"The Lord is with me; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?"1
"In a Peanuts cartoon strip, Charlie Brown goes to Lucy for a nickel's worth of psychiatric help. She proceeds to pinpoint his particular 'fear'. 'Perhaps,' she says, 'you have hypengyophobia, which is the fear of responsibility.' Charlie Brown says, 'No.' 'Well, perhaps you have ailurophobia, which is the fear of cats.' 'No.' 'Well, maybe you have climacophobia, which is the fear of staircases.' 'No.' Exasperated, Lucy says, 'Well, maybe you have pantophobia, which is the fear of everything.' 'Yes,' says Charlie, 'that is the one!'"
Fear is a common problem among most people. We are plagued by all sorts of fears: fear of heights; fear of the dark; fear of spiders, grasshoppers, mice and all sorts of tiny bugs (that are a thousand times smaller than we are); fear of unemployment; fear of terrorists; fear of closeness; fear of love; fear of rejection; fear of death; fear of being alone; and all sorts of fears ad infinitum. Some are valid, some are learned, some are imagined, some are real, and some are false.
In fact there are some things we ought to be afraid of such as driving through red street lights; driving an unsafe vehicle; diving from high places without checking the depth of the water; and so on. And we certainly ought to be afraid of death if we aren't prepared for life after death. These are healthy fears and are nature's way of warning us to avoid certain situations, to prepare ahead for certain situations, and to protect and take care of ourselves and our loved ones. To ignore these fears is pure foolishness.
It's the seemingly irrational fears that cause us havoc. For instance, some people are afraid of success, so unconsciously set themselves up to fail. Some people are afraid of getting sick and set themselves up to get sick. Some people are afraid of closeness in relationships and set themselves up for a life of loneliness. So how do we overcome our fears?
Learned fears. Some learned fears we can overcome by doing the thing we fear ... little by little. For example, my mother was terrified of grasshoppers—especially those big ones that were plentiful where I grew up. From an early age, I learned to be afraid of them too. To overcome this fear I practiced picking them up—the small ones to start with—until I conditioned myself to pick up the biggies.
Livable fears. Some fears are harmless and we can learn to live with them. For instance, I have a fear of certain foods (probably because of some bad situation in the past) but I can live without eating asparagus!
Buried fears. I've written about this before but my big fear was a fear of love/closeness that came from painful early childhood experiences. I won't spell out the details here but I had a deeply buried fear as an adult that if someone loved me, they would leave me, smother me, or even try to get rid of me. Consequently, for much of my life I was plagued by a deep inner loneliness until I came to the realization that I was running from love.
Only as I saw and admitted this was my problem, was I able to get the help I needed to overcome it. I also knew that if I didn't overcome it, I would be running from love for the rest of my life. With God's help and the help of a good therapist, I was able to stop running from love for which I am extremely thankful. Again, I knew it was my problem and knew that I needed help, commitment, and hard work to overcome it.
Circumstantial fears. In circumstances that are beyond our control, we need to commit our life to God and learn to trust Him. This is something we can choose to do. When I am in these situations, I like to keep quoting a Psalm of David who said (when King Saul was trying to kill him), "The Lord is with me; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?"2
Remember, too, where there is no fear, there is no need of courage.
Suggested prayer: "Dear God, thank You that You understand my fears. Please help me to come to terms with all my fears—to be responsible in situations where fear is a warning of danger ahead. Help me to confront and overcome fears that are hindering my becoming all that You have envisioned for me to be, and help me learn to trust You in all circumstances that are out of my control. Thank You for hearing and answering my prayer. Gratefully, in Jesus's name, amen."
1. Psalm 118:6 (NIV).
2. Psalm 118:6 (NIV).