We are afraid of fear because we believe that it has the power to name who we are, and it fills us with shame. We feel ashamed that we’re going around as a fearful person, and so we pretend that we’re not afraid. We try our best to find our own way out of feeling afraid, but this is our dilemma, our stuck place, that Jesus wants us to be liberated from. But we cannot do it on our own.
– James Finley
Much like the 12 Step tradition, we must admit that we are powerless to overcome fear on our own. We need a higher power that can restore and liberate us.
President FDR’s memorable inaugural speech contains one of the most famous lines regarding fear:
“So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is…fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance…”
– President FDR
Until now, I didn’t know it was followed by him saying words like nameless, unreasoning, or unjustified.
Fear has a way of trying to name who we are so we work hard at disapproving that we are NOT who fear says we are. The voice of fear tries to name us:
- not good enough
- no one likes you
For Christians, the cross is the mystery of salvation and suffering, death and resurrection, defeat and victory. Jesus was tormented by the fear of suffering He was going to face (Luke 22:44). But Jesus wasn’t afraid of fear because He knew it was just fear. And I think it’s because Jesus was constantly hearing the voice of His Father saying, “You are my son, the one I love, pride of my life” (Mark 1:11, my version). Jesus was properly named from the beginning. His identity as Messiah, Christ, King, Lord, or Master were superseded by his identity origin: Beloved.
The message of Jesus is inviting us to experience liberation from fear and hear our original names. Shame becomes disempowered as we are properly named.
God meets us in the fears that try to name us. The Father doesn’t abandon Jesus in the Garden of suffering or on the cross. God’s life is somehow interwoven in the scary things that life throws at us: middle school, teenage years, dating, marriage, school, career, money, retirement, sickness, death. Some of these rites are scary. Scary things happen to us during these stages of life.
When scary and painful things are happening in people’s lives, I listen and say something like, “I’m so sorry to hear about this. I can’t imagine what it’s been like for you.” And then we wait to see how God is present and how we might be attentive to his caring and comforting presence.
“Well-formed love banishes fear.” (1 John 4:18, the message). It’s the voice of love from God that is truly naming you and I.
I won’t pretend this is an easy liberation. It has been a lifelong wrestling for me. But I’m more comforted by the words of love these days than prior. I am much more courageous now to say, “Oh, it’s just fear trying to name me” and then move forward, knowing that the God of love is present in the scary things of life.