02 April 2008

Untangling Fear: Part One-Definitions

I am an adrenaline junkie. I have been described by people who thought they knew me as "fearless." Truth be told, I have always enjoyed a smidgen of fear to make my heart race and senses tingle. I think that's why I enjoyed my public safety career. I like earthquakes and thunderstorms and am at my best in a crisis. Joseph Wambaugh nailed it when he said police work was "hours of boredom punctuated by moments of sheer terror." I couldn't agree more, public safety is like that.

Some fear is addictive. I like anticipatory fear. The best part of riding a roller coaster is that long, slow, why-in-the-world-did-I-think-this-was-a-good-idea climb to the apex of the ride with that teeny tiny bit of time you are suspended just before you fall. Yowza!

I have had the great pleasure of swimming on the Great Barrier Reef. To say that it was incredible is an understatement. The colors, the beauty, the wildlife, it was all breathtaking. And then the person heading our expedition told me as a matter-of-fact, and I quote, "Oh yeah, for sure and guaranteed there is a great white shark out here that's big enough to eat you." I suddenly found myself weighing the once in a lifetime opportunity of seeing the reef dwellers in light of being eaten. Would the wonderment outweigh the risks? You bet.

I met my friend, Vicki, because she ran the horse boarding business on her family's ranch. The ranch was a few thousand acres and had riding privileges on surrounding ranches. You could ride for miles and miles. Sometimes we would ride in groups and one of my favorite rides was through Potato Patch and Apple Hill. Apple Hill was a great place to take the tickle out of your horse's feet and let them run. One by one we galloped up the grade. My mare was fierce. She would lay her ears down flat, stretch out her neck and run like the wind. I would never be first to charge the hill. My mare only stopped at the top because there was a horse stopped there already. When she was running that hill I was completely at her mercy and I knew it. If I am to be honest, the fear of her not stopping made the run more exhilarating. Definitely worth the risk, I am grinning from ear to ear just thinking about it.

After the girls came to live with me. My willingness to accept risk changed. I had two little black holes of need to love and provide for. They had already lost so much and I knew I didn't have the right to endanger myself and take more from them. The fear I sought in adrenaline rushes gave way to fearing for their wellbeing. Most of our fears change as we do, but not all of them.

With age comes wisdom and hindsight is 20/20. As I reflect on my life thus far, I have obviously spent a great deal of effort avoiding one kind of fear while chasing others. Those people who thought me fearless couldn't have been more wrong. Recently I've realized I have spent most of my life being terrified. People terrify me. Babies frighten me. Loss terrifies me. My singleness is a result of my fear of really being known by someone. That and thinking about submitting to a man's authority causes me anxiety. The fear of rejection and abandonment run rampant within me. Being vulnerable and being needed are equally scary to me. The world would tell me that my past make these fears totally understandable. The truth is these fears are evidence of my distrustful, disobedient, and sinful heart.

Fear itself isn't sinful. What you fear and why you fear it may be. Our emotions are tangled in our flesh and the wisdom of the world. We need to be able to discern what type of fear is biblical and what to do when it is not. We would be wise to do this before we are in crisis.

Healthy fear is reverential and respectful. Proverbs tells us the fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge (Pr 1:7). Ecclesiastes 12:13-14 offers this: "The conclusion, when all has been heard, {is:} fear God and keep His commandments, because this {applies to} every person.
14 For God will bring every act to judgment, everything which is hidden, whether it is good or evil. " And Peter tell us to fear God and honor the king (1Peter 2:17). Healthy fear keeps us from sinning because of our respect and awe for our Creator.

Unhealthy fear is more than the unpleasant feeling of dread. It's quite appropriate to feel afraid in some circumstances. For instance, if someone were to put a gun to my head, fear would be a reasonable response. Not going to church because I fear random violence from someone who might come there with a gun and hold it to my head is not reasonable. However, the reasonable or unreasonableness of fear isn't what defines fear as good or bad. Good or healthy fear keeps me from sinning. Fear becomes bad or unhealthy when it keeps me from doing or being willing to do what God requires of me, and/or when the actions motivated by fear are sinful in and of themselves.

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