Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Is it FEAR you’re afraid of?

afraid of fear
While mowing my lawn listening to Switchfoot on Spotify, I paused for a second as Jon Foreman sang the lyrics, “is it fear you’re afraid of?” Had to think about that line for a second. How many times are we afraid? Afraid of change. Afraid of living. Afraid of risks. Afraid of fear. Some people live in constant fear. Sad really, when fear takes hold of a heart, driving people to irrational anxiety or worry to the point of not living. I’ve been there myself.

As a child, my parents would send me downstairs to fetch something for them. Being the oldest child, it seemed that responsibility fell to me more often than my siblings. I hated going downstairs by myself. Some people love the isolation and quiet of the basement, but not me. It was one of my greatest fears. I was convinced there were people downstairs just under the stairs ready to grab my ankles through the open stairwell. To make matters worse, the light switch was at the top of the stairs. On more than one occasion, one less than sympathetic family member found it funny to turn the light off while I was downstairs. Fumbling my way through the dark I would clamour up the stairs to find the door locked. I could the hear sniggling siblings on the other side of the door getting all kinds of pleasure at my expense. Fear would rise inside of me intermingled with physical panic causing me to gasp for air. I hated those stairs, I hated that basement, I wanted to hate those siblings.

Years later, my fear turned to full blown anxiety when I found myself working in a group home trying to put myself through college. As much I told myself that I didn’t need to be afraid of those kids, my irrational fear could not control the thought patterns I had trained my mind to think. I felt so out of control and afraid. It took a lot of reading, self-reflection, journaling, and talking to finally change those patterns.

That was over 30 years ago. Over the years, I have used my weaknesses and failures as a means to empathize with my students in the classroom. As teachers, Parker Palmer reminds us that we “try to teach to their fearful hearts” so they can be freed up to learn and change their hearts. How many of our students struggle to come to school each and every day? Fear is fear, irrational or not. It still bottles people up limiting them from really living. Nothing drives me crazier than watching unsympathetic and uncaring individuals ignorantly go about their daily affairs, so wrapped up in their selfish lives, oblivious of people suffering from fear. And even worse, when it’s kids who are suffering!

It takes very little for us to smile and say hello. It takes very little to stop and engage in conversation. It takes very little to give of our time to make another feel of some importance or significance. It takes very little in comparison to a lifetime to stop and listen to the heartbeat of a child’s soul echoing its sad refrain. Yet if it takes so little, what stops so many of us from giving a little of ourselves to ease the child’s fearful suffering.

I think truth be told, many of us have yet to master the fear we have within ourselves. We are still afraid of fear. We are afraid to die, we afraid to live, we are afraid to fail, we are afraid to succeed, we are afraid to lose, we are afraid to win, we are afraid of change, we are afraid things staying the same. The list goes on. But we downplay the power fear has over us when we don’t acknowledge how much it controls us.

“As soon as our own safety is threatened, we tend to grab the first stick or gun available, telling ourselves that our survival is what really counts even if thousands of others are not going to make it. Aren’t we so insecure that we will snatch at any form of power that gives us a little bit of control over who we are, what we do, and where we go?

“I know my sticks and guns. Sometimes my stick is a friend with more influence than I; sometimes my gun is money or a degree; sometimes it is a little talent that others don’t have; and sometimes it is special knowledge, or a hidden memory, or even a cold stare. I will grab it quickly and without much hesitation when I need it to stay in control. And before I realize it, I have pushed my friends away.” Henri Nouwen.

I am not afraid to say that I still live in fear, but I have acknowledged it, talked it through with loved ones, embraced a growth mindset that doesn’t feel shame for being afraid. I may still be afraid of fear, but I don’t let it stop me from living. I use fear to keep me alert to the dangers in life, not to force me into hiding. I don’t keep it all bottled up inside anymore. I’m honest about what it did to me. I’m not ashamed of it because I’ve had to push passed it. I allow myself to feel things and not become so detached and calloused. I let myself be human. So, yes, it is FEAR that I’m afraid of. Truth be told, we’re all afraid. But can we all admit it?

Karen Thompson Walker adds some of her thoughts on what fear can teach us.

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