Five Truths I’ve Learned about Fear

Five fears? No problem. I am an expert at fear. At least, that’s what my (former) blog title tells me.

IMG_0057I’m well acquainted with fear. I’m the kid who refused to step too far into the backyard after dark. The one who slept with a nightlight when she was twenty. The woman who still would rather face a rabid bobcat than walk up to a stranger and begin a conversation. Fear has been a really close friend of mine. For too long.

I’m linking up again today with my friend Kelly over at Mrs. Disciple, and the topic of the day is – fear.

In teaching about fear, I’ve learned a lot about the beast. So, here we go. Five truths I’ve learned about fear.

Fear is a lie.

Well, that’s blunt enough. Think about it. Pretty much every time someone is afraid in the Bible (unless it’s of God’s power), something bad happens when he or she gives in to it. Think Abraham basically giving his wife to Pharaoh because he was afraid he’d be killed. Abraham having a child with someone else because he was afraid he’d have no heir. Joseph’s brothers afraid of their father’s obvious favoritism. Paul’s shipmates afraid of the storm. Adam and Eve afraid of God in the garden. This is a short list.

And every time someone steps our of his or her comfort zone and obeys, with trembling hands and heart? Golden.

Gideon. Mary. Ananias (Acts 9). You know you know others. (In fact, do comment with your favorite examples.)

Satan’s first lie to humans was this: You need to be afraid that God is keeping something from you. You need to be afraid of Him. Worry, and take things into your own hands.

Basically, that’s it. And we’ve gleefully done so ever since.

Fear lets us believe the lie that we have to be in control.

I cannot tell you how devastating that lie can get.

Fear lets us off the hook.

I just signed up to volunteer with World Relief. I’m terrified. I do not do strangers, conversation, or awkward situations. I don’t like intrusions on my time and very busy world. All of the above are absolutely guaranteed in this new venture. I have to meet refugees, walk into their lives, and learn how to be a friend. In a language I don’t speak.

For a long time, I have avoided this. I’ve known it was a heart call. But I was busy. Had other callings. Was too introverted. Something else would come along.

I was afraid.

Even though some of these things were true, they were also excuses. Finally, I had to look at that. People are dying. They’re fleeing real-time nightmares, losing everything they know and love, washing up on unknown shores half alive, just for the chance that someone will care. And I was sitting here afraid of giving up my time and comfort.

Fear was letting me get away with waiting for a life and ministry that wouldn’t hurt too much. 

Fear keeps out love.

“Such love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear. If we are afraid, it is for fear of punishment, and this shows that we have not fully experienced his perfect love.” (1 John 4.18)

If perfect love expels fear, it kind of makes sense that fear expels love.

If I’m afraid of what someone is going to think of me, or or what someone will say 33422_445689050125_6454112_nabout me, or that everyone will finally know what a fraud I really am, what am I really afraid of? That there is some cosmic punishment for not being good enough. And I’m in line for it. I’m afraid “someone” has the power to punish me for being human.

Someone does. And He chose not to. Enter Jesus on the cross.

That means no one else ever can.

I can choose to give all the power to love or all the power to fear. I can’t choose both.

Fear fuels too many of the wrong things in our world.

Because fear keeps love at bay, it can make even good people do not good things. The moment my first reaction to a news story, a statistic, or a facebook viral post is fear, I’m dooming myself to respond with less than love. Fear is the gasoline that people pour on fires to make them spread. Christians participate.

Love is the water. If I refuse to look at a person of another color, language, political party, religion, or country with fear but look instead for his humanity, I can knock fear out cold. If I insist on seeking the truth about something before I pass it on, I can stop the deadly spread.

I can choose to be gasoline or water. Every day.

Fear can be good.

IMG_0767Yes, it can. Fear is not always bad. This is the most shocking thing I’ve learned about fear. Sometimes, it teaches us humility. For me, it forces me to lean into God and remember that He is the vine and I am a vulnerable branch that needs His power every minute.

We can react to fear by walking into it. Go toward that terrifying thing! But we can also react by feeling it, living it, taking the moment to accept our weakness and glory in His strength.

Fear teaches me where real strength is found.

Five things. What do you know about fear?

Hold the Spider

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I am fascinated by insects. Yes, I like them. They are interesting to watch, amazingly varied, and just plain cool. You know the odd thing, though? Add two legs and subtract one body segment, and what does that make an insect?

A spider.

