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In Luke 12:32 begins with the exhortation: “Fear not, little flock.” Elsewhere, Jesus says: “Fear is useless, what is needed is trust.”
Fear is the feeling of anxiety caused by the presence or pending presence of danger. The danger could be physical (e.g., fear of an abusive spouse, fear for one’s health); spiritual (e.g., fear of losing God, fear of going to hell); mental (e.g., fear of losing one’s mind); emotional (e.g., fear of losing a loved one); or moral (e.g., fear of falling into sin).
We fear all kinds of things. We fear losing our health, our job, a family member or a good friend. We fear living alone and dying alone. We fear rejection, failure, losing money. We may fear intimacy or being abandoned.
Many of our fears go unrecognized because, like other unpleasant emotions, we repress them. Sometimes we (especially men) deny our fears. It is not macho to feel fear.
Reflection Question: Can you name your three strongest fears?
Nothing hinders our spiritual and psychological growth as much as fear. Reluctance or resistance to take on new challenges or changes in our lives due to fear can keep us spiritually and emotionally immature. For instance, I believe that the main reason, among other excuses, why many men and women do not attend CRHP Weekend Retreat is fear—fear of the unknown, fear of leaving their comfort zone, fear of sharing their thoughts and feelings, fear of feeling inadequate. Our fears hold us in bondage and prevent us from experiencing the freedom given to us as children of God. Fear also steals our joy. It is hard to live happily and in peace if a bunch of fears are running havoc in our inner being.
Fear is often connected to and confused with anger. A man loses his job and says: I didn’t feel fear when I lost my job. I was angry! But fear is a natural reaction in such a situation due to the uncertainty of what will happen next.
Psychologist Dr. Michael Cavanaugh writes: Most angry feelings rebound off feelings of fright. Most ‘hostile’ people are frightened people; most ‘arrogant’ people are frightened; most ‘snobbish’ people are frightened. When we can understand this, it opens up a new dimension of relating to ourselves and to others. If when I’m angry, I can ask myself; “Underneath my anger, what part of me is frightened by what just happened?” and “What just occurred that threatened my self-concept?” I will have more data with which to understand myself and to communicate this fear to the source of the threat. We will also relate differently with one another if we view the person as frightened rather than hostile. If we view a person as hostile, we often react with hostility, reinforcing his or her fears and generating more hostility. If people are relating on the anger level when the problem lies on the fear level, a successful resolution of the conflict is unlikely. This is not to say that all anger can be traced to fear, but a good deal of it can.”
How do we befriend our shadow or fears? First, by acknowledging their presence and, second, by being present to them. Counselors often encourage their subject to sit with the fear, to take time to feel the fear. Uncomfortable or unruly feelings and obsessions seek our attention much like a child who misbehaves to call a parent’s attention. When we make an effort to simply be present to our fears or to that part of us that we have a difficulty accepting, we have taken an important step towards befriending the hostile emotions we harbor.
Journaling is said to be the best form of self-therapy— and it costs nothing. This simple exercise of writing down how we truly feel about things is an excellent way to befriend our fears and to come to terms with them. Developing the ability to tame the ugly beast in us that we tend to reject (which includes our body parts) will help us to move forward in our spiritual and psychological journey.
Like many people, I have had to struggle with fear all of my life—fear of new experiences, fear of failure and rejection, fear of conflict and confrontation, fear of getting emotionally close to another, fear of abandonment, fear of God, etc.
The two virtues or dispositions which have helped me to deal with my fears are courage and trust. When I am confronted with fear, I am being called to flex my courage and trust muscles to:
Dealing with our fears on a daily basis offers us the opportunity to grow spiritually and psychologically. Someone said: I have been terrified all my life, but that has not stopped me from doing everything I wanted to do.
Many parishioners need to overcome their fear of joining the CRHP Weekend Retreat, and should make the commitment, however frightening it may be for them. The same goes for those who may have a talent to give a talk but are consumed by stage fright.
Reflection Question: Can you name a fear that is presently hindering your spiritual and psychological growth?
For those of us who suffer from the fear of water, one thing to keep in mind is that water, by nature, will hold us up regardless of our weight or height. The first time we go into a swimming pool, we should get a buddy or a professional swimmer to coach us on how to approach our fear of the water with a view to learning to swim. With faith and a lot of practice, we will conquer our fear and discover the fun of being in the water. What was previously an enemy has become our friend. The same is true as we work with failures, hurts and losses in our lives. We should face them and do whatever it takes to heal those wounds and facilitate our spiritual and psychological growth. Failure to confront our fears can only worsen our already miserable situation. It has been well said that we are the sum total of our decisions. Daily, we make decisions, commitments and compromises that either help or hinder our growth physically, psychologically, socially and spiritually.
Reflection Question: How do you generally deal with your fears? Is it your tendency to ignore and deny fear? Or do you tend to confront your fears and do what you can to deal with them in a constructive way?
Living in the Great Depression and threatened by the Third Reich, Franklin D. Roosevelt, crippled by polio, had much to fear. Instead of being fearful, Roosevelt, in his Inaugural Address, famously said: “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” Someone else reflecting on fear writes:
Fear may be compared to a fungus
which grows in the dark,
but when exposed to the light,
dries up and disintegrates.
When we live fearfully, our pace slows,
and we expect to be injured.
We expect to find demons where there are none.
What we do not understand, we tend to fear.
What we fear we tend to devalue.
What we devalue soon becomes a devil.
“Fears are educated into us, and can, if we wish, be educated out.” - Dr. Karl Menninger
“Fear is a good counselor, and victory over fear is the first spiritual duty of man.” - Nikolai Berdyaev
“Do not fear God, who wishes you no harm, but love him a great deal, who wishes you so much good.” - St. Francis of Sales
"Fear imprisons, faith liberates; fear paralyses, faith empowers; fear disheartens, faith encourages; fear sickens, faith heals; fear makes useless, faith makes serviceable—and, most of all, fear puts hopelessness at the heart of life, while faith rejoices in its God.” - Harry Emerson Fosdick
Reflection Question: Can you name a fear that you have successfully overcome? What helped you to overcome the fear? Has anything not mentioned in this column helped you? If so, share.
Name one fear that you presently struggle with and would like to overcome. See if the steps suggested in this column can help you to deal with your fear. If you think not, consider going to a counselor or else come see me and we’ll try to work at it.
A Wife’s Prayer to Remove Fear
Lord, I lift up my heart to you.
I so often struggle with fear and worry.
It grips my mind and my heart.
It erodes my faith.
Please help me not to fear, Lord!
I want to have a heart that trusts in you completely.
I pray that my faith increases.
I pray that I would not have any fear about
initiating intimacy with my husband,
even if it is just a conversation.
I pray that I would not be overly concerned about what my husband thinks,
to the point where I am hindered.
I also pray that I would not worry about my husband, about our finances, about anything.
I want to do everything in faith
and I am confident that having more faith
will help my marriage thrive.
I ask you to change my heart
and remove any fear or worry.
In Jesus name, Amen.
BOOK: From Fear to Faith—A Worrier’s Guide to Discovering Peace by Gary Zimak. The author tells how God and other self-help resources enabled him to overcome fear and worry in his life