Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Fear 101

Fear has been on my mind a lot recently. I have had several conversations with friends recently who have shared their fears with me. None of these were huge, life-threatening fears. Instead, they were struggling with small fears--fear of failure, fear of criticism, fear of disapproval--that kept them from doing the good things that would ultimately bring them peace and happiness. With that on my mind, I chose "fear" as the subject of the last lesson I taught in Relief Society. In spite of the fact that the topic had been on my mind for several weeks, I was completely unprepared for the FABulous discussion that resulted. I don’t want to forget this fantastic discussion, so I decided to write out what I can remember from my notes.

First, we discussed what fear is. We had a very long list that included the expected (scared, afraid, worry, pain) and the unexpected (physical response, respect, opposite of love). We considered the different kinds of fear: fear of law, fear of consequences or punishment, fear of imminent, physical danger, fear that is worry or nervousness, fear that demonstrates a lack of faith, and fear that is godly. There are several examples in the scriptures that demonstrate different kinds of fear. In the garden of Eden, Adam disobeyed God and was afraid (Genesis 3:10). According to the Bible Dictionary (P. 672 in the LDS version of the Holy Bible), "Sin destroys that feeling of confidence God’s child should feel in a loving Father, and produces instead a feeling of shame and guilt. Ever since the Fall, God has been teaching men not to fear, but with penitence to ask forgiveness in full confidence of receiving it."

There are other examples of fear in the scriptures. When I think of scriptural examples, Jonah comes to mind. God commanded him to warn the people of Ninevah, who were truly wicked. But, like Adam, Jonah tried to hide, forgetting that there is no hiding from God. But, after only a few days, Jonah, who in is heart truly feared God (in the sense that he respected him, worshiped him), turned to the Lord and was given another chance. It is encouraging to me that the Lord allowed Jonah to do his work, even though he didn’t answer the call perfectly on the first try.
Another well known example of showing courage, in spite of fear, is Esther. The wife of a temperamental king, Esther had good reason to fear for her life. The king decreed that anyone who came to him without being summoned might be put to death. Esther exercised her faith, fasted and prayed, and, in the end, saved her people.

I don’t think most of us will be in the position of having God himself command us to warn a nation of rotten, scary people or to plead for our lives in front of a king who is known for chopping off heads when he’s in a bad mood. However, I do think we are often in the position of needing to speak up to someone who is near us and may need our warning voice. I do think we are in the position of having to say hard things to people we care about or to people who may be in a position of authority over us. I also think that how we respond to the smaller, daily fears—speaking in front of a group of people, saying a prayer at church, calling a church sister we don’t know to check on her, walking into church when we’ve been gone a while, walking into any new place where we know no one, the list could go on forever—will teach us and prepare us to face the bigger fears, when we are faced with something we don’t believe we can possibly overcome.

So, we have to consider, what is fear supposed to teach us and what has God commanded us to do with our fear? Here’s a brief list:

>Don’t fear man more than God (D & C 3:6-7)
>Fear NOT to do good (D & C 6:33-37)
>Speak the word without fear (Phillippians 1:14 + chapter heading)
>Serve God with reverence and godly fear (Hebrews 12:28)
>Perfect love casteth out fear( Moroni 8:16 / 1 John 4:18)

One of the sisters, Sister Bradshaw, shared a fantastic experience that really touched me and seemed to perfectly illustrate what we need to learn about fear. She told us that her son had been very afraid of water and did not want to go swimming until she got him a pair of floaties. Once he understood that the floaties would keep him above water, he grew to love swimming at the pool. One day, he was going a little too fast and slipped on the edge of the pool, fell in and went under the water. There may have been an instance where Susan could have chosen to panic, to teach her son that this was scary, but she stayed calm and let the floaties do their job. He slipped, he went under, but in just a few seconds, the floaties brought him right back up so his head was above water. I was amazed at her wisdom and her calm reaction. She taught her son to stay calm, have faith in the floaties that would lift him back up.

What a brilliant example for us to follow! Mortality can really be a bumpy road. We hear often that this life is a “test,” and that we are here to learn and progress. When we slip and fall (whether this is dealing with a crisis or simply forgetting, for a time, to trust in God), what are the floaties that will lift us back up? Another brief list:

>the standard answers to everything: pray, read the scriptures, go to church (obvious,but still true)
>the example of others
>the memory of a better time, or a time when you received peace, comfort or testimony
>service – uplifting in even the darkest times
>___________ (fill in the blank)

After this discussion, I find myself looking on fear as a tool. Fear can warn me of true danger, physical or spiritual. Fear can help me build my faith and prioritize. Am I wasting my energy fearing things that will ultimately make me a better person?

Final thought, from Elder F. Enzio Busche:
“It takes courage and commitment to follow the promptings of the Spirit because they may frighten us as they lead us to walk along new paths, sometimes paths that no one has walked before, paths of the second mile, of acting totally differently from how worldly people act. For instance, we may be prompted to smile when someone offends us, to give love where others give hate, to say thank you where others would not find anything to be thankful for, to accept jobs that others would be too proud to do, to apologize where others would defend themselves, and to do all the seemingly crazy things that the Spirit prompts a righteous, honest, listening heart to do” (“The Only Real Treasure,” New Era, Dec. 1979, p. 5).

Perfect love casteth out fear (1 John 4:18)


  1. Awesome! Sounds like it was a great discussion. Those are my favorite lessons-- the ones where you really get a lot of good discussion going.
    I guess my big fear is being mistunderstood. I always end up being too wordy and taking too long to explain things and give my point of view, because I feel like I have to say things over and over but in different ways to be sure that people understand what I'm trying to say and can't misinterpret anything. It makes me CRAZY when people misinterpret something I've said, especially when I try so very hard to be clear.
    So I wonder what the lesson is that I'm suppose to learn from that.

  2. Tracey! I totally understand that fear. It's one of the reasons I have to be brave to comment on blog posts :)

    I've always been afraid of dying. It's silly because I know it's not the end, but I can't seem to get over it. It's this not knowing exactly how it's going to work out.