A friend recently gave me a compliment, calling me fearless. He said, “You are completely fearless aren’t you? I think you are completely fearless.” I was startled by his assessment, embarrassed, and also afraid to let him down by telling the truth. My first impulse was to confirm his opinion, by saying something like, “Yes, you know, I guess I really am fearless…aw, shucks.” And, shamefully, I may have actually begun my reply with some similar sort of deceit; but then I caught myself and came clean, assuring him that: “No, I am not fearless.”
I regret the truth that I am not fearless; but still I was encouraged by the fact that he at least thinks I am, and his opinion of me, gave me a little boost of courage, I must admit. And it got me to thinking further about fearlessness, and the characteristics and source of this virtue.
It seems to me, and I’ve heard others say this as well, that it is less important to be without fear, than it is to be able to function properly while in the presence of fear, or in the face of it. We may not be able to eradicate our fear, but we are capable of overcoming it; we can take our fear out of the driver’s seat, and make it a mere passenger, along for the ride—perhaps occasionally giving us some sound advice from the back seat, but certainly no longer taking us for a ride.
I can’t imagine living a life in total absence of fear, however I can envision living a life so bound by fear that it is hardly living a life at all. In fact, I don’t have to imagine this; I’ve seen people destroyed by their fear: afraid of their inner pain, and driven by it into the arms of addictions, numbing themselves with all kinds of distractions. We can fear so many things: we fear being hurt, we fear being embarrassed, we have the fear of being cheated, or made the fool, the fear of unrequited love, fear of failing, fear of losing, fear of the dark, fear of other people, fear of our own inadequacies, fear of telling the truth, fear of being ourselves—and so many others—the fear of growing old, of loneliness, disability, and finally, the fear of dying.
Certainly fear has its place and some fears are helpful: fear may tell us not to swim with crocodiles, or not to thrust a fork into an electrical outlet, or that we should run out of a burning building. But many fears merely stand between us and the lives we desire—the lives we were created, and intended to live.
What is it that can help us transcend our fear; how can we bridge the gap between a life bound by fear/anxiety/worry and a potential life of living free from their tyranny? The fears that bind us are typically not instinctual fears, but rather deriving from our thoughts; therefore, one step to freedom from fear’s prison involves cultivating freedom from our thoughts. Learning to step into the stillness and the silence beyond, or beneath, our thought-world, is a big step towards freedom from fear’s tyranny.
Yet, to step into the silence and the stillness beyond our thoughts, requires courage and a measure of freedom right from the start. How do we find courage when we don’t feel courageous? Especially, how do we find the courage to step into our own inner world—that uncomfortable, possibly terrifying place where all of our monsters reside? I propose that the best, and most perfect, and most complete way is to look trustingly to our Heavenly Father, and more specifically to His Son, Jesus Christ—our Lord, our friend and brother, our guide—He can be our example, role-model and our source of courage.
Jesus, though God incarnate, was also fully human and apparently not without fear. The night before his death—before his murder—he prayed to His Father that this imminent outcome might be removed, but also that God’s will would be done, and an angel came and strengthened Him in his last difficult hours. Here we see prayer to God, and trust in God modeled for us, even in the face of fear or anguish, and then we see God providing comfort and assurance.
Many things may get in the way of our following in these same footsteps, (and knowing this same kind of freedom of action), and most of these things which may obstruct us are thoughts, all kinds of thoughts that we have, such as: God doesn’t exist, Jesus isn’t real, this won’t work for me, God doesn’t understand my problems which are far too complicated, I’m worthless, I can never forgive, I can’t face others, I won’t ever let others see me so weak etc.
I propose that none of these thoughts, nor any of the myriad others just like them, are worth what they give us, nor what they keep from us; they give us suffering and enslavement, and they keep us from love, inner freedom and peace.
“God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him….There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love.” (1 John 4:16, 18)
I think that we all should know God, we all should meet and develop relationship with Jesus Christ. I don’t say “should” here in the moral sense of right and wrong, but in the practical sense that relationship with God is the beginning of courage and freedom. If we learn love from the source of love, and experience love by seeking that perfect love which is Jesus Christ, and have Him as our standard of action, then we have a great opportunity to free ourselves from the confines of our own thinking (and feeling) and from enslavement to our fears.
Like a child learning to ride a bike, or learning how to swim, we can envision ourselves in this life-long endeavor of learning how to love. The little child looks to their teacher and trusts in that person, forgetting their own fear of falling or of sinking. We can look to Jesus, our teacher, forgetting our fears, and trusting in the way that He enlightens.
Learning to live free from the tyranny of fear, learning to love instead, is a foundational and essential task, I think, for a fulfilling, meaningful and healthy life. Whatever else we may do in life, whatever accomplishments and successes we may achieve, whatever legacy we may leave, none of it amounts to anything if we have not learned how to love as God loves.
Most of us have all sorts of thoughts and ideas about God; however, I believe, that most of what we think about Him actually gets in the way, and inhibits our knowing Him as He truly is. Just as fear keeps us from knowing ourselves and knowing each other, it also gets in the way of knowing God. Instead, we make up fantasies about ourselves, about each other, and certainly about God; making Jesus into who we want Him to be, rather than who He says He is, and who He actually is.
Scripture tells us that God is love; the Bible also gives us many lessons in this reality of love, with the most central lesson being, I think, what is known as the “Great Commandment” in which Jesus gives us the key to life, (freedom, peace, joy) and love: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22: 37-39) This is the way to know God, and the more we will love like Him, the more we come to understand about Him, and the closer we will come into His presence.
Scripture also tells us that God is Spirit and can only be known in spirit. We often anthropomorphize God, making Him in the image of man, and then we reflect upon this misrepresentation, these caricatures that we’ve constructed of God; we argue against whatever straw-man we have raised in our own minds in place of the real God. But this does not change God, it only alienates man further from God. What could be worse and more tragic than alienation from the source of love, in whose image and likeness we are all made (as scripture also describes)? Seeking God in spirit is the antidote for our alienation.
I believe that prayer is the primary activity of our spirit; in particular prayer that seeks God beyond words, though our prayer might begin with words. The prayer that I find most effective in banishing fear, is a prayer that calls upon the name of Jesus, and which seeks the love of God; it begins with words which focus my mind on Christ, but then gradually sheds language, and dives into silence, seeking instead a deeper first-hand presence and experiential sharing. The words I often start with are, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me” or “Come to my help, oh God. Lord Jesus hurry to my rescue” or I may pray to fulfill the great commandment, and focus all my mind, heart, soul and strength to this end; allowing God’s love to fill all aspects of my being, that I may be made anew in the likeness of love.
Prayer often begins in our spare moments, and then it can grow into our every moment; hopefully becoming the primary activity of our entire being. In time, we will find the stillness that exists behind the veil of our language, and this stillness we can carry with us throughout our daily life. This stillness which we carry within us, allows us to hear and manifest the word of God—the love of God—as we go about our daily life. With the presence of this love, palpable and real inside us, we can enjoy a real and tangible power; but it is a gentle and peaceful power which is able to resist fear’s tyranny, and any other of the things that would try to enslave us. Knowing God’s love is a power that makes us bold and courageous in the face of fear.