Famously President Franklin D. Roosevelt, in his “First Inaugural Address” on March 4, 1933, said, “. . . the only thing we have to fear is fear itself – nameless, unreasoning, unjustified, terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”
It sounds good, but is it true?
Many may agree there is a “terror which paralyzes” but would disagree that it is “nameless, unreasoning” or “unjustified.” The Phobia List alone names 530 different terrors which paralyze. Some seem unjustified–and even silly–such as Caligynephobia, a fear of beautiful women, or Linonophobia, a fear of string, or Logophobia, a fear of words.
Few fears are unnamed–and for those who hold them–unreasoning. Achluophobia, a fear of darkness (#4 on Top Ten Fears see graphic below), and Acrophobia, a fear of heights (#3) are very reasonable. I must admit, however, that Apeirophobia, a fear of infinity, Homilophobia, a fear of sermons, and Phobophobia, a fear of phobias are simply weird.
Taken literally then, Roosevelt may be right. Fear itself is the culprit. Fear is so much a part of our lives it has become a figure of speech. “I’m afraid you’re wrong,” or “I’m afraid so,” we often say.
More than that, fear, as the proliferation of phobias attests, is a foundational emotion in our daily existence.
Fear drives both sides of the raging gun-control debate. One side owning guns to foster safety; the other banning guns to foster safety.
The base emotion behind worry is fear. “Will I still have my job tomorrow?” “Will she still love me, when she finds out what I’m really like?”
And fear is a mighty motivator. Most political ads of this past poisonous political season tried to motivate us through fear of America failing. This is the fight of the famous fight or flight response.
Fear also drives us into deep denial. Using the same example as above, many stuck their heads in the sand in response to the elections. The infamous flight response.
But you know, don’t you, I’m not speaking of rational fear. The car racing toward us. The dark alley with a person skulking. No, I am referring to that low-grade fever many of us are shuffling around with. Generalized, unactualized fear. Fear of things that may never happen or that have no answer. The “what if” fear. What if there is no God? What if there is? What if I said the wrong thing? What if I didn’t say enough? What if I’m too skinny, fat, short, tall, ugly, beautiful, smart, stupid, white, black, rich, poor, normal, abnormal? Need I go on?
We may only have fear to fear. But it is a powerful foe. And it dominates our daily landscape.
I would wager that most of us make umpteen daily decisions based on fear. And most of them, then, are bad decisions. As Rosevelt said fear paralyzes or shifts us into reverse. And it certainly prevents us from living spiritually.
What is it you are afraid of?
Personally I don’t fear death (#6) or disease much at all. They seem largely out of my control, like being a passenger on an airplane. I may dread a crash (#1), but even if I were to push the pilot out of his seat and take control, I would not do anything but make matters worse. So, I sit back and enjoy the ride, bumpy or not. (This does not mean, however, I don’t pursue healthy living)
My fear? Disappointing people (Rejection #8), especially those I love or respect. Not only do I feel (falsely probably) that I am in control of this but am responsible for it. And my biggest fear is disappointing God. At least occasionally I can bluff people into believing I’m more than I know I am. Not God. God sees through to the core. Decision making based on either of those fears has been disastrous for me.
In short, I’m afraid of being judged, being deemed unworthy and rejected by others and God. But God pushes back against this fear. My “perfect love banishes fear,” God promises. What does this love look like? “Forgive them for they do not know what they do,” Jesus asked the Father for those who murdered him. It looks like Jesus. Being open to Jesus’ unconditional, perfect love allows us to live fearlessly.
But I’m afraid I don’t believe it most times. And there lies the antidote to fear. Not courage. Not bravado. Not control. Not safety. Faith.
Faith is at the heart of living spiritually. Fear then is its enemy. In coming blogs on The Year of Living Spiritually we will explore the role fear plays in destroying living spiritually and the role faith plays in destroying fear.
Maybe the phobia most of us have is one I coined: Fidephobia, a fear of faith.
But God is working on the antidote.