I’ve been thinking about fear a lot lately. Partly because of the constant news of violence going on around the nation. You only have to watch the first few minutes of a news repor
t to hear of bombings and shootings and terrorist attacks. And partly because, when you work at a high school, it’s hard to escape the fear that you could be next.
Fear is just an emotion, like anger or joy. It’s normal. We all experience it. Just ask my kids. They’ll never sit near me in the theater again ever since I let out the tiniest of screams that one time during a scary movie.
But any emotion can become a danger when it starts to overtake you. When you start to feel immobilized. Paralyzed.
I have some experience with fear. I was raised with religious beliefs that kept me afraid for a good part of my life. Afraid of failure. Afraid of making the wrong choice. And desperatly, terribly afraid of the “end times”. So very afraid.
I grew up afraid to try new things. I was afraid of being made fun of. Afraid of drowning. After losing on of my closest friends in a car accident I was afraid more people I loved would die. I was afraid of my husband who was so very angry. Then I left him and the fear became that I would never survive financially.
When my aunt died of cancer I was afraid it would claim more family members. I was afraid when my daughter went through very dark times. I was afraid when my son had years of unexplained stomach pain. I was afraid when my closest friend discovered she had a tumor.
I know fear. I’ve spent a lot of time surrounded by it. Paralyzed by it. And after all my experience, I can tell you this-
It has never served me well.
Being in fear hasn’t won me new friends, hasn’t gotten me promotions or accolades. It hasn’t inspired or encouraged me. It hasn’t made me feel strong or invincible. It hasnt led me to try new things or go new places. No, fear has been like a noose around my neck.
Mark Twain said, “Courage is not the absence of fear, it is acting in spite of it.” I love this. Because, I may be well aquainted with fear, but I’m also no stranger to courage.
Courage is what helped me leave a bad marriage. Courage inspired me to take up hiking, and road trips, and dating. Courage inspired me to publish my writing. Courage inspired me to do the Polar Bear Plunge and get a tattoo to honor my aunt. None of those things would have happened if I had let fear win.
I’m no doctor, but I feel I can safely say (having loads of experience in the matter) living in fear is bad for you. Period. It’s physically and emotionally draining. It gets in the way of making positive, well thought out choices. It keeps you a prisoner in your own life.
I don’t know of any 12 step program to help you conquer fear. But I’m not about to leave you with some lovely sentiment “don’t be afraid” without any real tools to face your fears either. That would just be mean.
Having had to face a lot of fears in my life I’ve discovered this secret – conquering fear has a lot to do with operating in the opposite spirit. Fear keeps us inward focused. It makes our world seem very small. It makes us feel disconnected, isolated. If fear makes us self focused, breaking it requires an act of selflessness.
One of my biggest fears is that my kids and I won’t make it financially. It’s an unfounded fear because we have always made it. But it’s still a fear I face often. When I find myself in a fear cycle about finances I know its time for me to perform an act of generously. Sounds counterintuitive, right? I promise you, it’s not. When I feel the spiral coming on I take my kids out for their favorite dessert. Or I treat a friend to lunch. Or I buy cookie dough to support a kid’s fundraiser. Or put money toward someone’s Go Fund Me account. Being generous reminds me not to hold onto everything so tightly. It reminds me of all the ways that others have been generous to me. It snaps me out of my inward focus.
I know fear can be a strong emotion. I know its crippling effects. But I also belive it can be broken by things like generosity, kindness and openess. Being especially kind to the clerk at the grocery store or the barista at your favorite coffee shop. Stopping to have a conversation when you run into your neighbor at the mail box. Offering to run an errand or do a choir for someone who seems overwhelmed. Sometimes taking our mind off our own stuff, even briefly, is enough for us to feel less overwhelmed by whatever has us trapped in fear.
We live in a world where a lot of scary things happen.
But we also live in a world where a
Amazing things happen