Fear is Not the Enemy
One time in a counseling session, somewhere deep in the trenches of an emotionally unruly summer, I was hating on fear. I was going on and on about the need I felt to uproot it from my life and unchain the extra bondage that I thought it wrapped around my ankles. Fear is ugly. Fear is seemingly chastised by God. Fear is the gateway drug to weakness and complacency and always having your parachute strapped on but never jumping out of the plane. Fear is the enemy.
When I finally let up my counselor posed this question—“Do you want a pilot who is afraid or unafraid?” I immediately understood and hated the metaphor. I knew she wanted me to say afraid. She was cradling fear after the blows I had just inflicted on it and attempting to offer me a picture that would convince me to be kinder to it.
But of course I want a pilot who is unafraid. As a particularly anxiety-ridden flyer I want a pilot who is playing cards in the cockpit while flying through the eye of a storm. A pilot who is cracking jokes through the intercom while everyone else is forming prayer circles. A pilot who is so confident the plane could be spinning around in circles under heaps of tornado-induced turbulence, and he doesn’t even break a sweat.
I didn’t understand or care for this metaphor until I had a professor who started talking about fear a couple of weeks out from graduation. He talked about the unavoidable fear that greets new graduates at the doors of adulthood. The waiting worry and anxiety that is inescapable and present in transitions for anyone who has a pulse. He talked about the healthy levels of fear that are necessary for growth. But then he distinguished between the type of fear that helps us and the type of fear that hurts us—labeling one fear and one toxic fear. There is fear that compels us to move forward and fear that debilitates. Fear causes our senses to heighten and wake up while toxic fear shuts us down.
If you are a pilot flying through fog and can’t see more than two feet in front of you—as is the picture for many of us during this time of transitions—and you are working out of a place of toxic fear then you won’t be able to meet the situation in front of you. You will shut down and panic and pray for the best while never proactively moving towards change or the safety of what’s been entrusted to you. If you are a pilot who is experiencing no level of fear, then you will treat the situation as less than it is. You could be drinking champagne in first class while your plane goes unguided and plummets towards doom.
But if you are a pilot who is experiencing a healthy level of fear while your plane loses visibility, you will work harder. You will turn your radio up and listen clearly to the voice that is guiding you through the fog. You will treat the voice as a lifeline with trustworthy intentions and not just the background noise that lingers as you feign your ability to figure it out on your own.
To act like fear doesn’t exist or to give it the silent treatment in my life right now would be incredibly dishonest. I am a new college graduate with no grasp on any sort of plan. Ninety percent of the job interviews I’ve been on have felt more like bad first dates that you fake sickness to get out of rather than exciting new opportunities. I had to split my grocery bill this week between two cards. Of course I’m afraid. But if we are never driven to discomfort by fear we are never compelled to change anything. Fear is a proctor for change. It reminds us that we are alive and breathing and care deeply for the dreams and gifts and places that have been entrusted to us. If you are numb to your fear, then you are probably numb to your passion and desire and your want to not settle, too.
I hope whatever your current circumstances are that you walk into them not shaming the fear that is knocking on your door, because you are a human and humans feel fear. That you instead see the fear as an opportunity to discover something about yourself, something that will lead you closer to the fullness of who you were made to be. That it helps you turn up the radio and listen clearly to the voice that is guiding you through the fog and storms and uncertainties.
I think when Jesus was napping on the boat while his disciples ran amok under their fear of the violent storm that was raging outside, and he woke up and told them to not be afraid, he was reminding them that he is a God who is present and in control. Our comfort in the fear is that God is a God with us. When we know that we are not alone in our fear we are less tempted to cross over into toxic fear territory. Instead of shutting down and letting fear steer the ship we reach out to a God who is a much more trustworthy captain. Fear is not the enemy, giving fear the power to control us is.
[Photo by Ally Willis.]