A few months ago, I came face to face with the uncomfortable reality that my fear hurts other people. It started when my doctor told me I needed a medical test. I won’t go into the gory details, but it was the kind of medical test that makes men cringe. It sounded more medieval than medical.
I knew the purpose of the test was to rule out something serious and potentially save my life. But it didn’t matter. I argued with my doctor, and more than once I thought about canceling the appointment just to avoid the unpleasantness of it all, even though my health was on the line.
In the end, I went through with it. Although the test really was terrible, it wasn’t as terrible as I had imagined it would be and the results were normal. But that’s not the point. The point is that I almost let my fear stand in the way of what was best for me and for the people who depend on me.
How your fear hurts other people
Most of the people inhabiting this planet are good and decent souls who are trying to do right by God and their fellow human beings. But fear takes our best intentions off track and makes us do things we don’t really want to do. Like it or not, fear doesn’t just hurt you — your fear hurts other people. Here’s how:
- Fear makes you selfish. Uncertainty is scary. None us can see into the future, so the things we don’t know can be much scarier than the things we do know. Faced with the fear of the unknown, our natural tendency is self-protection — we do whatever it takes to insulate ourselves from thousands of potentially negative scenarios. But self-protection comes at a price. When we’re focused on protecting ourselves, we neglect the needs of others — and they suffer the consequences. Want an example? Try this one on for size: While the accumulation of wealth provides financial security for the few, it means that the many struggle to earn a living wage.
- Fear fuels stereotypes. In addition to fearing the unknown, we fear things we don’t completely understand. Too often, our divisions and differences become sources of fear because we fill in the blanks with stereotypes and negative images of entire groups of people. Whether we admit it or not, we’re all susceptible to stereotypes based on religion, race, ideology, geography and dozens of other variables. But if you dig deep enough, you’ll discover that most of those stereotypes aren’t rooted in reality. They’re rooted in our fears.
- Fear limits your perspective. You were created to be a constant learner. At the moment God breathed life into you, he didn’t make a human being — he made a human becoming. With each passing day, our lives and perspectives are expanded by our interactions with each other and through our experiences in the world. Fear limits your perspective because it restricts your interactions with other people and minimizes new experiences. When you live in a bubble, spiritual and personal development slow to a crawl. The end product is narrow living, narrow thinking and narrow faith — things that inevitably impact other people. And none of these things honor God or Jesus’ alternative vision for your life.
The cure for fear Is trust
The opposite of fear isn’t courage. It’s trust. I heard somewhere that the phrase “fear not” appears more than 300 times in the Bible. I don’t know if that’s true or not. But here’s what I do know: The Bible talks a lot about fear and trust.
For example, consider this passage from the gospel of John:
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.
Trust in God frees us from the limitations that fear places on our lives. But because fear hurts other people, trust also allows us to live a more vibrant and spiritually mature life:
- Instead of hoarding wealth, we’re free to consider the needs of others because we trust God to provide for our needs.
- Instead of fearing the stereotypes we create, we’re free to relate to other people as individuals and see God’s fingerprint in everyone we meet.
- Instead of narrow living and narrow thinking, we’re free to grow spiritually, trusting God to open our hearts and minds to new people and new experiences.
Fear hurts other people. It makes us human and strips us of our humanity at the same time. But although it’s impossible to ignore the ugly realities of evil and injustice, we don’t have to be afraid.
We can choose to trust God and see the world differently. And with a little less fear in our lives, maybe we can begin to see the beauty that is all around us.