What are we all so afraid of?
It’s a question worth repeating. But this time, let it sit for a second and make it more personal.
What are you so afraid of?
We’re living in times where fear runs free. The fears are genuine, and each fear, because of the unique experiences and perspectives of each person, can be proved valid. As humans, our fears will be unique and different to each one of us.
There’s something we can all agree on – we are afraid.
When I’m afraid of something, I try to control. I want to change the outcome, test every theory of my fear and come up with a way to prevent that fear from coming true. I do this on a day to day basis without even realizing it most of the time.
Many attempts at control are logical and good.
I have a fear that drivers on our street might not be paying the closest attention and see one of my littles and hit them. That’s a valid fear for me based on the fact that I’m a mother who wants to protect her children. So I take a part in controlling the outcome by teaching my children to not go in the street, providing boundaries, etc. But I also let my children play outside without my eyes on them all the time and I let them have certain freedoms as they get older. I control the fear without letting the fear control me.
But many of my attempts at control are dangerous and unloving. My intentions might seem loving but the outcomes prove very different. And I’ll normally come to find out that my intentions actually weren’t that loving after all.
When I see something in my children that makes me afraid (whether it be a behavior or an emotion), my impulse is to control that behavior or emotion. The same could be said of spouses, friends, bosses… really any relationship in our life. And I have to ask myself – what am I so afraid of?
I’m coming to realize that many of my control-based tendencies and responses toward my children (and other relationships) are born out of my own fear that I haven’t done a good job as a mom. Or I might be afraid that other people might think I’m not doing a good job as a mom. Other fears with other relationships might include, “I’ll never be good enough for them,” “I’m afraid I can’t make them happy,” “My performance will never measure up,” “Maybe there’s something wrong with me”…
And many times our avenue for controlling someone else’s behavior (which is really just exposing our fear) looks like shame. We might shame those closest to us for having a certain emotion, for asking questions, for doubting, for seeing things differently, for being different than us.
The outcomes of that shame can be devastating. Without realizing it, we shut down people’s emotions and voices and encourage them to hide parts of themselves. We then surrender the opportunity to love them fully.
I’m slowly learning these things. Furthermore, I’m seeing the intentions I thought were pure and loving were actually based in protecting my own self-image and identity, which proved to be rooted in something other than perfect love.
Ok, I hope you’ve stuck with me this far. This is kind of a participatory event where you have a passenger seat to my external processing. It’s always an experiment to see if the reader can come away with the majority of intentions of the writer. Take a quick breath.
Now back to it.
These same attempts to control our fears play out on the grander stage of our world as well. We see it in politics; we see it in church; we see it in the business world. We are afraid of something and it seems we are constantly trying to control that fear.
In these grand-scheme instances, fear can be quite contagious. This past year, there’s been many different variations of this virus of fear that people have spread and contracted. Here are some things I’ve seen that people are very afraid of, and I’m sure you could add to this list: socialism, marxism, fascism, communism, racism, nazism (did I miss any isms?), infringement of rights, free speech being taken away, Covid-19, vaccinations, government control, critical race theory, liberal control in the house, senate and executive seat, rise of immoralism, rejection, loneliness, being misunderstood.
I’m not going to go through each one of things and say whether those fears are valid or not. Because if you are afraid of one of those things, then it makes it valid to you. We have different information we trust, different sources we go to, different life experiences guiding our motivations and thought processes.
When you contract a virus, that virus can rage in your body causing ultimate demise. Or your immune system does its job and the virus is contained and you now produce antibodies to that specific virus. *Totally not a doctor or scientist here but just let’s just go with this word picture.
In this past year, there seems to be two different avenues of dispelling fear that actually lead to demise. Some choose rage (looks like scoffing, sarcasm, pointing fingers, ranting, etc). And no pun intended, that rage makes the virus of fear rage even more in our souls. It’s a protection of our pride. If we can rage against the “others,” our pride is protected. But it seems to come at a costly expense to our own souls. Some choose depression. It’s difficult to look our fears in the eye and feel the grief and sadness those fears bring. So we don’t. And our souls lose their capacity to feel or their drive to care. I’m also not a psychologist or therapist so take these observations with a grain of salt.
Much like the personal examples, we often turn to shame in an attempt to control. We shame others, we shame ourselves, we shame the other side.
And much like my own parenting example, we think our motivations are pure and loving but upon further examination, we realize our attempts to control have created FAR more damage than we realize. We have silenced people’s voices (or our own). We’ve left no room for emotions to arise and thoughts to be worked out. We shame them when simple questions are asked or doubts are raised. And we’re left not fully knowing one another and therefore incapable of fully loving one another. To be fully loved, one must be fully known.
How do we confront and combat fear? One of my favorite verses in the Bible is 1 John 4:18, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.”
Perfect love casts out fear. When we receive God’s perfect love over us, we don’t have to fear. There’s no fear of our identity being shaken, no fear of the opinion of others, no fear of evil, no fear of being misunderstood, no fear of punishment… whatever the fear may be. His perfect love casts it out.
But I’ve realized this verse goes further than that. We are called to love others. And in that love, there should be no fear. I can’t fear your different opinions, questions you ask, doubts you raise, or the struggles you have and perfectly love you at the same time. I can’t fear your political ideology, theological view or interpretation of Scripture and perfectly love you. There is nothing to fear in perfect love. And there is beautiful, life-giving freedom found in that kind of love. I don’t have to change you at all to love you. I get to love you for exactly who you are.
Start with fear. What are you afraid of? Now lay it down. Lay down your political identity. Lay down your false sense of power and control. Lay down the things you think you need to fight against.
Find that fear manifested in another human being and begin the work of perfectly loving them. Don’t try to change them or their opinion. Be you but perfectly love them for being them. And let yourself feel the freedom of being unafraid.