Home > Uncategorized > Fear, Fear, Everywhere There’s Fear

Fear, Fear, Everywhere There’s Fear

Fear, fear, everywhere there’s fear.  People are fearful of the new and the old, things changing and things staying the same, falling in love or out of love, being around family and being apart from family, near friends and far from friends, getting sick and getting sicker as well as dying and public speaking (somehow statistics show people fear public speaking more than death).  With recent current events, we can even add “large public gatherings” to the list of fears.  Fear can get us twisted up, knocked down, stuck where we are, and sometimes running in the other direction.

We recognize the physical manifestations of fear- the sweaty palms, a swarm of butterflies invading the stomach, clouded thoughts, and a large dose of untimely and unwanted perspiration.  On occasion, there might even be some tears.

Fear.

It’s always hanging around, ready to pounce at the first opportunity.  But what is this thing called fear?  There are a number of definitions, but simply put, fear is “the thought, assumption, projection, or even expectation that the situation before you- be it a conversation to have or an action to take or something you are facing- will end badly.  Horribly so.”

Fear poses the question, tauntingly so, do you want to go through it?  Do you want to have this conversation or take that action or face that thing?  Can you handle living with the horrible, painful, life-altering consequences of what you are about to do or say or face?  Do you really, really, want to go through with it?

Or would you rather not?

In high school, I got a job as a mailroom clerk in a bank which employed two hundred people, of which two were near my age.  One of those two people happened to be a cute girl who worked in Human Resources.  I wanted to ask her out on a date, but fear told me she might say “No.”  Not only could she say “No,” but she might tell her co-workers I’d had the audacity to ask out her on a date.  Having passed by groups of people in the breakrooms and cafeteria, having overheard their conversations, I knew how quickly gossip spread.  In no time at all, even in the days before email, people on one floor knew the intimate details of the lives of people on a another floor.  So if this girl declined my request and then if she told her co-workers, everyone in the bank would know within a day or two.  As an employee who delivered mail to every single office four times a day, there would be no place to hide.  Fear helped me imagine them pointing at me as I walked by, “Oh fool, how could you have not known?  You were not in her league.  Not even close.”  This thought placed in my mind by fear seemed overwhelming at the time.

Looking back, in light of all the things to be afraid of, it seems quite silly to be fearful of the negative repercussions of asking out a girl.  If she said “No,” then she said “No.”  And so what if she told her friends?  In hindsight, it wasn’t a big deal, but at the time, it was a potentially life-changing situation.  After all, she might be the one!  (Spoiler alert:  She wasn’t the one.  Not.  Even.  Close.)  Yet in every situation since then, whether it be sitting down with a boss or a co-worker or an employee or making a difficult decision or waiting for a phone call from a doctor, they have been filled with that same dread and fear.  This could go badly.  Very badly.

Well, they might.

And then again, they might not.

These situations beg the question, why do we become afraid?  Not every word and action and experience goes horribly wrong, so then why the fear?  What makes us afraid?

Part of the rise of fear is not knowing the outcome.  And since we don’t know what will happen, we anticipate a negative ending.  Not knowing whether or not the girl in Human Resources would say “Yes” or “No” I tried to gauge her interest level through two of her friends, inquiring as to whether she had a boyfriend or had expressed an interest in anyone in particular.  I wanted to know the answer before I asked the question.

Sometimes, it’s not the unknown that brings about fear, but some prior negative experience.  We either got rejected in the past or we knew somebody who’d been rejected and we’d prefer to avoid a similar painful experience.  Pain is not pleasant.  Potential pain, we tell ourselves, is to be avoided.

There are other factors working to inject fear in us.  Perhaps fear tries to help us by calculating the costs?  If I go through with this, what will it cost me emotionally?  Relationally?  Financially?  Professionally?  Other times, fear tries to help us by imagining how other people will react.  And since we’re on a negative bent, the reactions we imagine are not positive.

But maybe none of those factors have convinced us to avoid the situation.  Fear then plays its final card.  “If you continue on,” fear whispers, “if you say or do whatever you are considering, when you arrive on the other side, when the negative outcome happens as I’ve told you, not only will you be dealing with the negative consequences, but you will be doing so alone.  All alone.  No one will be coming to your aid.  No one.”

Fear never gives up trying to work its magic on us.

Yet each of these thoughts and feelings are perfectly natural.  It’s normal to wonder about the outcome, to calculate the cost, or to even look at the past as some barometer of what might happen in the future.  Everyone, to some degree or another, experiences these waves of fear, when the cough hangs around a little longer than normal or when that pain is new and different or when it’s time to have that conversation or while waiting for that phone call.

But there’s a difference between feelings of fear and being afraid.  Feelings of fear are natural.  Being afraid is a choice.  In the same way we’ll never fully escape the tempation to do wrong or act selfishly, we’ll never completely escape the feelings of fear.  We can choose to not do wrong or be selfish and we can choose to push through the feelings of fear.  We may do so haltingly and without eloquence, we might be scared while doing so, but continuing on is a choice.  Being afraid is choice to give in to the feelings of fear.

Fear works on the illusion of control.  It tells us we should stop or turn back until we have control of the situation and the outcome.  The truth of the matter is we don’t have control.  I don’t have a say in how long I live or how the other person responds to my conversation or whether someone likes me or not or whether people read my words or buy my books or even the type of man my son becomes.  The outcome is not in my control nor will it ever be.

I do have control over one thing- the person I am.  By being the person I am, I may have some influence over the outcome of events.  And then again, I might not.  Some things, lots of things, are beyond us.  But in being the person I am, I do have control over one thing:  whether or not I will let the feelings of fear cower me into being afraid.

Feelings of fear are natural and fear is never going to give up trying to win.  But being afraid, giving into those feelings of fear, that is a choice we make.

This week I came across this quote from Frederick Buencher (my favorite writer), “Here is the world.  Beautiful and terrible things will happen.  Don’t be afraid.”

***

As for the girl in HR, with butterflies invading my stomach and palms sweating, I asked her out and she said, “Yes.”  She dumped me after a couple of dates.  I’m glad she did.  Otherwise, I wouldn’t have gotten to the girl who was THE ONE.

***

This post was adapted from a sermon I recently gave at Lakeview Community Church.  The iTunes link is here.  Forgive the audio issues at the beginning and enjoy the other embarrasing stories I tell about my own bouts with fear.

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Categories: Uncategorized
  1. Mary Robb
    April 27, 2013 at 8:23 am

    FEAR

    False
    Evidence
    Appearing
    Real

  2. Yvonne
    July 31, 2013 at 11:45 am

    Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts/sermon. I miss hearing you share your sermons at CRofA, and thought this post was particularly eloquent.

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