Tag Archives: Fear

Fear

It is good when fear motivates us to jump away from a coiling snake or to wear our seat belts.  These are examples of God-given reflexes and reason.  It is not good when fear motivates us to sin.  Much sin is rooted in fear.  It stems from a lack of trust in God.  Our fears are exploited by the powers of darkness and used to tempt us away from love and toward sin.  I am reminded of the line from the classic movie Poltergeist, “It knows what scares you.”

Virtually any sin we can think of can be traced back to some fear.  Virtually any fear can result in some type of sin.

We Americans like to talk about rights and justice.  Seldom do we get to the heart of the matter.  When we violate God’s moral or natural laws we are usually motivated by fears which fuel our lack of trust in God.  We also like to use the word “love,” but we fail to understand the word.  We think love is simply another pleasant emotion instead of a courageous, selfless act of the will.

We are taught that courage is a virtue and that fear is a weakness.  So, instead of admitting that we have sinned because we are afraid, we mask our sins under the cover of “rights” and “justice.”  This makes us seem courageous, but often it is just like Adam and Eve hiding from God and wearing “fig leaves” to cover their shame.  So, the first step is to recognize sin for what it is and choose God’s love instead (even when it’s really, really hard).  Otherwise we remain stuck in the circular rationalization of our sins.

Next, we must ask ourselves what we are afraid of.  When we acknowledge our fears we are better able to see how they pave the way for sin.  Is our sin rooted in a fear of what we might miss out on (some pleasure, perhaps)?  Is it rooted in a fear of increased responsibility?  Is it a financial fear?  Is it a health related fear?  Whatever the fear, there is likely a lack of trust in God that accompanies it.  So, we choose our way instead of God’s way, and we sin.  We violate God’s moral or natural law.  We choose fear over love.

“God has not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” (2Tim 1:7)  “There is no fear in love; but perfect love castes out fear; because fear has torment.  He that fears has not been made perfect in love.” (1John 4:18)

What are your fears?  You may have to dig deep to find some of them.  Can you choose God’s ways in the face of them?  Will you let perfect love cast them out?  Or will you remain crouched behind your right to do things your way?

A Therapist’s Question

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.

The Little Rear View Mirror

I heard an analogy today that left an impression on me.  It launched a train of thought with many tracks.  “Your car has a big windshield, but a small rear view mirror.  That’s because you’re supposed to spend most of your time looking forward, and just a little time looking back.”  Maybe I’ve heard that before, but this time it stuck.  There are lots of ways to apply that analogy, but I’ll just focus on a few that came to mind.

Some people have lives that are wrecked because they spend too much time living in the past.  Maybe they enjoyed their past so much that they feel cheated or apathetic about the present or the future.  Perhaps they were deeply hurt in the past and their inability to forgive prevents them from enjoying life now.  Then there are people who live in the past because it is their familiar comfort zone.  They are afraid to grow.  Looking out the windshield is too scary, too intimidating.

Some Christians read the Bible and study Church teachings without really allowing what has been revealed in the past to impact their present and their future in a meaningful way.  It’s a bit like devouring books on carpentry without ever intending to build anything.  They like the reading and the studying, but the real-life application escapes them.  They are looking in the rear view mirror at revelation and doctrine, but failing to see how it applies to the road they are on.  They know all about Jesus, but they are not following him.  They are not seeing life and people through the eyes of Christ.

Some people use the rear view mirror primarily as a vanity mirror.  They are more focused on self than on the road or others around them.  When they finally do look out the windshield, it is out of concern for their own safety rather than everyone’s safety.  They care more about self than others, even others in the car with them.

When the rear view mirror becomes larger than the windshield, watch out.  Certainly there are times to embrace the memories of the past and reminisce with joy and gratitude.  There are times to examine the past for the purpose of healing and growth.  There is nothing wrong with enjoying the past or learning from the past.  That’s why we write things down and take photos and videos.  In order to really live abundantly, however, we can’t live in the past.  Nor can we live in the future.  We must have our eyes forward and our hands on the wheels of our vehicles.  Christ is in the pace car.  Follow him.  Where he will lead you is better than anything you’ll see in your rear view mirror.

“F” Words

There is no better way to learn something than to live it.  That’s what we call experience.  Vicarious learning is good, but can have certain limitations.  “I have experience” actually means, “I have had some troubles.”

