strength, wisdom, and peace.
May we take to heart the words of Christ in John 14:27 -- “I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid.”
Let us pray….