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The Gift of Fear



"I sought the LORD, and he answered me

and delivered me from all my fears.

Those who look to him are radiant,

and their faces shall never be ashamed."

-Psalm 34:4-5


The word "fear" often incites images of spiders, death, heights, public speaking, clowns, rejection, etc. If you can imagine it, someone out there is afraid of it. The world's definition of fear is: "An unpleasant feeling triggered by the perception of danger, real or imagined." Unpleasant wouldn't be the word I would use to describe the feeling I get when fear ransacks my brain. Debilitating, agonizing, foreboding, panic, terrorizing, and relentless are a few adjectives that tend to more aptly describe my mental status when fear creeps in. Perhaps the person who chose the word "unpleasant" was on a bunch of Xanax that day and had lost touch with the raw vulnerability and desperation that fear invokes. The odds are highly favorable, considering millions of Americans depend on prescription solutions just to get through the day without a panic attack.


So when I stumbled across the book The Gift of Fear by Gavin De Becker, I had no choice but to believe that the man had abandoned Xanax and opted for LSD as a solution to self-medicate against the cruel tyrant that fear is over a soul (Just kidding. For the record, Gavin seems like a straight-laced model citizen who has his act together. No judgment on hippies though). Although from first appearances and a worldly point of view, there is no way a sober man rationally makes that kind of a bold statement. How can fear be a gift?! The title of his book caught my eye and intrigued me to dive deeper.


The underlying message behind the entire book is that when you accept fear as a survival skill and a welcomed message, then fear stops instantly. Gavin tells us that “Real fear is a signal intended to be very brief, a mere servant of intuition. Though few would argue that extended, unanswered fear is destructive, millions choose to stay there. They may have forgotten or never learned that fear is not an emotion like sadness or happiness, either of which might last a long while. It is not a state like anxiety. True fear is a survival signal that sounds only in the presence of danger, yet unwarranted fear has assumed a power over us that it holds over no other creature on earth.” Pg 292-293. He boldly states that there are two rules about fear and that if we accept them, we can improve our lives dramatically.


Rule number one is that the very fact you are fearful is solid evidence that what we fear hasn’t happened yet. For example, if we fear that we will get fired from our job, we can count that as a blessing because it means that we haven’t yet been fired from our position at that point. We can reduce our panic by embracing rule number two, which is that what we fear is rarely linked to what we think we fear. The example he gives is public speaking. Most people who fear public speaking actually fear the loss of identity that attaches to performing poorly, which is firmly rooted in our survival needs. We subconsciously exaggerate the unwarranted fear linking our being viewed as incompetent to the loss of our jobs, houses, and families, ultimately leading to the death of life as we know it. By taking a minute pause to evaluate the links that our brains make, we can minimize the panic triggered by these irrational thought processes. Gavin tells us: “Worry, wariness, anxiety, and concern all have a purpose, but they are not fear. So anytime your dreaded outcome cannot be reasonably liked to pain or death and it isn’t a signal in the presence of danger, then it really shouldn’t be confused with fear.“ Pg. 301. He says that when we are worrying, we should ask ourselves how it is serving us and evaluate whether the cost of worrying is worth the cost of changing. Regardless of the messages, our bodies tell us, we have a choice whether or not to worry. The root cause of anxiety is always uncertainty. Suppose we can bring ourselves to apply our imaginations to actively search for the best possible outcome in every scenario. In that case, we will find that most of the time, it will rewrite the negative self-talk in our heads which will alleviate our anxiety.


This sounds simple, but it is not easy. I don’t say any of this from a place of having mastered it myself. The last week has been so horrible that on Tuesday night, I was a sobbing, crumpled mess on the laundry room floor, begging that God would end it all right there. My anxiety that I would lose my job, house, and sobriety which would lead to my death, had completely overrun any logic to the contrary. My fantastic imagination had become my own worst enemy, and the underlying cause was a deep-rooted mistrust in God. Thankfully, He didn’t end my life at that moment per my request. He stayed dead silent and let me stew in my bitterness while questioning His sovereignty all night, comparable to a shortened version of the story of Job (minus the painful boils and actual loss of anything meaningful in my life). After I had gotten some sleep in the morning, He reassured me of who He is and that He has the universe under control without my help. Through my morning devotionals, prayer, and other Christian friends, I was reminded that He still loved me. He redirected me to The Gift of Fear book, and by Wednesday evening, I could see the glow of hope again.


Did I have a moment of weakness where I caved into fear and forgot I have faith? You bet. Am I going to beat myself up about the insanity of my temper tantrum like the enemy wants? Absolutely not. In the Old Testament, David was quite dramatic, and he was listed as a man after God's own heart. He hits the nail on the head in Psalms 34 when he says that when we seek the Lord, God will eventually answer us and deliver us from fear. He might not remove the fearful situations in our lives, but He is always with us. And like Moses, who glowed after looking upon the face of God (Exodus 34), when we spend time in His presence, we too will shine and become radiant. 2 Corinthians 3:16-18 tells us: "When one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled faces, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit." Fear is a veil. When we choose to turn our fear over to Him, surrender to uncertainty, thank Him for what He is doing in every situation (even if we are scared out of our minds and can't see any good), and trust that He truly has us, then an amazing thing happens. That veil of fear is lifted, and we once again become radiant and look like Christ to those around us.


I don’t know what the future holds, but if I spend all my time worrying about it, I won’t be able to enjoy the gift that is the present moment. I can’t change the past, and I don’t want future trip anymore. Falling on my face hurts. So does crying on the laundry room floor over things that haven't happened yet. So (if even for only this week), I'm thanking God for the gift of fear, and all the other gifts He has given me as well. Praying you have a blessed week, and that we all keep our eyes on Christ and that He lifts the veil of fear so we glow like Him. God bless.


Shalom.



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