Everybody thinks, I'm brave. Maybe it's because I like bungee jumping or running long distances alone in the dark – or because I moved to India! But the truth is this: I am a fearful person. I just preferred to keep it to myself. I avoided it, fought against it and ran away from it. Facing my fears was difficult, but it was the first step into a new freedom.
The many faces of fear
Everyone is afraid. In former times, men were afraid of epidemics and forces of nature. Today we are more scared of loneliness, of terror and political uncertainty, of failure, of not being truly loved, existential anxiety, or even fear of spiders or snakes. A friend of mine is actually scared of moles and clowns! Almost everybody knows the fear of our own finiteness, of disease and death.
Some fears enter our life abruptly. In my case, it was the fear of flying after one experience of engine problems. Since then, my heart races and I start sweating when turbulence occurs. I travel often and I know flying is safe – but since that one bad experience, I feel a total loss of control.
When fear enters our life, it is so difficult to get rid of it. It creeps into our head and heart, puts brakes on our goals and harms our relationships, our faith and our conception of our selves. A life completely devoid of fear is not possible. In fact, we need fear as an alarm system to react and protect us during dangerous situations. But when fear becomes overpowering and starts paralysing us, due to anger or panic, then it becomes a danger to us and to others. Fear becomes a threat when we get stuck in it and let it dominate us.
What fear does to us
People have different kinds of strategies to deal with fear. Some try to hide it and isolate themselves, while others aggressively move forward. I belong to the second category. When my friend was killed, I began to run alone at night. I was a teenager, trying to cope with my fear and trying to reduce it. Even today, it sometimes happens that my elbow moves fast when I feel somebody touching me from behind. My husband can't understand how a confident woman like me can be that jumpy. But I have always been scared since childhood. I believe that fear grows with the years – just like weeds do when we don’t fight the roots.
As a child, I was scared of bad dreams and of two boys who teased me every day in school. I never told anybody, because my friends and family had this image of me as a strong girl. But in school, I was shy and scared: the perfect victim. As a teenager, the fear of not being accepted and understood grew more and more. I had a fear of failure, and I failed often in several subjects. At 18, I found myself a boyfriend – just to prove that I was loveable. In university, I did everything to get good scores and get some recognition. I worked as a model and actress just to feel beautiful and precious. To lose the fear of heights, I did bungee and parachute jumping and races in the Alps. I tried so hard to shake off my fears. But I never tried to look at what lay behind it, to understand it. I was too scared of my fear.
Look behind the fear
Actually, it is very simple: I am scared of being hurt – both physically and mentally. Our brain does not know the difference anyway: no matter if it is lovesickness, financial worries or social mobbing, it will activate the same processes and circuits in the brain as physical pain. My friends and family were unaware that it was fear breathing down my neck that made me react so rudely. I preferred to hit out around me rather than taking the risk of someone hurting me. Of course this behaviour did not help me or others. When I realised that fear was hiding behind my anger, I did not know how to handle that.
I figured out my biggest fears and took a close look at their impact on my life. How did they influence my relationships, my faith and my work? In relationships, it was the fear of rejection, of not being good enough. With God, it was the fear that He doesn't really care about me, doesn’t see me and takes away people I love. In work, my biggest fear was failure, being dependent and being average.
Fear and God
For people without God, there is no safe place in this world. But I do believe in God – so why do I still feel unsafe? Maybe because I did not really know this God I claimed to trust? Once I understood that I did not really trust in God – that I was not totally convinced by His love and that he does not make any mistakes – I learned that I really had to start getting to know my Father in heaven better. A God who is not almighty and loving will cause fear too.
In contrast to all religions, we have a God in Jesus who felt our fears in body and soul. There is no fear that He doesn't know! He was abandoned by people and even felt forsaken by God Himself. He suffered unfathomable isolation, rejection and death for us and conquered all his fears.
I have decided it is time to stop feeding my fears. They are on diet now. To be honest: I still fear. There is no life without anxiety. But I want to learn to trust that there is no fear bigger and stronger than my Saviour. I want to trust Him who holds my days in His hands, who doesn’t make mistakes. Putting the reins in his hands is what I practice every day.
Sometimes these great verses of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, written in prison a few months before the Nazis executed him, are helpful:
“By gracious powers so wonderfully sheltered, and confidently waiting come what may, we know that God is with us night and morning, and never fails to greet us each new day…We know your light is shining in the dark…”