One of my two year old niece’s favorite phrases right now is “That’s too scary”. Going to the potty is too scary. Riding a roller coaster is too scary. Somewhere along the way, she changed that phrase and adopted a new phrase, “It’s not scary, it’s fun.” Things like being chased around the house or jumping into a swimming pool went from being scary to fun.
Without realizing it, most of my life was spent giving the excuse “that’s to scary”. When most people think of fear, they think of avoiding situations in fear that something bad might occur. But I also realized that at times I was only engaging in positive actions for fear that I would miss out on something in this short life.
Over a year ago, I became painfully aware of how, without realizing it, I had allowed fear to control my life. To others, I probably appeared content overall and even convinced myself of this. But deep inside there was a fear. Fear that I had chosen the wrong career. Fear that I would never be a mother. Fear that I would never have the community I shared in college with friends right down the hall. Fear I was a failure, and fear that everyone could see it. This list could go on.
I’ll never forget the day, during one of the most difficult seasons of my life, I came to the realization that I was living with so much fear. For several days straight I woke up with terrible back pain that seemed to grow worse with each movement. One day, I could barely sit or walk from such intense pain. This feeling came on suddenly, without any medical reason. I believe my body was telling me that it could no longer live under the stress of my constant fear and worry.
But knowing it was my own thoughts causing the pain was the easy part. The difficult task laid ahead in knowing what to do instead. I couldn’t simply stop being afraid, I had to start doing something. But what? What is the opposite of fear? What could alleviate all the damage I was doing to myself?
If fear means to think about all the bad things that could happen or are happening, then I need to focus on the all the good things that could happen or are happening. Which means replacing each thought or action rooted in fear to a thought or action rooted in gratitude and love.
Which means replacing each thought or action rooted in fear to a thought or action rooted in gratitude and love.
I realized I had to start with myself, by giving love to myself. Any negative thought that came in, I gave myself permission to release it and replaced it with a kind, loving thought towards myself. I began telling myself I was worthy, competent, and loved. Literally within hours of practicing this love directed at myself, the crippling back pain was gone.
I realized if having these loving thoughts for myself could make that much of a difference, what would practicing this thought process in all areas of my life do for me. So I allowed this idea of love to permeate my every thought and breath. In every situation I encountered, whether positive or negative, I chose to think love, to recognize it might be difficult and I may not like it, or it may be wonderful, but always, I could find something for which to be grateful.
The more I learn how our brains work, the more I realize that we are wired for fear. Fear, after all, kept humans alive for generations and helped us to be aware of the many threats, always lurking, like wild animals or rival cavemen waiting to attack. Even today, fear is what keeps me, from driving too fast, jumping off a cliff, and wading too far into the ocean.
It’s true, fear can help us stay alive but it doesn’t give us life. I like to think God gave us fear to help keep us alive, but we were never meant to live in fear. When we live in a place of fear, we live from a place of lack and scarcity. But when we live from a place of love, suddenly we live from a place of abundance. Afterall, God is love, so any time we chose love, we chose God.
I’m still not sure I chose the right profession. I’m still not a mother and I don’t live within a few steps of my closest friends. But I am living out of love. And my life isn’t scary anymore, it’s fun.
There is no fear in love, for perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love. 1 John 4:18 (NRSV)