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Dealing With Fear
by Rod Spencer, M.Div. M.A.

There are many things to be afraid of in life.  Losing a loved one.  Going broke.  Growing old.  Being diagnosed with a terminal illness.  Dying.  These are some of the more common fears we all face, and to ignore these threats is to live in denial.  Fear is hardwired into our brains as a mechanism for self-preservation.  For example, we might be driving down the street and suddenly another car pulls in front of us.  Fear is what activates our bodies and minds to deal with that threat, so we instinctively swerve out of the way to avoid a collision.  In this sense, fear can save our lives.  This is healthy fear—an awareness and respect for what is dangerous in life.
There is, however, an unhealthy kind of fear.  We can be fearful of what others will think of us, and decide to avoid contact with them.  We can be fearful of not having the comforts of life, and spend our best energies collecting possessions to ensure our comfort.  We can be fearful of not feeling loved by someone, and attempt to control them to ensure that we feel loved.  We can be fearful of our emotional pain, and use drugs and alcohol to numb ourselves to ensure we don’t feel that pain.  We can be fearful of those who are different from us, and develop prejudice, even hatred, to strengthen our sense of superiority over them.   Rather than protecting our lives, these kinds of fear diminish and undermine our selves and the lives of others.
Unhealthy fear is fear that controls us and consumes us.  These fears “blackmail” us, rob us of the joy and abundance of life that God has intended for us.  Many years ago, one of my mentors in the counseling field stated that he believed most of our psychological problems in life were rooted in fear.  I have come to agree with him.  Fear is a double-edged sword; it can save us, and it can destroy us.  How can we preserve the place of healthy fear in our lives, and protect ourselves from the death-dealing effects of unhealthy fear?
The first step in dealing with fear is to STOP and ask ourselves, “What am I afraid of?”  Most of the time we act on our fears unconsciously.  When we attempt to honestly identify what we are afraid of, that identification process alone takes away some of the power of unhealthy fear.  If I recognize that I start arguments with someone I care about because I am afraid of letting them get close to me, then I can begin to question whether that is healthy or unhealthy fear.  I can choose other ways to deal with my fears, such as letting them know my insecurities.  This implies the second step in dealing with fear.
In counseling we have a saying: “face your fears.”  This means that, rather than avoiding what you are afraid of, you turn and stare it down.  Facing what you fear is another way of taking away the power of unhealthy fear.  Facing what you fear allows you to claim your ability to do something constructive about the situation.  If I am afraid of meeting new people, then facing that fear gives me the opportunity to change the way I think and act about strangers.  I can “live into the fear” and learn how to function differently.
The third step in dealing with unhealthy fear is to replace it with faith.  Frequently in scripture, heavenly beings begin conversations with human beings with these words:  “Fear not!”  That imperative was always an invitation to react in a situation with faith, rather than with unhealthy fear.  There are many things to be afraid of in life.  But none of those things ultimately matters.  What does ultimately matter is that “nothing in life or death can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  Remembering those words is the only satisfying solution to dealing with fear. As we live that good news, we entrust control of our lives to God, and stop giving control of our lives to unhealthy fear.



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