I’ve dealt with fear my whole life. Some of my earliest memories are shrouded in fear. Not that I really had much to be afraid of, growing up in a safe, loving home, but for some reason I’ve been afraid. Of everything.
I was afraid of school, new experiences, even people. In fact, as an adult I ran into one of my mother’s good friends from when I was a child who bluntly told me, “We thought there was something wrong with you; you never talked to anybody!” And all I could do was smile and think, Great. I was the scared, weirdo girl.
As I grew older I became afraid of even more things: not fitting in, what others thought of me, public speaking, failure. Fear has ruled my life in many ways. And I hated it. As a young college student I decided I wanted to fight against this fear that had so defined my life. I wanted to be free. And so, armed with God’s word and an action plan, I slowly began to loosen the grip of fear on my life. Here are some of the intentional steps that I have taken over the years (and continue to take) to combat fear:
1. Admit that you’re afraid. This may seem obvious, but for many of us who deal continually with fear, it’s easier to run from fear rather than admit that we’re afraid. I can remember once when my husband and I were supposed to head up one of two youth missions trips over the course of a summer. The kids all decided to sign up for the other trip and our trip was cancelled. I was so embarrassed and consumed by my fear of failure and the thought that I wasn’t good enough that I wouldn’t even talk to my husband about it. “What is the matter?” he asked after noticing my distress on the way home from church the day the trip was cancelled. “Nothing!” I replied. “I just want this whole thing to go away and I don’t want to talk about it again!” I wasn’t willing to admit to myself or my husband my fear of failure. Fear can keep you from being honest with yourself and those around you. Once I acknowledged my fear, my honesty allowed me to confront the fear and face it head on.
2. Use God’s word to combat your fear. Scripture is full of verses encouraging us to not be afraid. Over 360, in fact. It’s important to know who you are and whose you are. Some of my favorites are:
“Don’t be afraid, for I am with you. Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will hold you up with my victorious right hand.” (Isaiah 41:10)
“For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.” (2 Tim. 1:7)
“Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done.” (Philippians 4:6)
I wrote these scriptures on notecards and put them in my purse, around my house, and in my desk at work. Anytime I was facing something that caused fear to rise up in me, I would pull out my cards and read them.
3. Do it afraid. Although we can admit our fear to God and those around us and use God’s word to help us when fear rises up in us, eventually, we have to simply take an action step. The only way to eventually overcome our fear is to do the things we fear the most. Public speaking. Going back to school. Starting a new job. Whatever our fear may be, we’ve got to decide to just do it afraid. I remember the first time I said “yes” to facing my fear. I was 21 years old, just graduated from college with a degree in social work, fully expecting to work with children because that was my comfort zone. But I quickly realized that I would need to expand my job search beyond kids and, when there was no work to be found, found myself interviewing for a position with a local hospice program. I was completely shocked, and when they offered me the job I realized how afraid I was to say yes to the position. As I spent the next few days praying about what to do, I felt strongly like I should take the position, even though I had no social work experience, no experience with death or dying and a fear of people, especially people older than myself. Once I said yes and began what was one of the most challenging years of my life, I saw God show up, come alongside me and help me walk through the fear. I can’t say I was the greatest social worker that hospice program had ever had — not even close — but the growth I experienced personally in facing my fears head-on was the start of a new movement in my life that opened the door for me to face many other fears.
4. Be consistent. Once I said “yes” to God and faced my fear over taking that first job, he brought me to many other places in my life that created fear, asking over and over again if I would trust him and walk with him through my fears. This has included taking a job counseling mentally ill and chemically dependent veterans, letting go of what others think about me, being honest about my own personal shortcomings, fostering and adopting children, leading small groups, writing and public speaking: all things I first did while afraid. Fear did not leave overnight. I had to daily, intentionally, face my fear over and over again. I had to continuously admit my fears to myself and others and read scripture on a daily basis to help alleviate them.
I have utilized these four steps over the course of many years and by doing so have found my fear, although not completely gone, has been diminished. The fear still comes, but not in the crushing waves that it once did. It does not consume me anymore. And I have found freedom in Christ, knowing that even when I feel fear I can continue on, sure that he is with me.