Monday, March 4, 2013

On Fear

Fear falls into two basic categories - rational and irrational.  The most powerful example I've seen of irrational fear is when, after a nearly-four-hour bus ride, an entire field trip of girls decided they didn't have to pee so bad after all because the only available bathroom was covered - literally covered, wall-crawling covered - in completely harmless wood spiders.

Rational fear is a bit more insidious.

Rational fear is based on the kind of thing that might actually happen.  In fact, it most likely will happen at some point or another.  And oddly, it is the very possibility that the object of our fears might come to pass that turns our rational fear into all kinds of irrational behavior.  When we are honestly afraid of something that might actually happen, we start living our lives in a way that braces for that very thing.


Remember....remember in the 90s when we all heard the story of that family somewhere around the world who found the six-foot snake in their toilet? we all treated out toilets just a little differently for the following few weeks, months, in some cases years?  We hadn't considered the possibility but when we realized there could actually be a giant snake sneaking in through our pipes, we took some precautions.

In the past several weeks, almost every day has seen some story of a vehicle careening off an overpass.  You didn't think it could happen - those railings should be enforced to prevent that - but knowing it is a possibility could change the way a person drives.

The truth is our rational fears are rational precisely because they could one day happen.  They might in fact likely one day come to pass.  

Then the question becomes: how do you live with rational fear without becoming an irrational basketcase?

And the answer is: you don't.

You can't.  Fear and living are mutually exclusive.  Because the truth is that when you convince yourself it's not going to happen...enough that you are able to live through the fear...and it finally does happen, your fear is confirmed and you hate yourself for giving up your diligence, which only pushes you further into irrational paranoia because it happened once when you weren't looking and damned if it will happen again.

One day you wake up and realize all the time you've missed waiting on the snake that's never coming to your toilet (or your washing machine; I heard that one a time or two, too.  You're welcome) and steady hands that aren't going to send you careening off an overpass or a house that never burned down or a tornado that never came or a spider that never bit you.  In all our fear based on the one possible moment that might actually happen that would devastate, diminish, or devour us, we are forgetting, neglecting, and completely missing out on the millions of moments between fear and forever that we could be living right now.

Wonderful.  Fantastic.  Beautiful.  Blessed moments that are the essence of life as we know it.  These are God's beautiful gift to us.

Which is why He has not given us a spirit of fear.  Because we cannot have both.

We can have this moment, this holy moment with the full presence of God and all He has gifted into this brief breath for us to experience, to enjoy, to bless, to be blessed by....or we can have one eye on the next moment that's maybe coming but maybe not and maybe today and maybe tomorrow and maybe not until we're ninety.  We cannot have both.  We cannot believe God for right now if we are busy questioning Him for later.

And that's a tragedy.

It wasn't that long ago that I wrote about fear and faith.  And to tell you the truth, I haven't won that battle.  Not yet.  I have good days and bad days, and days when I am praying and crying and days when I'm cautiously confident.  As time goes by, and I search more to rest in this moment and not worry about the next one, I find that my prayer is changing.  It's changing from a desperate, panicked, agonized prayer for the absence of whatever I might be afraid of, or even the absence of fear....into an exhausted, hungry, thirsty prayer for courage.

God has already answered my fear.  Of this much, I am sure.  God has answered my heart that fears, that fears even when it doesn't want to and even when it knows it shouldn't and even when it somehow simultaneously pretends to believe it has no reason to fear, which it knows but sometimes, the heart gets the better of me.  God's already answered all of that.  In Him - in this holy moment - there is no fear.  So a prayer for Him to do what He's already done is redundant.  I'm finding it better to pray for strength, for courage, and for a brave heart that believes Him even when it would rather worry.

And that gives me this moment.  No matter which one comes next.

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