Sunday, October 18, 2009

Fear, the Worst of Them All

"If I had known this was a even a remote risk that we could be walking down that midway and the dart would end up in my daughter's eye, my eye, I would never go there," she said.

This was a quote in a Dallas Morning News article made by a woman who was attending the Texas State Fair and who was injured when a stray dart from a Midway arcade game hit her eye. It's a nasty injury, and her full recovery is uncertain. But it's the response that gives me pause. If she had known there was even a remote risk . . .then she would not have gone there. Even the tiniest risk would have meant no possibility of enjoying the pleasure of a day at the Texas State Fair. That fear response that shuts us down.

Fear: Of all the emotions we humans are capable of feeling, I believe fear holds the prize for the worst of them all. We can grieve with anguish and weep with loneliness and sadness and shake with anger and somehow work our way through all of this. But when fear taunts us and paralyzes us, keeping us from action and risk and the possibility of love and light, then we come closer than any other time to experiencing hell on earth.

Hell, very simply, is the absence of God. The forces of the God-empty place suck all of life into a black hole. Where God is absent, there cannot be love. Fear chases away the possibility of love because it tells us, "circle the wagons, keep yourself safe, and don't think about anyone else but you and that which is your own." Love by its very nature brings risk, for love opens us up to being touched by a much wider world and getting hurt as we venture out. If God is perfect love, and perfect love does indeed cast out all fear, then the victory of fear is the loss of the power of love.

What are some of your fears right now? I bet I can guess a few of them, because the majority of fears have one cause: the fear that there will not be enough. Not enough money, not enough love, not enough health, not enough energy, not enough comfort, not enough courage, not enough time, not enough success, not enough power, not enough strength. Frankly, things do look pretty grim when we look at the world around us--and it is easy to leap to fear in response.

I also know how easy it is to give into my fears and to let them shut me down. When fear rules my heart, I become the active invitation into hell as I ask others to share my fears with me and come into my God-empty places.

How do we get free from fear? How do we leave that God-empty hell behind and find again the God-filled place? If getting to fullness depends upon external circumstances of things going our way, we have few, if any, hopes at all. Only a tiny number of people can so manage their lives that they can eliminate anything that makes their lives uncomfortable or fearful. The proper term for such people: "tyrants." They are most unpleasant to be around since they reach that point by killing everyone around them, either literally or metaphorically.

If then, fear can only be relieved by destroying others, then fear ultimately wins anyway, because someone will always come along who can then destroy us.

Surely there is a better way that does not depend upon the external circumstances of our lives, for they will always challenge us. Instead, I look for a way that is based upon the internal presence of real love, with a light so powerful that all darkness, and the fear that goes with darkness, is banished and we are set free. Jesus kept telling his followers that such a place was all about them, already here, not waiting for some point in the future, but they had to have eyes that could see it and ears that could hear it.

I think we find that place through the act of relinquishment, of releasing the benefits of being fearful. I speak of benefits because being afraid does have some. It gives excuses for not going forward, for staying stuck, for refusing growth and maturity, for demanding safety above all things. for addictions that numb the awfulness of our fears. By laying those things down, ungrasping our hands, leaving behind gilded cages of safety or festering chains of harmfully addictive behaviors, by looking death in the face and saying, "You have no power over me because I know there is a resurrection around the corner," we take the steps to fullness again.

We are made to be free people. When we are not, when we let fear win and we enter the dungeon of God-emptiness, we lose what it really means to be human.

I know this, and I still struggle with it. It's just easier to be afraid. But thanks be to God, we can get free if we want to.

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