When You Need to Let Go of Fear
For I am the LORD your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you. Isaiah 41:13
There’s a child in my class who tells me how she feels many times during the day.
I feel sick.
My head hurts.
My tummy aches.
I can’t do my work.
I need help.
Her statements always end in the same question: Can I sit next to you?
She is anxious and afraid, so she seeks reassurance. She wants to be close to someone in authority, someone she trusts will understand and help her.
As adults, we also feel anxious and afraid sometimes. But we are not always so transparent about our emotions. We’ve realised that uncomfortable feelings hurt. So we devise all sorts of schemes to try and keep ourselves safe and secure. Some of these are good and necessary, of course. It would be unwise for me to walk alone late at night or drive my car without insurance.
But our agenda for self-protection is often motivated not by wisdom, but by fear. We are afraid to feel pain, so we do everything in our power to avoid it. We get angry and blame other people to disguise our fear. We distract ourselves with TV, social media and constant busyness. We numb ourselves with food, alcohol or exercise.
When we refuse to face our fear, it quickly invades everything. In fact, most of the problems we see in our world find their roots in fear. Fear of losing power and significance. Fear that there aren’t enough resources to go around. Fear of those who are different. Fear of facing our own painful wounds. Fear of death.
I wonder what you’re most afraid of?
My fears tend to be relational. I am afraid my friends will decide I’m too much hard work and abandon me. I’m afraid my family members will die. I’m afraid of being unwanted and alone.
Another way we try to avoid the stuff of our worst fears, is to try and be as good as possible. Going to church, praying, reading your bible – all these things feel like they should be a sort of insurance policy against bad things happening. We try to be kind neighbours, give to charity and generally be nice people. After all, bad things shouldn’t happen to good people, should they?
However, as Barbara Brown Taylor writes, “Goodness is no protection from pain. If life teaches us that core truth, our faith confirms it. Jesus was as good as good gets, and still he suffered pain – all kinds of pain – not only physical pain, but also spiritual pain and emotional pain. By facing into it instead of running away from it, he showed us a stunning new way to live” (God in Pain, pp 57-58).
Jesus knew the truth, that you can’t outrun pain. Instead, he faced it, and felt it all. But he also knew that pain comes as a package deal: if we are capable of suffering, then we are also capable of feeling joy and pleasure. If we can experience grief, we can also experience beauty, love and friendship. If we are open to the possibility of being hurt, we are also open to feeling empathy and compassion for others. We don’t need to fear pain. It hurts, sometimes excruciatingly, and no one would choose to go through it. But it keeps us alive to all these beautiful experiences too.
We let go of fear by facing it and being honest about the pain we’re trying to avoid. When we own that part of our story, when we bring it into the light, its power is diminished.
And we remember Jesus, who took on flesh to show us what it means to be fully human. He celebrated and suffered, he was afraid and excited, he felt peace and frustration. He is completely whole and yet still bears the scars from his wounds. Our great high priest is able to sympathise with us because he understands how it feels to live in a frail human body on this broken planet. As we face up to our pain, he comes to sit next to us, to reassure us that he is right there with us, in the middle of it all.
So may you find the courage to face your fear and let it go.
May you be brave enough to sit with your brokenness and acknowledge your pain.
May you find safe friends to keep you company on the journey,
And may you find the comfort, kindness and understanding of Jesus holding your hand and helping you at every step.