Thursday, January 26, 2012

Healthy Fear

It was Thursday, January 12 at 1:00 a.m. I stood in the kitchen holding my wife in my arms, her sobbing breaking the silence of the early morning. "I'm so scared." She said. Her bags were packed and the car was idling outside, both ready for her departure. We were not as ready. She was preparing to go on a mission trip with Awaken Haiti ( She had never left our boys for more than 24 hours. She had no idea of what to expect in Haiti. She gets plane-sick. The fear was thick as we said our goodbyes. I was consciously reassuring, but I'm not sure that I masked my own fears. I wasn't worried about being a single parent for a week (I was confident in pizza take out and the durability of wearing jeans many days in a row). I was scared about my lack of control. I couldn't talk or communicate to her during this trip. I wouldn't know that she was ok. I couldn't care for or protect her. We were scared. We stood in the fear for a moment, prayed, and she left.

Fear is a powerful force. It's defined as a "distressing emotion by impending danger... whether the threat is real or imagined..." ( As a society, we don't like to recognize fear. We're conditioned to have a fear of fear. In turn, we make bumper stickers to negate the reality of fear, as some sort of invisible shield to ward of its effect on our Volkswagens. When we fail to recognize it, fear compels us toward addictions, avoidance, and apathy and drives us away from opportunity, trust, and courage. Often, fear is an emotion that we simply pretend isn't there, isn't real, and when we do this, fear is roots itself deeper in our backyards, poisoning the well.

Last week, the USA Today reported a story of an Alaskan couple who were out walking their two golden retrievers when a moose attacked the man, stomping him to the ground, breaking seven of his ribs in the process. When the moose came at her, she ran back to their truck, grabbed a shovel, and "hit it with everything [she] had." (USA Today, January 24, 2012).

Fear can be a healthy emotion. It allows us to sense danger, evaluate risk, and determine a response. Danger is a part of our world and fear is a tool to help us navigate through the choppy waters of risk. Mark Batterson, author of "In A Pit With A Lion On A Snowy Day" says, "The goal of life is not the elimination of fear. The goal is to muster the moral courage to [confront that fear]" (38). In fact, he says that in reflecting on our lives, we're more likely to regret the opportunities that we didn't seize, the ones that we missed sometimes because of fear, than those that we did and regretted. To achieve all that we've been created to be, we must find the courage to face our fears. Batterson says, "One courageous choice may be the only thing between you and your dream becoming a reality" (123).

Our friends, Jeff and Deb Denglinger felt a call to serve the people of Haiti a few years ago. As their role in developing Awaken Haiti began to crystallize, it became apparent to them that they were called to actually move to Haiti. Jeff had a successful construction business and they have three school aged children. The fear of moving to a place of such uncertainty and need was breathtaking. Yet, they sold everything and moved their family to Haiti. They entered the ocean of fear with a triple summersault dive.

Legendary boxing trainer Cus D'Amato said, "Heroes and cowards feel exactly the same fear. Heroes just react to it differently." Our mental health is best served when we identify the fear for what it is - an emotional response. From there, we can determine if the fear is resulting from something real or imagined. In turn, we can call on what's needed in response. It might be unlearning an irrational fear. It might be battling back an imagined fear with reality and truth. Or, it might be calling on something greater within us to not cower from the fear, but to stand against it and walk through it.

My wife went on her trip to Haiti. She was lonely, afraid, and scared in many ways. Yet, walking through that fear to serve others in Haiti offered her a life-changing experience. Most significantly, she observed that many Haitians who live in desolate and deplorable conditions, have an interesting response to their fears - joy. Their joy drowns their fears. My wife is finding new life in this truth only because she stood in her fear and made the trip to Haiti.

Likewise, the Denlingers are living new lives of significance, accessible only because they stepped into their fear of moving to Haiti. In their words, "We've been challenged to take back our faith from the American dream, to live life 'Wide Awake'... to live a life that demands an explanation..." This, an opportunity only available by diving into their fear.

The Alaskan couple escaped the moose attack, as did their dogs. The 85 year old woman who stood 5 feet tall and weighs 97 pounds faced fear and beat it back with a shovel.

Fear can be a violently destructive emotion that destroys lives, squelches opportunities, and numbs us to living life "wide awake." Or, it can be a healthy emotion that is a tool that we use to grow in courage, trust, and experience. Maybe the fear you face today isn't about packing up your family and moving to Haiti. Maybe it's about making healthier choices for your life, or a seizing a new opportunity that seems risky, or ending or starting a new relationship. Whatever the case, don't let fear be a barrier to a better you.

Author and blogger Ann Voskamp says this, "Today is always the best day to end the fears and begin being the best you... The relief is in the release of everything into the hands of God... abandon and abide - all is well."