Monday, February 20, 2012

Facing Fear, Part 2

I've never received more comments than I did from the article last month about dealing with fear. Some said that they enjoyed the article. Others said that the ideas about fear really resonated with them (often, they said this in a hushed voice, to not fully disclose to others that they might in fact experience fear). A few had questions about my wife's trip to Haiti. And, one even stated that they couldn't get past the sappiness of the opening paragraph, so they couldn't really offer any feedback on the idea. Apparently, fear is a topic that tends to be publicly ignored but rampant in our hearts and minds.

The article talked about framing fear as an opportunity to learn and how living a life that is truly life is often found on the other side of fear. Going further, I'd offer that dealing with fear in a healthy way requires our showing up with a freedom to fail and a passionate hope that regardless of the outcome, there is something breathtakingly clear once we pass through the fog of fear. Fear is best lived when we understand our role in a bigger story. When the story is significant, fear becomes small.

Cus D'Amato, famed trainer and mentor of Mike Tyson, told a story about fear. He said that as a kid, the local bully called him to a showdown in the street Saturday night at 9 o'clock sharp. He recounts that the other kid was a real tough-guy. Cus said that he was scared. But, in this neighborhood, at this time, he knew that he had to show up. The waiting and anxious anticipation was excruciating. Cus said, "Anyway, I'm sitting there, really sweating... Nine o'clock comes and the... guy isn't there. Quarter after nine, the... guy isn't there. Nine-thirty, I'm still waiting, and all the time the waiting is getting worse because this guy is gonna be there, and I'm gonna have to fight him. Finally, at ten o'clock, one of his buddies comes and says the... guy is scared. He ain't showing. It was the happiest moment of my life." Cus showed up and the situation he so feared didn't happen. Isn't this often the case? It's the fear of the fear that derails us, not the circumstances in them. My friend, the Counselor, says that it's like camping in the woods. We know that there are potentially bears in the woods. We have a few choices. We can see the reality that we've taken precautions to camp safely, lie down with reasonable expectations of safety, and enjoy our time in nature. Or, we can ignite our adrenaline into red alert with the possibility that a bear could attack and suffer through the trip with wired anxiety, missing pleasurable experiences along the way. Finally, we could just never go camping because bears are sometimes in the woods. Much of dealing with our fear is just showing up.

When we show up, we should also come with a goal to achieve and a freedom to fail. Take this exchange from Rocky III,
Rocky (to his wife, Adrian, talking about an upcoming fight): I'm afraid! All right?! You want to hear me say it? You want to break me down? All right, I'm afraid. For the first time in my life, I'm afraid.
Adrian: I'm afraid too. There's nothing wrong with being afraid.
Rocky: There is. For me, there is.
Adrian: Why? You're human aren't you?
Rocky: Look, I don't know what I am...
Adrian: ...But it doesn't matter what I believe because you're the one that's got to carry that fear around inside you... Well, none of it's true! But it doesn't matter if I tell you. It doesn't matter, because you're the one that's gotta settle it. Get rid of it! ...Look what it's doing to you now. [we] think you can do it... But you gotta want to do it for the right reasons...
Rocky: And if I lose?
Adrian: Then you lose. But at least you lose with no excuses, no fear. And I know you can live with that.

The fear of failure can be paralyzing. In fact, it's why many times we don't show up. Radical success requires calculated risk. Seth Godin, author and speaker, says that when he hires someone if they don't fail at a project within a designated period of time, he is forced to let them go. Failures are the pathway to innovation. Failure fosters creativity. Failure sharpens and molds us into something greater. Failure reinforces the idea that our world isn't the world and self-confidence comes in cultivating trust in something greater than ourselves.

Fear shrinks when we show up with a freedom to fail and maintain hope that there is something better on the other side of the experience. I am a runner. Not avid, just armature. For years, I'd never run because of the dreadful conditions of the first mile or two. A tight chest, heavy legs, and short breath don't make for an energizing exercise routine. Yet, as any runner knows, once you get through the first minutes, there is something better. A powerfully calming feeling that brings clarity and endurance overtakes you. This is sometimes referred to as a "runner's high." But, you can't get there without the pain of the first few miles. Similarly, my wife's trip to Haiti included stepping into the unknown. The goodbyes, the ambiguity of what the trip would look like, the disconnection to the world - to us, the self-doubt of whether she could really help all fanned the flames of fear. She showed up with a freedom to fail and a hope that something greater was on the other side. There was. ( The trip fundamentally changed her, and us, forever, but this transformation couldn't be found without the initial prickly, piercing pain.

I am inspired to see this process unfold at the Y everyday. John Ulsh, all but pronounced dead after a tragic car accident with his family, walks and talks with life and energy at the Y, sharing his hope with others. He often wakes with renewed fear about his recovery, but he shows up with a freedom to fail and a hope that each day brings a new growth experience. I see many people with disabilities that most of us will never know, coming to the Y and greeting their fears, often with amazing support of others, and stepping through them to something better. I workout with pastors and retired dentists and kids that think my 37 years are ancient and I hear their stories of ginormous fears faced and lives changed in the process.

"Fear not." The Bible says that a lot, somewhere around 355+ times, almost once for every day of the year. (New Day, New You: 366 Devotions for Enjoying Everyday Life By Joyce Meyer). Why? I don't believe it's a command to find the fortitude within ourselves to never feel fear. Instead, I believe it's a call to understand our role in a bigger story. Our lives are mere drops in the sea of eternity. We are role players in a story bigger than ourselves. There are subplots unfolding daily in our families, communities, nation, and world. In spite of the fear, when we show up with a freedom to fail and with passionate hope, we weave another thread into the fabric of our society, creating something that we may not see clearly, but is substantive for generations to come. For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known (1 Cor 13:12 NIV).