And they are decidedly not cool.

I cannot explain this.

All I know is, there is family lore about me involving a bathtub, multiple shoes, and one large spider.

(My husband: Sweetheart, why are all my shoes in the bathtub?  Me: There was a dc31d-115_1579ed-tifspider. No further words necessary.)

Also there is another story involving me, a spider on the shower wall, and a subsequent non-family-friendly dash through the vacation rental house, but that is a story we do not need to share.

I am certifiably terrified of spiders. I used to hyperventilate going down the aisle in Petco where I knew they spent their creepy crawly existence. Actually looking in the aquarium would have required an EMT situation.

So what, oh what, could have ever inspired the picture below? (Warning—graphic picture below. No, not of the shower dash. Worse.)

It was Costa Rica’s fault.

f0f91-screen2bshot2b2014-12-022bat2b1-16-462bpmFacing the Fear

I was leading a team from church to Costa Rica to minister over Christmas break. I spent weeks coaxing and counseling team members out of their fears: Where will the money come from? What if I get sick? Should I really take my kid? Can I take two weeks off of work? I had answers for all of them. I wrote the book with those answers. Literally.

Yet in the middle of convincing other team members to cast off their fears and go for the trip, I realized I had that one niggling fear that I refused to face. The spiders. After all, they grow some big spiders in Costa Rica.

It seems small, to think of fear of spiders as a huge impediment to mission, but the truth was, I knew I had to face it or be a hypocrite. I couldn’t coach others to take medicine I would not swallow. Plus, if my ministry is to lead others away from fear, I’d better be willing to charge toward it myself.

I marched into the pet store (OK, I crept into the fourth pet store, after failing three times) to find a tarantula and–you got it–hold that baby. The very helpful pet shop guy talked me through the traumatic process. He assured me the spider would just sit there. And you know what? It did. You know what else? They’re actually soft. And even cute in a . . . creepy, way-too-many-legs-and-eyes, spidery sort of way.

Seriously, God gave me such a calm that the whole thing was kind of surreal and interesting. Plus, I made sure to get it on video. Because, you, know, this is not going to be repeated on an annual basis or anything. I’m not saying I’m going to go out and get a bird-eating tarantula for a housemate anytime soon. But–

Fear only has the power we give it. And I was tired of giving it.

Who Has Control?

Whenever fear, whatever the fear, controls our choices, it blocks who we were made to be. The older I get and the more I go through, the more I am adamant – I do not want to give control over to anyone but God. Certainly not an eight-legged critter with a brain the size of . . . I don’t know . . . do spiders have brains? Conventional ones? No clue. But I do know they have to be smaller than human brains, based on fundamental laws of physics.

“Get on with your new life. God’s Spirit beckons. There are things to do and places to go! This resurrection life you received from God is not a timid, grave-tending life. It’s adventurously expectant, greeting God with a childlike ‘What’s next, Papa?’ God’s Spirit touches our spirits and confirms who we really are. We know who he is, and we know who we are: Father and children.” (Romans 8.14-15, The Message)

What do grave tenders do? They make graves neat and lovely. They ensure pretty, clean plots. Over dead things. Past things. Things with no life and no future. I don’t want to be a tender of dead things. I want to live adventurously expectant.

So why don’t we? Why don’t we feel like we are created for incredible purpose? Why don’t we wake up every morning asking, “What’s next, God?” Why don’t we expect wonder?

Fear Steals Our Identity

Because we fear. Rather than jump into our days, we dread them. We look at our lists and groan. We plan our next escape. We’re terribly afraid to step into identity as those children of God, because it might mean risk, conflict, change. We may dread mornings, but at least we know them. Being God’s representative – Stepping into our identity as His children and taking on whatever that means? That’s a scary unknown. It could involve things I’m not ready to give up, risks not I’m ready to take, changing values and ideas I’m not ready to reexamine.

It could involve holding that spider. And we hyperventilate at the thought.

Observer or Participant?

Jesus said,

“My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life.” In is fullest definition, “rich and satisfying” means “over and above, more than is necessary, exceedingly, abundantly, supremely, extraordinary, surpassing, uncommon, beyond imagination.”

Wow. That’s a whole lot of satisfying.

So the question for me in front of that spider aquarium was: Do I want to observe an extraordinary, uncommon, abundant life–or do I want to participate in one?

God’s Spirit beckons. There are things to do and places to go! And spiders to hold.

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