Lee H. Baucom, Ph.D.
Ever notice how often fear is mentioned in the Bible? Many of the verses tell us to not be fearful. And yet, fear plagues most people. As much as we don’t want to feel it, we feel it.
It may seem to be some “design flaw,” some error in our creation. After all, those verses seem to have the same message: “Fear not.”
Is it a design flaw?
Wouldn’t it be better if God had created us with some critical-detection system that alerts us to things that are important, rather than the instant-fear system we have?
Throughout my career, I have noticed one common thread among people who are stuck. They are caught by fear. At some point, as we slowly peel away the layers of an issue, we discover that the thing that has us stuck is fear – fear of change, fear of hurt, fear of failure and so many other fears.
When I was young, fear kept me stuck. I spun my feet desperately but still didn’t get away. Fear kept me in its grips, and many opportunities passed me by because I was too fearful to try.
Just a couple of years after graduate school, I was offered a teaching position at a university in another country. It would have been an amazing opportunity for me, and an interesting experience for my family. But I passed. It seemed too daunting, too big of a jump. I was worried that I wouldn’t be a good enough professor, that the change would be too much of a challenge for me and my family.
Then I passed on directing a counseling center. I wasn’t sure if I could step up to the challenge. What if the staff didn’t respect me? What if I couldn’t get a foothold in the community?
Both jobs were ideal situations for me. Challenges? Absolutely. But I was more concerned about the stretch than the opportunity. I let fear whisper doubts in my ear.
Then one day, it occurred to me that fear was not a design flaw: it was a design feature! I was not flawed because I felt fear. I was misusing the fear.
You might be misusing fear too. Most people do.
Fear is a bit uncomfortable. We tend to want to run away from the feeling, which usually leads us to avoid what we believe is causing the fear. We learn to pull back from anything that seems to provoke it “because I am afraid.”
Fear is not a “because.” It is an emotion, but an important one. Here are some of my “rules of the road” for dealing with fear.
1) Fear is a natural and normal emotion. Not one to be avoided, but to be noticed. God designed us to fear, but humans have interpreted fear as something to avoid.
2) Fear is not an “avoidance indicator.” It is an “importance indicator.” Fear simply identifies that something is important. You don’t want to necessarily avoid it, but you do want to pay attention.
3) Fear comes in two varieties.” First are the “existence fears.” Something poses a threat to your safety – to your existence – and you need to pay attention to remain safe in the face of that threat. The second variety are not real threats. In fact, they may be true opportunities to live the life that God intended for us. This means we must learn to do what makes us fearful.
4) Fear toleration becomes easier with practice. When we flee from fear as our standard response, we never build up a tolerance for standing in the fear and choosing our action. The emotion of fear does us no harm. The cause of the fear may be a stumbling-block, but will become the path to our best life.
5) Fear allows us to discern God’s path for us. God has equipped us with a system designed to ultimately point the way to God’s path for us. Fear can be a valuable guide if we know how to navigate it. To sum things up: If, for true safety issues, your fear must be avoided, choose avoidance; but if it is something important, pay attention and allow yourself to sit in it. If fear is a sort of compass, discernment is our map, and we have to use these tools side by side.
This will take practice. If we’ve spent a lifetime avoiding what provokes fear, we haven’t spent much time using our discernment. We’ve probably become stuck on the “avoid setting.” It is time to embrace fear and move toward the things it has to teach us.
If you’ve been letting fear keep you from taking action, consider letting fear just point to the important. Take fear on as an advisor to what needs your attention. But don’t let fear keep you from action. Use a little discernment. If there really is a threat, use caution. But if it is really about discovering a bigger life — perhaps even discovering God’s purpose in your life — see that the fear is simply telling you to pay attention.
God calls us to expand into the life meant for us. Let fear guide you, and “fear not.”
Copyright © 2018 Dr. Lee Baucom, used with permission.