‘It’s the fear of the unknown.’ I’ve heard that quote many times. Many times. It’s always been an interesting quote to me because I find the concept of fear interesting. Fear fascinates me and slightly terrifies me. To me, there is generally three types of fear: the fear of something, like snakes or spiders or penguins, and that’s a totally valid fear because snakes and spiders and penguins are the devils spawn. There is the fear that arises when you are in a dangerous situation where you could potentially get hurt. And there is the fear that stops you from living your life, like a fear of failure or heartbreak or illness. That’s the fear that I’m talking about, the one that zaps joy.
Over the years when I’ve heard the above quote, or recited it, it’s mostly been when people have been about to embark on something they have never done before and are nervous about it. Understandable as new things can be scary, especially when it’s something big like moving to a new country, or starting a new job. Taking chances can be scary because it can go either way, it may be amazing or you may have a spectacular failure. Hard to predict.
But what about when the known is more scary? What about when you are walking into a situation and you know exactly how it will play out and it freaks you the heck out? Sometimes the known, the familiar, can be a whole lot scarier than the unknown because you know what to expect and you know what the outcome will be. The outcome may be slightly different in some instances, but in some instances it’s not and when you have been in the valley before and are standing at the foot of the valley again, that can be scary. Regardless of the fact that you made it out the first time round, you still remember what you had to walk through to get to the end, you remember the trial and the pain and that is what scares us, the knowing and the remembering.
There have been few ‘unknown’ situations that have really freaked me out in my life. Don’t get me wrong, there have been many a situation where I was anxious and nervous, but few that have really, really scared me and made me want to build a fort and hide in it. What has scared me in life has been situations when I knew what was going to happen. The whole, ‘been there, done that’ wasn’t always a comfort but rather a hindrance because I knew what I was walking into and knew that I would need to guard myself and shore myself up to make sure that I got through. The fear that I may not actually get myself, or those that I love, emotionally or mentally out of the valley is what scared me the most.
I imagine we have all at some point or another experienced fear that semi paralyses us and cements our feet to the floor, it just looks different for all of us. For some, that fear is what they experience when their kids become teenagers and they are worried the world is going to destroy them or harm them, so they try to hold on as tightly as possible to avoid their kids experiencing hurt. Some people have an almighty fear of commitment or relationships because they have been hurt and betrayed so many times before that they are scared it will happen again, so they won’t risk falling in love and finding happiness because out of fear it may not work out. For some, it’s the fear of being alone, so they enter into relationship after relationship because they would rather be with someone, anyone, so they won’t have to be alone. For some it’s illness. I would imagine that for someone who has gone through cancer before, a relapse could bring more fear than when they were first diagnosed because they know what they will go through, and going back to the cancer specialist to pick up test results would be rather nerve-racking and fearful.
One of the biggest fears that I encountered was when I injured my back years ago and was in unimaginable pain for a period of three months. I had injured my back while I was at the gym and after having surgery to repair my back, it took me approximately 14 months before I was able to set foot in a gym again out of fear that I would injure myself again and would have to go through the pain again. The fear of a relapse had me paralysed for a while and it reached a point where one of the osteopaths I was getting treated by told me they had to teach me how to walk again because I was TOO cautious with the way I moved. The fear held me back from doing so many things that it took me almost a year to work through the physiological issues that came with it.
Fear forces your hand and takes away all rational thought and logic until you’re standing there imagining the absolute worst case scenario and convincing yourself that it’s going to happen. It causes us to act out, to attack or to hide. It strips away joy. And it makes hope seem like a mirage that will disappear as soon as you get close enough to touch it. There is no hope in fear, and once that is gone, things just start going downhill. I’ve learnt over the years that I need an anchor when I’m in the midst of fear and for me, that anchor is my faith. Some use alcohol or exercise or food but personally, my faith in Christ is my fortress when I’m trying to dodge fear; it’s my lighthouse when I’m feeling lost at sea and can’t see the shore. I cling to it with both hands because it is what keeps me grounded when the world seems to be spinning out of control. And if I keep myself grounded in my faith, if I keep my eyes heavenward, eventually, the storm starts to subside and I can see more clearly. And it’s then, and only then, that I can look fear directly in the face and see that it in self is a mirage; it’s a kitten with a megaphone trying to roar like a lion.
We will all encounter fear. It is inevitable, friend. You will encounter it at some point and it will likely come at you more than once. But, if we step up to it, if we stand up and look it directly in the eye and hold the stare, it will back down. And it doesn’t matter if your knees are shaking the whole time. It doesn’t matter if your voice breaks or if your hands shake as you try to lock the door on fear, just face it head on and know that you are bigger than fear. Know that God has you in the palm of His hand and you will be okay. Know that whatever hold fear has on you, it will not get the better of you if you don’t allow it and as long as you stand strong, you will win.