22 Feb 18 Inches: Myths About Fear
This is the fifth installment of our blog series, “18 Inches: Myths that Disconnect the Head From the Heart.” Our goal is to identify some of the lies we’ve been taught about our emotions and counter it with the truth. Click here to view the rest of the series.
Myth #17: There is nothing to fear but fear itself.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt coined these famous words during his 1933 inaugural address. Roosevelt’s goal was to inspire a country experiencing a great deal of fear from the Great Depression. He wanted to turn a bad situation into a good one by encouraging the American public to invest in the economy instead of hiding their money underneath their mattresses. Today, we use this quote to promote the idea that fear and faith are enemies.
The truth is, fear opposes faith only when fear is rooted in unbelief. The Bible tells us the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. The Bible also has passages like the one in Joshua that commands us to be strong and courageous and not to be afraid or discouraged. While these commands may seem contradictory, in reality, they are not. The original word for fear used in Joshua refers to what Chip Dodd calls an impaired expression of fear. The Lord was telling Joshua not to let fear take over his body. The word in Joshua 1:9 means, “Don’t let fear consume or control you.”
As we confess our fears to the Lord, He can use our fears to lead us toward a deeper faith.
In Hebrews 11:7 we read,“By faith Noah, after he was warned about what was not yet seen and motivated by godly fear, built an ark to deliver his family. By faith he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith.” Noah was both motivated by faith, but he was also fearful. Fear and faith are not opposites. They are not enemies. As we confess our fears to the Lord, He can use our fears to lead us toward a deeper faith.
Myth #18: Fearless people are courageous people.
Does anyone really want to ride in a car with a fearless person? No! A fearless person places no value on their own life. And because they place no value on their own life, they in turn place no value on the lives of others.
The truth is, fearless people are actually reckless people. Sometimes we believe that fearless people are courageous, but fearless people are actually reckless. There is a scene in The Dark Knight Rises in which Bruce Wayne, Batman, is cast into a subterranean prison. The only way out is to climb a 50 foot vertical wall. He ties a rope around his waist to prevent him from crashing if he falls to the stoney bottom. Over and over again Bruce attempts the climb and over and over again he fails. A fellow prisoner tells Bruce his problem is fear. Bruce sweeps this statement aside saying he is not afraid, just angry. To this response the prisoner replies, “You think that not fearing death makes you strong, but this is wrong, not fearing death makes you weak.” In order to create a sense of fear in Bruce, the prisoner tells him to attempt the vertical climb without the rope, thereby taking away the assurance of safety and replacing it with fear. With a new, powerful sense of fear, Bruce Wayne climbs up the wall and reaches freedom.
Fear is a tool that informs us of danger. It is a gift from God as a means of helping us navigate life in a broken world. To live without fear is to live recklessly. To live with fear is to be empowered to live courageously and whole heartedly.
Myth #19: Fear of the unknown is the worst kind of fear.
Fear of the unknown is also known as xenophobia – fear of what is different. (Xenophobia often describes specific fears of other ethnic groups, but the term also captures a more general fear of new, strange, or foreign things.) We may feel xenophobia when have negative experiences outside of our comfort zone. Let’s say you only liked eating meat and potatoes, but your mom wanted you to try brussel sprouts. You trusted your mom, so you took the step into the unknown and the result was disastrous! Now xenophobia rules your dietary choices.
However, the truth is that we do not so much fear the unknown as much as we fear the possibilities of what could happen. When we step into the unknown, a list of endless possibilities begins to run through our minds. We fear what it might be like to lose our privileges, so we fight those who threaten them. We are afraid our person won’t be elected into office, not so much because we don’t know what might happen, but because of all the negative possibilities that might happen.
At the root of our fears often lies the central fear of losing control. This is where our faith becomes critical. We are not in control, and that’s scary. But, we know the One who is in control and He is trustworthy! We do not know what the future will hold, but we don’t have to live in xenophobia, controlled by our fears. We can confess our fears to the Lord and walk in faith, trusting Him to be with us at each moment.
Myth #20: Fear makes us weak.
Whether you believe this myth or not, it can often be present in how we parent or instruct others. I remember one instance that occurred in our previous house. We lived on the main floor, but kept some food in our basement refrigerator. I remember telling one of my sons to go downstairs and get some milk. He looked downstairs, saw that it was pitch black, turned to me, and said, “Dad will you go with me?” He was not saying “No.” He was just saying, “I’m afraid. I’m willing to go, I just need you to go with me.” Being the great parent that I am, I told him, “Boy you better stop being afraid and get down there and get that milk!” I was telling him to get out of his fears and go downstairs – as if I didn’t know what it’s like to be afraid. Because I believed fear makes us weak, and because I didn’t like the feeling of fear in my own life, I parented in a way to drive fear out of my kids.
But the truth is, fear does not make us weak. Fear makes us human. Instead of embracing our fear as part of being human, we reject it and try to get away from it. Fear is the feeling that lets us know we are in danger. It lets us know we are not in control. When we don’t embrace and address our fear, it becomes impaired in the form of anxiety, fighting for control, or rage. Fear reminds us we are human and have limited abilities to control any of life’s situations.
When we embrace our fear as a tool for living in our broken world, we experience the gift of wisdom and faith. Wisdom leads us to accept our own limitations as it directs us to our Savior and King who has no limitations! Whenever we vainly attempt to maintain control, we lose the opportunity to see our King work in our lives. Over and over again we see the authors in the Psalms express fear. But we also see the authors take their fears to the Lord because they know that though they may be limited, the Lord of the Universe is not! In the same way, embracing our emotions of fear as an indicator of our humanity and limitations allows us to wholeheartedly turn to God, with whom all things are possible.
Dhati Lewis is the Lead Pastor of Blueprint Church in Atlanta, Georgia and the Executive Director of Community Restoration with the North American Mission Board. He earned his Master of Arts in Cross Cultural Ministry from Dallas Theological Seminary and most recently received his Doctorate of Ministry in Great Commission Mobilization from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. Dhati has seven beautiful children and is married to Angie, a discerning woman who empowers and encourages him to live fully in his identity in Christ. He is the author of both the Bible Study and book, Among Wolves: Disciple Making in the City.
Follow Dhati on social media: Twitter, Facebook, Instagram