Emotional Levers: Fear

Fear can be a lifesaver. It operates faster than thought to increase our heart rate and and prepare our muscles for action. These physiological responses are outside our conscious control—a fact which leaves us vulnerable to manipulation. For, example, the “fear-then-relief” technique releases hormones that make a person more compliant and cooperative in the first moments after a threat has passed. The threat doesn’t have to be real, it just has to seem real. The anticipation of future danger causes the same physical symptoms as a real and present danger. To further complicate matters, the hormone adrenaline is triggered both by fear and by romantic attraction.

Talk about confusion! Fear, love and relief tug our heartstrings in all directions while we try to separate imagination from reality. Some of our fears are groundless. Take, for example, the fear of public speaking, where there’s often nothing to fear but fear itself. Other kinds of fear require urgent action. “Relax!” is bad advice when a runaway truck is bearing down on you. Then there are the instances of “courage under fire” where the danger is real, but the risk should be accepted for the sake of a higher purpose.

Fear is about bad outcomes: failure, shame, loss of income, harm to ourselves or our loved ones. There will always be people who peddle a supposedly easy path while warning of disaster if we ignore their advice. Manipulators use fear to control the behavior of others. The most sinister do so for personal gain, but not all manipulators have evil motives. Even our friends may fan the flames of fear while trying to dissuade us from choosing a difficult path.

How do we know which advice to heed and which to ignore? Careful thought is required. Unfortunately, one of the side-effects of fear is a loss of mental focus. Heaven help us!  Literally.

What does the Bible say about dealing with fear? Proverbs 9:10 is often quoted: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom…” What does that mean? Should we be afraid of our Heavenly Father who loves us?

Jesus gave this answer:

“Don’t be afraid of those who kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul. Rather, fear him who is able to destroy both soul and body in Gehenna (hell). Aren’t two sparrows sold for a penny? Not one of them falls on the ground apart from your Father’s will, but the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Therefore don’t be afraid. You are of more value than many sparrows. Everyone therefore who confesses me before men, him I will also confess before my Father who is in heaven. But whoever denies me before men, him I will also deny before my Father who is in heaven.” – Matthew 10:28-33

Our present lives are but a brief chapter in an eternal story. Earthly dangers pale when we realize that our eternal destiny may rest on decisions made here and now. Whom should we obey, the Father who made us, or a fickle and confusing emotion called “fear”?

The choice seems obvious in theory, but it’s not so easy when standing face-to-face with a fear-mongering manipulator. Especially when our hands are shaking and our hearts are pounding. We should remember that even Jesus sweated blood when his suffering was imminent. The physical symptoms of fear are not necessarily a sign that we should back down. Sometimes we have to “do it scared.”

But, how can we do it scared if we don’t know what “it” is? We want to do the right thing, but the situation is complicated. We don’t want anyone to get hurt, so we try to second-guess the manipulator’s intentions. We try to map out chains of cause and effect, action and reaction. Thus we become trapped obsessing over outcomes which are beyond our control.

Mohandas Gandhi wisely said:

“It’s the action, not the fruit of the action, that’s important. You have to do the right thing. It may not be in your power, may not be in your time, that there will be any fruit. But that doesn’t mean you stop doing the right thing. You may never know what results come from your action. But if you do nothing, there will be no result.”

Fear mongers torment us with doubts about the unknown. We cannot know the future. We cannot know whether the fear monger is telling truth or lies. We need to trust the words of Jesus: “there is nothing covered up, that will not be revealed, nor hidden, that will not be known.” (Luke 12:2) Faith tells us that truth will prevail. Evil tactics will be exposed. It’s not our job to unwind the manipulative schemes of those who want to control us. We are responsible for our own words and actions. God will take care of the rest.

In the daily struggle against fear, another quote from Gandhi is worth memorizing:

“Let the first act of every morning be to make the following resolve for the day:

  • I shall not fear anyone on Earth. – I shall fear only God.
  • I shall not bear ill will toward anyone. – I shall not submit to injustice from anyone.
  • I shall conquer untruth by truth. And in resisting untruth, I shall put up with all suffering.”

Comments

  1. Bethany Lee says:

    Those are great Ghandi quotes.

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