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.