When We’re Afraid We’re Not Fully Alive

When I was five-years-old, I learned the hard way that you can’t be fully alive when you’re afraid.

It was the beginning of summer and I had recently discovered the joys of walking barefoot in grass. The sensation of soft blades of grass between my pudgy five-year-old toes turned to tragedy when  I stepped on a bee, causing my foot to swell to the size of a cantaloupe.

For the rest of the summer, I avoided going outside because I was afraid of being stung again. Four decades later, the small hairs on the nape of my neck still stand up when I hear bees buzzing.

That’s the power fear can have over us. It transformed a random encounter with a bee into something that kept a five-year-old boy from playing outside for an entire summer. It stopped me from living life, from being fully alive.

Fear Equals Control

Historically, fear has been used as a tool for achieving less-than-noble (and sometimes, outright evil) goals. And it’s not just the Hitlers and the Pol Pots of the world that use fear to influence the masses. Pay attention and you’ll see the fear factor at work in everything from advertising to the political process.

At its most basic level, fear equals control.

When we’re afraid, we change our behaviors and even our values to protect ourselves from the objects of our fear. If someone is selling a way to avoid the things that scare us, we’re buying — and that’s the moment they own us, the moment we relinquish control of the things we truly care about.

The Antidote for Fear Is Trust

Trust is the building block for a spiritual life. Although learning to trust is a lifelong process, you can’t lead a spiritually mature life without trusting God. It’s like trying to drive a car without gasoline — you can sit behind the wheel all day long, but you’re not really going anywhere.

Fear is real and it can be paralyzing. But by exercising trust in the face of fear mongering, our efforts to follow Jesus become more authentic. We become more fully alive because we’re free to experience life unencumbered.

Trust starts with love.

Trust always begins with love. But it’s not our love for God — it’s God’s love for us. In 1 John 4:18, we read:

There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear …

Even when God feels remote, our imperfect belief in God’s perfect love enables us to move through life without fear, knowing that we are loved and cared for.

Trust acknowledges uncertainty.

Trust is not an absolute certainty that everything will be fine. In fact, it’s an acknowledgement that life is anything but certain and that sometimes, our worst fears become realities that turn our lives upside down.

When we trust God, we become more fully alive because we learn how to make peace with uncertainty. Although we never really know what the future holds, we embrace life because we know that we won’t have to walk through it alone.

Trust chooses hope.

Nothing good comes from fear. It’s a negative emotion, a soul-killer that slowly bleeds joy and compassion out of our lives. Over time, it makes it impossible for us to love unconditionally or in some cases, to love at all.

To trust in God is to choose hope. It’s a decision to remain positive even when fear mongers paint a bleak picture of the future. And by choosing hope, we also choose a life of love.

It’s ironic that those who push fear in the political marketplace usually sell it with the promise of a better life. But in reality, it’s not fear, but trust that allows us to be more fully alive and embrace the lives we’re actually meant to live.