Friday, October 9, 2009

Commentary on Fear

We, as a people, spend a great deal of time being afraid. Sometimes, we don’t call it “fear.” We call it lesser things like “worry” or “anxiety,” but let’s face it: it’s fear. Fear of the future, fear of the present, fear of the past, fear of others, fear of ourselves. Very rarely, fear of God.

There is such a thing as healthy fear, and I’ll get to that in a minute. But there are two primary types of crippling fear – the spontaneous and the pre-conceived notion.

Spontaneous fear, there is nothing we can do about. It can sometimes accurately be called “startle.” For example, I awoke in the middle of a dark night to make a bathroom run. While making proper use of the facilities, a camel cricket jumped INTO my pants. That’s a whole new kind of fear right there, the kind that can keep you up the rest of the night unless you take control of it.

The only way to handle spontaneous fear is to give yourself a proper moment, then move on. You can’t predict it, so you can’t prevent it, but you can limit its ability to take over your mind.

The other kind of dangerous fear is the pre-conceived notion, for lack of a better term. This is where you know something could potentially happen, so you fixate on it and ignore all possible other events.

Recently, I took a family trip to Tennessee to visit my grandmother. It’s a trip I rarely make, and one of the reasons for that is the bounty of snake stories she tells. I don’t like snakes (neither does she), so why put myself in a place where they are highly probable to appear? Even for the love of Grandma, it’s a tough situation to consciously submit to.

I stayed mostly in the house the first couple of days, avoiding the wildlife outside. When the puppy I took with me needed to go outside, I never went alone. Sometimes, I didn’t take her at all. I would not risk running into one of these things and ruining my vacation!

Late the second night, someone else took the puppy outside to potty before bed. Night was falling, but the security light illuminated just enough space to see…the water moccasin. Grandma took the hoe and chopped it in three pieces, then left it in the driveway for identification by sunlight the next day. I have to admit, I had trouble falling asleep that night.

I knew it! I told myself. That lousy snake showed up and ruined everything, just like I knew it would! Why, God? Why can’t I just enjoy a weekend at Grandma’s?

Then I realized – before that snake slithered across the driveway, even if it had never shown up at all, it ruined my time with Grandma before I even left Franklin. The mere thought of it, nay, obsession, took over any joy I could have had in those first few days. It stole those precious moments.

The next day, I sat out on the patio and walked down to the lake. If I saw one, I saw one, but I couldn’t let it keep me inside any longer. Fear is not a good way to live.

This second type of fear can also make us very irrational. I always slept each night with a series of lights on (and for awhile, slept with the TV on in case the power went out and the light stopped working). It took me two decades to figure out how absolutely irrational that was and to change it. (Have you found the flaw yet?)

Yet for all the time we spend being afraid, we rarely experience healthy fear. Healthy fear, as in the fear of God, is not really fear at all; it is more deference. It is respect. It is knowing that what we face is bigger or more powerful than ourselves, so we take a step back in humility.

Fear of God is not hiding under a rock waiting for lightning to strike. It’s not continually working harder to avoid the pit of Hell for all eternity. It’s not even the small fear of being caught, of peeking around every corner before doing something bad, just to make sure He’s not watching.

Fear of God is rooted in love. It’s stepping out into the open and humbling yourself to His care. It’s trusting Him to know you, but to love you anyway – a virtue higher than any that most of us can find in ourselves. It’s refusing to do bad whether or not you think He’s watching because you understand His greatness relative to your flesh. It’s recognizing His significance in contrast to your own relative insignificance.

So you stand, or kneel, in deference to His power, love, mercy, omniscience, grace, and so on and so on ad nauseum.

That’s the difference. It’s just the opposite of what we consider fear. Instead of living in constant obsession, fearing the possible, you free your mind through healthy fear. You free yourself into something Greater, rather than painting yourself into a corner.

Isn’t it weird to consider that the right fear can actually set us free?

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