Fear. Man, fear means business. Yes, I know about the quote about that “the greatest fear is fear itself,” and that it’s meant to downplay the power of fear. But boy, fear can do some major damage in preventing us from leading well and enjoying our lives. I’ve learned some things about Jesus and dealing with fear of late, that I believe will help us all reduce the destructive power of fear in our lives.
Fear and its impact
The tough news is that the first predominant emotion felt after the fall is fear. “I was afraid because I was naked,” says Adam, in Genesis 3:10. Boom, there it is. Fear, that feeling of being afraid, of knowing that you are not safe, with the threat of loss, deception, pain, suffering, humiliation and even death, now lurking around any corner. It instantly became a pervasive reality that we all know, much much more than we would like. Isn’t that awful!
One of my primary connotations to fear takes me back to my college days. College was great in a lot of ways. It was time of real growth for me, with some cool accomplishments. The kicker was, that for the bulk of those four years, I walked around with a lump in my throat. People couldn’t likely tell how afraid I was that I would be exposed as a poser, as someone who was trying to be smart but really wasn’t. Someone who hoped he mattered, but was afraid he really didn’t. Those fears, that were rooted in lies from the evil one, prevented me from really enjoying college, and from being able to see my gifts and abilities more clearly.
It is easy to understand why Don Quixote would say that “the first enemy is fear.” Chip Conley, in his book “Emotional Equations” captures the impact of fear well by stating: “Fear is a straitjacket. It incapacitates and isolates you.” Lastly, songwriter Jason Gray aptly says: “There’s no thief like fear.”
Abraham Maslow, famous for his theories on self-actualization, points out that our fear of knowing ourselves, including our “emotions, impulses, memories, capacities, and potentialities” is one of the greatest causes of psychological illness. The fear of what we might discover as we slow down and look inside, can be daunting to all of us at times.
All of the above is meant to make the point that anxiety, as most of us know, clearly hinders our ability to be creative, perform well, lead well, or engage well. When we are feeling self-conscious, afraid of a poor performance, or of something terrible happening, our brains and bodies are compromised, and don’t function nearly as effectively as they can when we are feeling secure and safe.
Your greatest fear
What does this all boil down to? As I have reflected of late on fear and different kinds of fears, they all boil down to the greatest fear which I believe is: being alone with evil. Evil cannot be trusted. Evil always looks for the worst and loves to accuse and terrify. Evil loves for me to believe that if I make a certain decision, or that if something terrible happens, I will be completely powerless and helpless, tortured and punished forever with shame, judgment and condemnation.
I realize this is pretty heavy, but if we are going to live lives of substance, and have a real shot at flourishing and leading well, we do have to face heavy things, right?
Jesus and your greatest fear
Well if our greatest fear is being alone with evil, then we need something or someone, who is not afraid of it, who has not succumbed to it, but rather overcame it. We need someone like that to have a fighting chance at removing the devastating power of fear. And, yes, that man is Jesus. I know that it is easy to see this as a Sunday school answer; to flippantly say, okay Jesus can help with this. But please reflect on this on a deeper level. Jesus was constantly in the ring with Satan. It officially started with his temptation in the desert, and I’m sure Satan was always lurking around throughout his ministry, trying to have Jesus cave to the pressure.
But the truth is Jesus made it through every fear we have. Every one. Fear of being rejected and nearly thrown off a cliff when you’re speaking in public. Check (Luke 4). Fear of being overwhelmed by deep grief through the loss of a loved one. Check (John 11). Fear of being called a poser, or even worse, demon possesed. Check (John 9). Now of course these fears are real, and there are many more that I could cite. But perhaps the biggest fear that he faced, that we all pray we never have to go through, is the following: To be totally maligned and betrayed by your own people as Satan whips them into a frenzy, be found guilty in a rigged trial, and then you are nailed naked to a cross (or in your underwear) and go through what nearly everyone would see as a completely humiliating, excruciating death in public. That is really serious isn’t it. Serious. And seriously terrifying.
Talk about wanting to bail on a terrifying mission. Talk about wanting to question the wisdom and necessity of the mission as the moment creeps closer.
Praise the Lord, Jesus did not bail. He did not cave to fear. Praise the Lord, Jesus trusted his Daddy to the end, and yes, he scorned shame, humiliation, fear, and all that went with it. He would have nothing to do with it. The fear of death, the fear of pain, the fear of being humiliated and shamed, were not too big for him or his Daddy in the most amazing rescue mission. So, is totally fair to say that what ever your fear is, Jesus is not afraid of it. Gratefully, whatever it is, it’s not too big for him. “My peace I leave with you,” he said, with some serious street cred. That is some stunning peace.
What to do next
This is where while it can seem really simple, the best advice I know of, is to invite Jesus into your fear. The challenge of course is actually doing it. It can be embarrassing and yes, even terrifying to acknowledge our fear to ourselves and then go a step further and ask Jesus to come into it. I found though that as I take the risk and tell Jesus the truth about what I’m afraid of, and then invite him into it, gradually, slowly, fear loses its power. As I invite him into my fear of criticism, or my fear of being shamed, he does come alongside me and say something like, “I’m with you. We got this. I’m pleased with your desire to learn and grow and serve. Thank you for inviting me in and being honest with me. I can help.”
I encourage you to slow down and ask the question: what am I most afraid of? Especially as it relates to your leadership role. Chances are this won’t take long to answer. Then, I ask you to consider facing that fear, feeling the fear, and then asking Jesus to come into it. I encourage you to do that over and over and over, way past the length of time you think it should take for the fear to go down. Of course it’s always a good idea to tell some friends who love Jesus about the fear and ask them to pray for you about that fear. Sometimes a skillful counselor is necessary too, to complement the work of prayer and your friends.
The bigger goal here is to get some practice at acknowledging and facing fears, while asking Jesus to join you. He is the most experienced guide you’ll find to face and overcome fears that hinder your flourishing and leadership.
Feel free to share ways you’ve seen him help you overcome your fears with our community. Here’s to growing in freedom from fear!