The question that is famously associated with therapists is, “How does that make you feel?” There is a time and a place for that question (or a variant of it), but answering it is certainly not all there is to therapy. There are many questions to be asked and processed. One question that seems to probe the heart of the matter quite often is, “What are you afraid of?” or “What are you afraid will happen then?”
So many people are driven by fear. I don’t mean the healthy kind of fear that causes one to avoid genuine danger, but a nagging sense of emptiness or discontentment (I am not necessarily discussing anxiety disorders here). It is a fear described by Tillich as a fear of “non-being,” although few people draw that conclusion as they move through their fearful lives. People generally attempt to ease the fear by means of acquiring material goods, pleasures, or by investing in relationships. Since people, pleasures and things are imperfect and finite, they will eventually disappoint, deteriorate or disappear. Therefore, the fear remains below the surface. It is Thoreau’s life of “quiet desperation.”
I have seen many couples, for example, that found in each other what they initially perceived to be the antidote to their fear of non-being. Yet, they failed to resolve that fear in each other. They discovered that it is not possible for one person to be “everything” despite what the lyrics of romantic songs may suggest. They have somehow failed to “complete” each other and now they sit before me, their therapist, wondering what is wrong with their relationship. Generally, each partner wants me to change the other partner into someone that will ease their underlying fears and make them feel whole.
One of the most repeated phrases in Scripture is, “Fear not,” or, “Do not be afraid.” Having created us, God understands us to the core. God also knows that our fear of non-being cannot be entirely eased by people, pleasures or things. Only God can fill that void. We are designed that way. Hence, people of all places and times have turned to some form of religious expression. As St. Augustine said, “We are restless until we rest in You, oh Lord.” The admonition to “fear not” is a constant reminder to be adequately unattached to people, places and things, and to place our ultimate “OK-ness” in God alone. Having placed our trust in God, we become free to fearlessly enjoy God’s gifts without desperately clinging to them as our source of being. Relationships, pleasures, places and things take on new meaning.
The beauty of Christianity is not that it is one religion of many that seeks after God to resolve the fear of non-being. The beauty is that through Christianity, God seeks after us. God, knowing our fear, has revealed Himself to us as the antidote for fear. We do not need to scratch and claw our way to the peace of God. God has come down to us, embraced us, and told us to rest in Him. Jesus shows us that we can live lives of faith, not fear. There is more to our existence than this short life. Through Christ we can live abundant lives instead of quietly desperate lives.