The ego traps us into fearful thinking. On one hand the ego has a good function. It can help us get what we want and a healthy ego can help us attain success and riches. On the other hand, the ego trains us to live in fear. “If I don’t get the spouse, I won’t be happy. I want kids to perpetuate my legacy. I want to provide a good life for them. If I don’t get the great job and make the bucks, I won’t be fulfilled and neither will they. If I don’t get the big house, I will have nothing to show for myself to my family, friends and neighbors. Achievement is everything”.
This kind of thinking inspires us to consider the things we are not doing to make those successes happen. When we fail or fall short, we beat up on ourselves. We grab a hold of fear, and it can become a comfortable habit to live in fear and clutch it like a vibrant personal keepsake. This habitual way is problematic.
I heard someone share a story once about how our comfort in fearful thinking can be the ruin of us. He likened it to horses in a burning barn. His father raised quarter horses in Virginia and there was a fire in the barn. They opened the gates, shooed the horses away and let them run free to save them. He said, “Every single one of those horses ran right back into the burning barn”. One might ask, “Why would they run back into the fire”? They went back to the place that was safe for them – the place they knew – even if it was dangerous and would ultimately be the death of them.
This image functions on many levels. It is our normal inclination to run back to where we feel most safe, but that isn’t always the best place to be. Sometimes our insecurity tricks us into doing things we should not be doing. We need to claim our faith and know that wherever we go, God is there with us. We’re fooled by the illusions of our egos that by retreating back to the ego, we’ll be safe. It’s not true. We need to venture forth into a higher consciousness and the power of Christ consciousness.
Fear serves many functions in life. Fear can be a gage in our being. It helps us understand where we are. But fear can be a denial of God. In fear we see the fullest expression of being human. It is one expression of our animal nature and survival. Therefore it serves as a gage for survival. It serves as a gage for how separate and apart we may feel from our own spiritual inclinations.
By hitting the reset through disciplines, we are able to reclaim our spiritual sensibilities. In fear, we have an opportunity to grow, so it can be bad and it can be good. When I think of the greatest challenges of my life, I think of how fearful I was. It took the form of uncertainty and doubt, and subtle desperation to find the answer. This desperation inspired me to use my skills, my talents, my intellect and survival prowess to take on the challenge before me. It also inspired me to reach out to others for support and called forth humility in the realization that I needed others to assist me if I were to conquer it. Fear tapped into the depths of reason and certain survival mechanisms to help me push forward.
There’s a great scene in Anthony Doerr’s book “All The Light We Cannot See” where an adolescent French girl, Marie Laure, is hiding in her great uncle’s house during WWII, and she hears a German soldier enter looking for food and a bed. She fears for her life and that he will hear her upstairs and ultimately kill her as a result of her being there. She has to find a way out or find a place to hide and stay put until the time is right to make her move and escape. There is one problem. She is blind. Not only does she have to conquer her fear and rise above it to survive, but she needs to do this blindly and rely on her instincts to save her. She has to muster up something within herself and she’s limited. It’s an unfair fight.
This scene epitomizes for me what we’re up against. We’re sometimes fumbling in the dark and it seems like the odds are against us. We need to summon certain instincts within us to conquer. We’re limited. Sometimes people can help us, sometimes we’re on our own, but we need to realize that there are gifts of instinct at our disposal we may have never considered.
We only come to realize these gifts when we have faced fear. People like Ralph Waldo Emerson understood this. “Do the thing you fear and the death of fear is imminent”. The Roosevelts knew this, that’s why the only thing we had “to fear was fear it self”. That’s why they inspired us to face it and rise above it.
It’s not always easy, but facing fear is part of life and the earlier we learn to cope with that reality, the better off we are. It is doable, though. We have the tools.
We can turn to the spiritual disciplines at our disposal: affirmations, meditation, contemplation, prayer, church, mindfulness and service, spiritual direction or even therapy. Scripture points to ways to attain a higher consciousness. Father Ron Rohlheiser reminds us, “Every theophany in the Bible, every time God or an angel appears, the words ‘Don’t be afraid’ are stated. ‘Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight’” (Proverbs 9:10). The holy presence helps us to see that there is more here than meets the eye. We can access a place within that can alter our consciousness and help us to see with “new” eyes or a “born again” or “awakened” spirit.
There is no substitute for practicing the teachings first hand in real time. Columnist Regina Brett put it beautifully. She writes, “Some days, 24 hours is too much to stay put in, so I take the day hour by hour, moment by moment. I break the task, the challenge, the fear into small, bite-size pieces. I can handle a piece of fear, depression, anger, pain, sadness, loneliness, illness. I actually put my hands up to my face, one next to each eye, like blinders on a horse”.
Great advice. Be present to what you’re up against and address it. Just keep moving forward with a prayer in your heart and stay away from the burning barn.