Is fear a choice? It’s a question I’ve been asking myself of late.
When my son was a bit younger, I allowed him to do things that could have hurt him: climbing trees, crawling up steep river banks, yes even using knives and matches after I showed him how to properly and safely use both. Nor did I ever leave his side when he did.
Some have asked me why, and the answer is simple: if he scrapes a knee, cuts or burns himself, he’ll quickly learn not to do it again. Because pain is the best teacher out there. More so than his mom constantly screaming, “Don’t do that; you’ll hurt yourself!”
Almost all parents learn early on that children don’t always listen to motherly warnings, and eventually push against her natural desire to protect them from harm.
It’s a fine line between teaching children prudence and thoughtfulness when it comes to taking risks, or teaching them to be afraid of taking risks.
Because, like pain is a powerful teacher, fear is a powerful motivator. Healthy fear can prevent us from taking too big of a risk resulting in injury or death, or at least make us pause before we leap. Again, it’s a fine line, and everyone’s line is different. You’ll never see me parachute out of an airplane, but invite me on a fighter jet, I’m there!
Fear is necessary for our survival in many ways. It can quickly jump in when a dangerous situation arises. It releases adrenaline, which increases a body’s reaction-time, strength, and heightens awareness.
Another fear is the one that makes us pause, such as standing at the top of a hill and looking down the other side to gauge its steepness, and determine if we can climb down without risking serious injury or death.
Then there’s another, unrelenting fear that sticks with us day after day. All one has to do is look around to know we are drowning in it: fear of who’ll be elected; fear of losing our liberties (and in some instances, being allowed to keep them); fear of deadly disease; fear of natural (and unnatural) disasters. The list is endless.
Sometimes that fear can motivate us to work against any of the above such as voting, running for office, or campaigning for those of like mind; living healthy to strengthen the body; and preparing for natural and unnatural disasters (such as making sure our homes are secure against storms and our persons against tyranny). Again the list is endless. Being proactive is key in eliminating those fears.
So while fear can be a good thing, it can also hinder and cause us real damage. Unhealthy fear tends to overwhelm, not motivate. When it grabs hold, we isolate ourselves, lose trust in the people and world around us, and in the end quit living. When we quit living, we die soon after, because that fear too often leads to loneliness and despair.
As usual, I must turn to scripture. What does God say about being afraid, and is it really a choice?
And as usual, because fear is universal and effects us in so many negative ways, the Bible is filled with verses about it. Since this entry is getting a bit long, I will share only three. You should see a common thread in all of them:
“Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous hand.” Isaiah 41:10
“For God have us a spirit not of fear but of power love and self control.” 2 Timothy 1:7
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6-7 (all verses in ESV)
In all three (and every other verse on fear I searched for) stressed the importance of depending on God–that only he can give us the strength and means to rise above our fears.
By wallowing in fear, we are in effect saying that God cannot be trusted or depended upon to protect us. The last verse in particular shows us what we can do.
That’s not to say it’s easy. It’s not. Far from it. It takes constant, intentional effort. Sometimes daily, if not a minute-by-minute effort through constant, thankful prayer and supplication.
Yet it’s never without reward, that being God’s peace, and protection of our heart and mind. When we fill our heart and mind with God and his promises, there’s no room left for fear.