In love there is no room for fear, but perfect love drives out fear [1 John 4.18]
Fear is disabling. It makes us shrink from the risk of trust. It closes us off from relationship. Fear binds us in a narrow life. The work of God’s Spirit is to lead us from fear to love. But how can we co-operate with the Spirit and overcome those fears that hold us back from wideness of heart?
Name your fear
When I was a small child I was afraid of the dark. I couldn’t sleep. I imagined I could make out the shadowy outline of a gorilla in the darkest corner of the bedroom – not the best inducement to sleep! Then one night inspiration came: I named my gorilla ‘Charlie’. Somehow I wasn’t afraid of ‘Charlie’ in the same way as my looming, nameless gorilla- shaped terror. Sleep came more easily, and in time Charlie no longer seemed to be around. It helps to pin down just what it is you fear so that you can see it for what it is. For example, ‘if I try something new I will inevitably fail’. Naming your fear helps in beginning to address it: ‘I own I am afraid of this, but I don’t have to be held by this fear’.
Share your fear: Fear becomes magnified in size when we seek to hide it from others. Share your fear with someone you trust.
Look at where your actions take you
The inner voice of fear bids us be ‘safe’ but this safety is often illusory. Choosing the safe can lead us to be more trapped than ever. The pattern often repeats itself – so be aware of it. There are other responses we can make that will help us in the longer run to be happier, less constrained and more confident in our ability.
Don’t listen to discouragement:
In his advice to spiritual guides Ignatius Loyola notes how when we seek to overcome our fears and move to a greater trust in God, what is damaged and closed to the Spirit within us will ‘harass, afflict with anxieties’ and ‘put up false obstacles’. On the other hand the voice of the Spirit within is heard in ‘every interior joy that calls and attracts’ us towards wholeness, freedom and generous self-gift. Fear drives us, whilst the Love that is God invites.
One exercise that may be helpful is to divide a piece of paper into two columns. In the left column write down what the inner ‘voice’ of fear says. In the right column write down in answer what, in better moments, you have sensed God saying to you…’you are worthy, capable…there is a future for you…’
Act your way into a new way of thinking
If we wait until we feel total trust and freedom before we step out of a fearful pattern of behaviour we may wait a long time! But if we dare to step out when Love calls, ignoring the voice of fear, then trust and self-belief will grow.
Stay in the moment, for ‘now’ is where God is.
‘The rule is jam tomorrow and jam yesterday – but never jam today’
[The Red Queen in Lewis Carroll’s: Through the Looking Glass]
Fear usually concerns what has happened in the past or what might happen in the future. All our capacity to be gratefully present to the gift of ‘now’ and to work creatively within it is stripped away. Yet ‘now’ is where God is. Even if the worst we can imagine did happen, God would be within that ‘now’. Jesus invites his worrying disciples to ‘consider the ravens…consider the lilies, how they grow’. It’s impossible to ‘consider’ what is before us if we’re somewhere in the past or future. Jesus advises: be present to what is. Spend a minute or two giving all your attention to the sounds you can hear – voices in the street, rain against the window – listen to the texture of these sounds rather than getting tangled up in what they might signify. Or, absorb yourself in what you can see – the lines on the desk in front of you, the movement of clouds in the sky. Slowly you will find your heartbeat slowing. In this breathing space, God ‘is’.
Go with the flow
The movement from fear into love is a movement of the Spirit. It is like a stream we launch our boat into and then the current takes it along. It takes effort and courage and persistence to go with this flow. But the flow is love, and this love is life.