Thursday, February 09, 2017

Overcoming Fearfulness

Downtown Monroe

Most of my fears are irrational, in two ways. The first kind of irrational fear I have suffered is like this:

1) I believe that horrible event X is going to happen.
2) I feel fearful of the horrible event X.
3) X never happens.

The famous non-event of "Y2K" is an example. Personally, I was among those who did not believe this horrible event would happen. But some did, and the emotion of fear was real to them. They went through that fearful time for no reason. Their fear was irrational. Most of the fears people experience are about situations that never happen. Surely this is an unhealthy way to live!

A second kind of irrational fear is this.

1) Horrible event X is probably going to happen.
2) I feel fearful of horrible event X.
3) X happens.

For example, I might be facing a surgery. I experience fear while waiting for it. It is natural to feel fearful, but my fear does nothing to help the situation. My fearfulness makes the whole thing worse than it already is. In this sense my fearfulness is irrational. It is like pouring fuel on an already-existing fire.

Consider a less toxic situation. Let's say that tomorrow I have to mediate in a conflict which threatens to hurt our church if it is not healed. (Which I do not, BTW.) I have trouble getting to sleep tonight, because I am fearful there will be a negative outcome. My fear is real, but irrational, since it contributes nothing to the healing, and may actually prevent me from seeing clearly in the act of mediation.

The truth is, both as a pastor and as a human, I face fearful situations. There is always "something coming around the bend," imagined or real. I would like to face those situations minus the feeling of fear, which is unhelpful, unhealthy, and debilitating. Is this possible?

I think it is possible to overcome fearfulness. The antidote to a fearful heart is to make God one's "fortress and strength," the result being, "what shall I then fear?" Henri Nouwen writes:

"The mystery of the spiritual life is that Jesus desires to meet us in the seclusion of our own heart, to make his love known to us there, to free us from our fears, and to make our own deepest self known to us... Each time you let the love of God penetrate deeper into your heart, you lose a bit of your anxiety." (Nouwen, The Only Necessary Thing: Living a Prayerful Life, 70-71)

Nouwen devotes an entire book to this theme, and asks the question, "Do you live in the house of God or in the house of fear?"

We have a choice about which spiritual and emotional "house" we are going to call home. (See Nouwen's Lifesigns: Intimacy, Fecundity, and Ecstasy in Christian Perspective) Today, engage in those spiritual disciplines that connect you to Jesus. Make the house of God the home of your heart.

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My recent book is Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God.


I am currently writing Leading the Presence-Driven Church (June 2017)and How God Changes the Human Heart (A Phenomenology of Spiritual Transformation) (June 2018).