I’ve learned to make friends with my fear. I know that may sound strange. But after years of denying it—and having it pester me from afar—I’ve learned that befriending fear is the far better way.
Many of our teachers and leaders tell us to watch out for fear. They say it holds us back and keeps us from leading and loving well.
And those teachers aren’t wrong in a way. Fear can certainly keep us from leading a full, wholehearted life. Even John tells us, “… perfect love drives out fear,” (1 John 4:18) as if fear is something to be exiled or banished far away.
But I don’t think that’s what John meant. Fear needs to be strengthened and transformed in the presence of love, but fear is not the enemy. It’s a tender emotion that reveals our underbelly. It shows us where we’re fragile, sensitive, or vulnerable to danger or pain. And if there’s one thing that seems clear to me from the life of Jesus? He didn’t mock or disclude the fragile, vulnerable or fearful. He invited them into deeper experiences of courage and faith.
So shouldn’t we learn to treat our own fear in much the same way?
You can make friends with your fear, and as you do it can become an important adviser. As you build trust with your fear, you’ll learn when to soothe. . .and also when to listen to it.
Fear shouldn’t drive you, but it can become an ally. It’s an important part of your emotional make-up. And it’s what leads you ultimately to courage.
Think about it for a second. Without fear you’d:
—expose yourself to all kinds of physical and emotional dangers.
For some of you, fear is too close. Maybe you overthink every decision, making it difficult to move forward toward achieving your goals or letting yourself receive love.
For others, fear is too far away. You take bold risks that put yourself, and perhaps your loved ones, in danger.
When you engage your fear, it can lead to courage, humility and healthy dependence on God and on others. The key to making friends with your fear? Extending curiosity and compassion toward it.
If you’re struggling with fear, try these few things:
1.) Give voice to your fear.
What if you fail?
You can’t do this hard thing.
You’re going to mess it all up and lose everyone you love.
When you name your fear and give voice to its concerns, you are bringing it out into the light.
And it is only in the light that you can really begin to heal it. When you focus on your fear and name it for what it is, you paradoxically disarm it.
2.)Identify your “Safe People”.
I’m afraid I’m going to fail at this new job.
A part of me is fearful about this big decision. It’s telling me all the ways it might go wrong.
I want to let this person in, and I’m aware of how fearful I feel in doing that.
Ask that person to just listen. They don’t have to fix you or your fear. But by bearing witness to your fear, they can help you come around it with love and compassion. Remember? Perfect love drives out fear. That doesn’t mean fear is your enemy. It does mean that fear needs to experience the power of love.
3.) Invite God into your fear.
God should be on your list of “safe people.” He knows your fear, and he doesn’t condemn you for it. Lift your fears to him, just as you would to a good friend. Write them down in a journal, or pray them aloud, inviting him to come right into them. Don’t go to God as a way of trying to pray your fears away. Instead, simply tell him about them and invite his loving presence in.
God, I’m afraid. And I can’t see my way to trust you right now. Will you just meet me where I am?
4.) Take action, regardless of what you are feeling.
Courageous actions often exist side by side with fear.
Decades ago, I had to have a hard conversation with a fried that terrified me. I still remember the voice of my fear vividly as I drove to our meeting. “I can’t do this. I won’t do this! Do you hear me? It’s not going to happen!”
I just kept driving. I had anchored myself in the support of safe people, and I knew what I was doing was right. I let that fearful part of me come along in the car, sharing its concerns. I just didn’t let it drive. That’s when I first experienced that it takes fear to have courage.
A courageous action might bring heartache or challenges. And it’s OK to acknowledge your fear about that. But it also might bring life-giving discoveries, meaningful opportunities, and healthier relationships.
If you’ve acted bravely, your fear will subside. There is nothing more powerful than a person anchored within, with a few others, and with God—encircled with love—regardless of outcomes.