For example, if I hire someone with experience, I hire a person that has personal exposure to failure.  That person has messed things up in the past and has learned not to repeat those mistakes.  Much of that person’s knowledge is probably learned vicariously (i.e. other people’s mistakes), but it is the personal failures that have provided the experiential learning.  This is why people like to see an airline pilot with “a little gray around the temples.”  It is assumed that such a pilot will have already used up any rookie mistakes and is experienced as possible.  It is also why veteran combat soldiers look upon new recruits with apprehension.  “Don’t do anything to get us killed.”

The first “F” word is failure.  Failure is how we learn.  None of us exit the womb, stand up, and begin walking.  We all have to learn to flail our limbs about, then roll over, then scoot, then crawl or roll around before we can even begin to stand.  Once we stand, we can then experience the falling down required for learning to walk.  And fall we do, time and time again.  It is very endearing to watch a child fall down over and over, because we instinctively know why they are doing it.  We smile and laugh at each failure and then celebrate the success of the first steps.

At some stage, we stop appreciating failure and behave as if it is something to be avoided at all cost.  Some folks develop an overarching fear of failure.  Fear is the second “F” word.  Certainly, as we get older and more responsible, some failures carry more weight.  Some failures do need to be avoided at all cost.  Airline pilots and soldiers know this.  Nevertheless, we cannot continue to learn and grow without failure.  Actually, it is failure that helps us realize our full potential.

God gave Moses the Ten Commandments.  In our hearts and in our actions, we don’t keep the Ten Commandments very well.  We fail.  The law was given as a schoolmaster to bring us to Christ (Galatians 3:24).  Actually, we don’t break the law so much as it breaks us.  If we are honest, our lack of perfection compels us to seek out true perfection.  Enter Jesus Christ, our Redeemer.  “O happy fault that merited such and so great a Redeemer” (The Felix Culpa).

So, let not your heart be troubled.  Fear not.  Your failures taught you how to walk and then to run.  Let them lead you to everlasting life and peace as well.  Let them heal your relationships.  Let them show you your full potential in Jesus Christ.  We are all called to be saints.  There are no saints in Heaven without a past.  There are no sinners on earth without a future.  The Church is a spiritual hospital for sinners.  That’s what God’s Word is for.  That’s what the Sacrament of Reconciliation is for.  That’s what the Bread of Life is for.  We all fail.  We all can be redeemed.

Part 5: The Fears

A recurring theme in Scripture is, “Be not afraid” or “Fear not.”  Yet, fear is often a powerful driving force in our lives.  Fear can often be traced to one or more of the desires the Litany of Humility asks deliverance from.  If any given desire does not have dominion over us, the fear of not meeting that desire will fade as well.

For example, consider my own experience mentioned earlier of being picked last to be on a team.  When my desire of being preferred was not satisfied, I felt humiliated.  The fear of humiliation and the desire of being preferred dovetail together.  If I am delivered of the desire, I am delivered of the fear and vice versa.  If I have no fear of being humiliated, I won’t have the desire of being one of the early picks for the team.  If I’m unconcerned about when I am chosen, I’ll have no fear of any humiliation by being picked last.

The fears mentioned in the litany, like the desires, place a focus on self interest.  Self preservation is human nature.  What the prayer seeks is a spirituality that transcends the natural human tendencies.  We are not simply animals motivated by natural drives and instincts.  We are both material and spiritual, a trait not shared by the animals (material beings) or the angels (spiritual beings).  We are created to bridge the gap between the natural and the spiritual (and will continue as such in the resurrection).  We are unique.  Therefore, it is not asking too much of us to seek a spiritual holiness that transcends mere natural drive and instinct.  In other words, we are designed to confront our natural fears with spiritual solutions.  This also means we can seek and find the ability to regard others over and above self rather than life being “all about me.”

Rather than address each fear in the prayer one-by-one, suffice it to say that fear is an obstacle to humility.  Fear prevents us from truly knowing God and placing complete trust in Christ.  Some fear is good and healthy, like the kind of fear that prevents one from stepping in front of a moving bus.  However, much of our fear gets in the way of knowing God and knowing each other as God would have us.  Our fear prevents true humility and godly love.

So, what fears are keeping me from true humility?  Deliver me from the fears, Jesus.  You who intimately knows both our material and our spiritual being, deliver us.