Friday, January 7, 2022

How to Handle Fear

If God calls us to be not afraid, but being afraid is part of the human experience, then how are we supposed to handle fear when it arises? What do we do with that unsettled feeling that keeps us locked in fight, flight, or freeze? How do we process it in such a way that we can work through toward faith?

The world has a certain wisdom for this; it's called something like "fake it until you make it." You've probably heard that. The world's approach is to simply pretend that you're not afraid and choose to act accordingly. The world's approach is to tell you that it doesn't matter if you feel fear, as long as you choose faith.

And that...would be completely wrong. 

I am simply not someone who believes that we can, or should, just choose against ourselves, that we should push our human experience onto the back burner and pretend to be living a life that we're not really living. I don't believe we should deny what we're feeling or experiencing. I don't believe that we can just pretend not to be afraid and live accordingly. We have to do something with the fear. 

And I believe the best thing to do with the fear is to acknowledge it. Contemplate it. Figure it out. Give it a voice and let it speak. Be bold about what it is that's making us feel unsettled and declare it. Let fear have a say. Let it speak. 

That sounds counterintuitive. It sounds like exactly the opposite of what God is calling us to do. Doesn't God call us to squash our fear, to push it deep down and dismiss it and live by faith? No. God never once calls us to deny our fear. He never once tells us not to acknowledge its presence. He never tells us that having fear is a bad thing; it's living by fear that gets us far away from the faith. 

Fear is a valuable instinct. There's a reason we're afraid of things. These things pose a danger to us (most of the time; sometimes, we're just paranoid human beings or broken by our own trauma). God gave us fear to protect us. God wired us to have to stop and think and figure out what it is in our souls that is unsettled. There's nothing wrong with having fear. 

When we give fear its proper place, it actually becomes the thing that leads us to faith, to the kind of faith - and fear-response - that God desires us to have. 

Think about it. Let's say you feel some apprehension or fear about a particular situation. It's easy to conclude that fear is a warning sign telling you to take another road, to make a turn, to keep away, and so you divert yourself and never do the hard thing that maybe God is actually calling you to do. That would be living by fear. Or maybe you listen to the world's wisdom, and you plow ahead, pretending you aren't afraid at all. This doesn't give you the opportunity to actually prepare for what you're about to encounter because your only driving force is, "I will not let fear drive this decision." And that's great, maybe, but you're more likely than not setting yourself up for failure. You're not ready. You aren't equipped.

But now, let's say you stop and figure out what's causing the fear. Now, you've got a chance to figure out what you need to face your fear head-on. And more specifically, what do you need from God to answer your fear with faith? What do you need God to be? What do you need Him to provide? What parts of God's heart and character do you need to discover in order to live by faith and not by fear right now? 

Maybe you're afraid of losing everything you have. Maybe what you need is to discover God as provider. Maybe you're afraid of being alone. Maybe you need to discover God as with us. Maybe you're afraid of failing. Maybe you need to discover the God who holds you up and lets you stand. 

When you uncover what's at the heart of your fear, you can start replacing that narrative in your heart with real faith - with the real things that God actually is. And that's an incredible gift. 

That's how God wants us to engage our fear. By letting it speak. By hearing it out. By letting it make itself known so that we know how our faith has to grow to answer it. 

We can't - and shouldn't - deny what we're feeling. You will never pretend your way into believing in God, not in any real sense. But you can use fear to help you get there. If you use fear wisely.  

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