Yesterday, we began a study of fear. If we unwrap the failure and disappoint in our lives we will usually find fear lying unnoticed, in some corner of our frustration. We don't know much about it, because we don't think much about it. We just live with it, largely unaware of how much it hurts us.
Have you ever had a reaction in your body to something completely unknown to you at the time? If you were ever able to trace the reaction back to its source, did you continue to expose yourself to it without having an aspirin, an antacid, a dust mask, or some other remedy nearby? Yet every single day of the year we have a reaction of some sort to a source we never bother to acknowledge or understand. And that source has something to do with fear.
Fear is one of those big words. It takes some explaining. A simple dictionary definition gives us only enough information to describe it, but not enough to effectively deal with it. Love, for example, is a big word. A young man trying to understand his first-time feelings for a young woman might be told, "Oh, you're just in love." If the young man, consequently, bases his next move only on what he reads about love in the dictionary…we all know how well that will work out!
About thirty different original manuscript words, used about 400 times, have been translated into the word "fear" in the KJV Bible. In almost every instance the original word can be used interchangeably as either a response toward God or a response toward something or someone other than God. This surprised me at first. How could a word with such a negative connotation as "fear" be used in response to God as well? But I didn't understand the true nature of fear.
Fear is our response to something or someone that we think is bigger than us—whether real or imagined. For example:
- In 1938 Orson Welles' radio adaptation of his novel "War of the Worlds" caused wide-spread hysteria. Thousands of radio listeners experienced the imagined fear that alien invaders were actually torching New England.
- A former employee of mine was told by her doctor that she was suffering either from stress, a bacterial infection, or cancer. The fear she went through turned out to be imagined, but it was real until she received the results from her tests.
- When I lived in a ghetto in Chicago, a skinny punk came up to me one night as I was walking home from the subway station and tried to grab my trombone out of my hands. I had no fear at all until I felt four arms from behind and the barrel of a gun against my temple.
The people or circumstances we face don't stir up fear unless we think they're bigger than us. A flat tire first thing in the morning might stir up anger, but otherwise it's no big deal. But if you've been out of work for a while and are headed to an important job interview that flat tire becomes a very big deal indeed.
Is God bigger than us? If I were to stand at the main entrance of a crowded mall and ask that question, I am completely confident that the majority of the answers would be yes. But most of the people I know don't act like God is bigger than they are. Yet we are so quick to say,"It'll be okay" as we're buried under our circumstances, when we certainly don't act like it's going to be okay. I think we have a problem.
When something or someone poses a threat to our well-being or the well-being of someone we love, fear is usually the first responder—especially if we feel like we have no control over the situation. When I was a boy on the farm, I pulled ticks off some part of my body every single day of the summer. Just part of the day…they couldn't hurt me even if I overlooked one and it started swelling up. But then along came Lyme disease. And now I don't have the same response I did as a child; fear can now factor into the situation (if I let it). Concerning a more serious threat, I lost both my parents to cancer. Anytime an abnormality shows up on my body, do you think fear comes knocking at the door? You bet it does; but if I have my wits about me I don't answer.
Take a moment and quickly make a list of the threats in your life. If your spouse or your best friend were to review your list, would he or she agree with you? Or would he or she question you with, "Why is this on your list? There's no way you can be afraid of this. It doesn't make any sense." As I said previously, "One man's fear is another man's courage."
It seems so subjective doesn't it? Eggs used to be healthy. Then somebody convinced us to stop eating them for fear of a heart attack. Now they are healthy again. What about sunshine? Are we supposed to fear it or not? One camp says that we need to cover up or use sunscreen, otherwise cancer will get us. Another camp says that sunshine is necessary to prevent cancer, while at the same time saying sunscreen is harmful.
Your life to date has been different from mine. Your life to date has been different from that of your spouse (if you're married), your boss, your co-workers, your friends, your elected officials—different from that of basically every other person on the planet. That means those things you fear (both known and unknown) are unique to you and may not be shared by the people around you. And this can cause big problems:
- In a marriage one spouse could have a fear of running out of money and living in poverty. The other spouse could have a fear that prosperity leads to divorce.
- In the work environment, a supervisor could have a fear of upsetting the status quo by taking even reasonable risks, while his or her subordinate could have a fear of being fired for showing a lack of initiative and innovation.
- A parent could have a fear of his or her child becoming disappointed by dreaming too big. On the other hand, the child could have a fear of being trapped in the lifestyle of his or her parents.
Are you beginning to see the value of digging fear out of the dark and putting it out there where you can take a good look at what's going on?
We'll continue this subject next week. In the meantime, if you're acting like any people or circumstances are bigger than you, put them on a mental list. Just be honest with yourself—because you may not believe they're bigger than you, but you may still act as if they are.
Have a good day,