Fear is going around. It’s a lot like the flu, or strep, or bronchitis, because it’s pretty contagious, and all you can do is take precautions and wash your hands. But it’s also not really like any of those things, because it’s a lot more subtle, and a lot more dangerous.
Some fears are circumstantial. Fear of a major upcoming decision, an interview or audition or tournament. Fear of having a particular conversation with a particular person. Fear for someone else or fear simply of flying or falling or the dark.
But I think most of these circumstantial, temporary fears that surface according to impending events and then fade from memory are not so intrinsic to themselves as we’d like to think they are. In reality, they are reflections of larger, more innate fears, fears that are not so temporal or transient–the fear of the future, the unknown, fear of failure, fear of not being the one in control.
I think a lot of us, without realizing it, are living a lifestyle of fear. Biologists would call it an evolutionary advantage: fear of dying is what makes you run when a saber-toothed tiger jumps at you. And some fears are healthy–you should have pepper spray in your hand when walking alone in a dark parking lot (better safe than sorry). But maybe we’ve let this go too far. I think we’ve let it go too far when it’s become so ingrained that we don’t even realize it’s there.
Fear is at the root of a lot of human behaviors beyond the saber-toothed tiger and dark parking lot. Fear is what keeps us from saying hi to strangers, from trying something new, from breaking societal norms. But a lot of times, fear is not so much what keeps us from doing things as it is the root cause of why we do do things. Fear is the reason for our anger at the mere mention of an alternate political ideology. Fear is the cause of our desire to hold on tightly to our possessions and keep our finances in reserve. Fear is the source of our intense drive to succeed. Fear is behind our dishonesty, our pride in reputation, our obsession with planning. Fear of being wrong, fear of loss, fear of failure. Fear of vulnerability, fear of being rejected, fear of not being the one in control.
Most people consider fear to be a negative emotion. The recognition of fear’s negative impact is already present. But the danger is that most people don’t realize quite how present it is in their lives. It’s like the disease that spreads without any symptoms until it’s far too late. And I would argue that fear is not an emotion, it is a habit. It is a habit ingrained into us since birth, by our parents (“Don’t touch that hot stove!”), by our peers (“You’re seriously going to wear that?”), and by society (“Buy this or face the consequences!”). But it is a habit that can be broken.
Maybe not completely, because this world is fallen. And maybe it shouldn’t be. The Bible talks about the “fear of the Lord,” a healthy reverence. And it’s probably smart to not touch that hot stove. But the little ingratiating ones, the ones we pass off as merely innate human desires and emotions, such as anger, pride, and ambition? Those can be broken.
It’s not like breaking a stick or a piece of glass. It’s more like chipping away at a rock. It happens slowly, but every strike weakens it. So how do we chip away at fear? Here’s what John has to say on the matter:
“There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out all fear.”
Not courage or bravery or boldness or just “sticking it out,” but love. Love casts out fear because, as John says, “fear has to do with punishment,” but “he first loved us,” long before we did anything to deserve it. That’s the kind of love that makes everything else not matter, because we don’t have to fear not being alone. We don’t have to fear not being in control, because he is. We don’t have to fear being rejected, because we are chosen. We don’t have to fear our loss of reputation, because we no longer move with the current. Our feet are planted on solid Rock.
When we fully realize who God is, all of our fears are overcome.
“Take heart, for I have overcome the world.” If our God is for us, who can stand against us? His love overcomes our fears, but more than that, it enables us to overcome the fears of others. By loving boldly, we move past our fear, and preempt the fears of those who receive our love.
And this is a choice. As much as fear is a habit, love is an action. And it can be just as addictive.
Just some random words strung together. This is something that’s been on my mind lately, as I’m in this transition period. I’m excited for the new, even as it means a lot of change. I like to think of change as not a loss of old experiences–what I’ve learned from those will live on in me forever–but the gaining of new ones: new knowledge, new hopes, new worlds to uncover. Even so, the reminder that some things do not change is a comforting one for me. I can’t build higher unless my roots stay strong.
This is chapter eighteen.
And as it closes,
the page turns.
Another chapter opens,
but it builds on the pages before it.
The cascading waterfall of words
did not originate here,
nor will it end here.
but picking up new stones along the way–
new fish to swim alongside.
Perhaps the salinity changes,
perhaps the direction.
Neither final nor familiar,
but not inconsequential either.
Change is inherent in growth.
Foundation holds fast, strong,
even as leaves change,
branches stripped or full
to meet the season.
even as I
toward the sky.
The most critical element in the practice of theatrical magic is the art of misdirection: the ability to direct your audience’s attention towards one thing so that they don’t see what is really important. This is why, if you’ve ever had the chance to listen to a magician explain his tricks, you often feel utterly embarrassed at not having caught it in the act–because more often than not, there were no fancy tricks or false compartments; your attention was simply directed elsewhere.
In a culture in which attention has become our most valuable resource, it’s easy to get misdirected. Our money, energy, and time go towards whatever can catch us the quickest and hold us the longest. This applies not just to advertising, the news, and social media, but to our schooling, careers, and relationships. We’re driven by where we choose to invest our attention, and everyone and everything wants a share in the stock.
There are magicians all around us, holding up the ball and saying, “Look at this ball!” as he secretly slips another into his pocket while your eyes are focused elsewhere. In a world where distraction is rarely farther than our fingertips, it’s easy to lose sight of what’s important: the ball that goes into the pocket.
I recently finished reading Anonymous by Alicia Britt Chole, in which she writes about the importance of hidden years and anonymous seasons. While we see Jesus at his birth, and once when he’s twelve, we don’t encounter him again in Scripture until sometime in his early to mid-thirties. What happened during those unrecorded, unapplauded years? Chole doesn’t speculate beyond the obvious: God was preparing him for what was to come. Otherwise, why not begin his ministry at eighteen or twenty? No, that time was spent invested.
And for us, the hidden things are not inherently unvaluable; in fact, they are invaluable. Unapplauded does not mean unproductive; unrecorded does not mean insignificant. Chole actually gives us a mathematical formula to describe the phenomenon. She calls it the iceberg equation:
10% visible + 90% invisible = an indestructible life
You want your life to be indestructible? You want your impact to be indelible, your legacy to be untarnishable, your imprint to be uneraseable? Then buckle up for several seasons of anonymity–of humility, invisibility, and insignificance.
The world is misdirecting our attention toward the unimportant: the applause that fades in seconds, the profitable career that eats your most valuable years, the status obtained by striving to fit a mold. Culture values busyness, profit, and results, where God gives quietness, contentment, and growth.
Chole writes about the maple tree, whose leaves are stripped for winter: not to steal her beauty, but to prepare her for the coming season, in which care for those leaves would steal nutrients from where they are needed to sustain her. Instead, those resources can be redirected toward strengthening her foundation and spreading her branches to bear the snow without breaking.
Andy Stanley wrote, “It is our direction, not our intention, that determines our destination.” I’m currently at a turning point, a transitional season: the closing of one chapter and the opening of a new one. Amidst all the chaos involved in that, I’ve been challenged to check my direction. Am I moving forward, or just moving?
I’m realizing that it’s not just the few big decisions, but the thousand little daily ones that make up who I really am. I am right now becoming who I will be; my prayer is that that is someone worth the effort.