Nearly every morning I take a long, solitary walk on a country highway. Amidst the croaking of frogs, the chirping of crickets, and the occasional yelps of coyotes I talk with God. I love this time, but I have to tell you that I pursue it with a bit of wariness. Other beasts share my country lane; four-wheeled creatures which hurtle past me in the darkness. They carry death in their bumpers. So I wear a fluorescent vest, watch for them, and constantly shift out of their path. I am, I admit, afraid of the cars and trucks roaming my prayer lane – not terrified or worried, just mildly concerned.
This is a healthy fear. Fear is God’s good gift, given to protect us from injuries of all sorts. The power and pain of fear often causes us to pull back from unnecessary potential harm – whether physical, emotional, practical or spiritual. To quote an old saying: “Fools walk in where angels fear to tread.”
Yet fear can also be a liability. It can block us from many of life’s blessings. It may, for instance, make us keep others at a distance for fear of being hurt; living solitary lives. This is unhealthy fear. I define “unhealthy fear” as “any fear which drives us away from God and His good will for our lives.” We all have it. Yet it doesn’t have to cripple us. This leads to my main assertion:
How you and I handle unhealthy fear will determine the success or the failure of our spiritual lives
Unhealthy fear, ironically, can be an asset if handled well. It shows us our areas of spiritual struggle and weakness and provides an opportunity for growth. So let me pose this question:
What does it look like when I handle unhealthy fear in a spiritually wise, healthy way?
· I handle unhealthy fear in a spiritually wise, healthy way when I learn to recognize it in myself
This is going to sound strange, but unhealthy fear often disguises itself in other forms. In men, it frequently comes out as anger. Fear may also manifest itself through jealousy, the need to be in control, workaholism, stubbornness, and so on. Recognizing this makes it easier to deal with the root problem, if we take the next step.
· I handle unhealthy fear in a spiritually wise, healthy way when I’m willing to acknowledge it to myself, to God, and, when appropriate, to others.
Recognizing our fear, and acknowledging it, sets us up to face it and deal with it. Denying it keeps it buried. When we share it with God or with a trusted friend, it opens us up to receive their support and wisdom.
· I handle my unhealthy fear in a spiritually wise, healthy way, in the short-term, when I learn not to be controlled by it
We usually have little direct control over our feelings of fear. They come and go at will. Any attempt to stop them usually fails. In the short-term, the goal is simply to control the fear so that it doesn’t bully us into doing or not doing what is healthy and good.
What are some short-term ways of better controlling unhealthy fear?
· I control unhealthy fear better when I choose to reach to God for help
This, of course, is the most critical step. I Peter 5:7 tells us to “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” He’ll give us the power and wisdom we need to face our. Tell Him how you are feeling and ask for grace.
· I control unhealthy fear better when I choose to allow myself to feel the fear without having to control the feeling
Our natural instinct is to try to stop a painful emotion or to escape from it as quickly as possible – perhaps through ignoring it, denying it, suppressing it etc.
Trying to ignore or to manhandle emotions just doesn’t work very well, does it? In fact, these approaches usually make things worse. One of the best ways to control the fear is to walk right into it; take time to experience it; face it head on. I’m not suggesting that you feed the fear or stay focused on it, but allow it to express itself inside of you. Accept the fact that it’s there. Often, if you can be patient in your pain, this will cause the fear to diminish after a while.
· I control unhealthy fear better whenI learn self-control, by not allowing my attitudes or actions to be determined by the emotion of the moment
It’s critical, for godly people, to learn that our emotions are not in charge. Emotions, useful as they can be, whether painful, or even pleasant, for that matter, often lack good judgment. Your emotions are not committed to your biblical beliefs or to God. They want what they want when they want it. The adults in control of our hearts are meant to be our will and our godly character. Let our emotions rage, our will, guided by the HS, is meant to be the boss.
Short-term control, however, isn’t enough. We also need to deal with the long-term reasons for unhealthy fears since they are the source generating these fears.
What are some long-term ways of better controlling unhealthy fear?
· I control unhealthy fear better when I choose, over the long-term, to deal with the source of my unhealthy fear and find healing
Why am I so concerned about what others think of me? Why do I worry so much about money or my health? Often, the surface issue is not what’s really generating my fear. Unless we deal with the root issue, it can be hard to eliminate unhealthy fear.
· I seek healing from unhealthy fear better when I hold up the source of that fear to the light of reason and Scripture
So many of the unhealthy fears we have are either untrue or they’re exaggerated, Yes, there are things we don’t want to happen in our lives and yes, some of them would be quite unpleasant. But what matters most, for the believer, God’s love and protection, cannot be taken away from us.
· I seek healing from unhealthy fear better by getting help from God and others
Sometimes it’s hard to figure out what to do when unhealthy fear gets so woven into our hearts. The Spirit of God, a wise friend or a skilled therapist can often help us to see what we can’t see by ourselves or offer us alternate ways to look at what scares us or better ways to deal with it. Medication may also help.
· I seek healing from unhealthy fear better by building healthy love relationships with God and others
Ultimately, it’s God who must heal us from our brokenness. Connect with Him through salvation. Cultivate a daily love relationship with Him. Just being in His presence brings healing and reduces our fear. God will also use His people to help heal our unhealthy fears. Find a few believers you trust and respect (keeping in mind that no one’s perfect) and seek to build close relationships with them.