Psychology Today defines fear as “an internal response to a perceived threat”. While fear is very real, what we fear may not be real at all. That’s why the definition includes the word perceived. In 12-step recovery, we come to realize that fear is often based on nothing more than our expectations; we had become fearful of things we made up in our minds. We even have a little motto about it:
F.E.A.R. = Future Events Appearing Real
Fear can be paralyzing for some. It can also drive a person to become offensive, unreasonable, volatile, even dangerous. The Alcoholics Anonymous big book says this to say about fear:
“Driven by a hundred forms of fear, self-delusion, self-seeking, and self-pity, we step on the toes of our fellows and they retaliate.” (page 62)
This is my experience. I didn’t drink because I enjoyed the taste. I drank because I was afraid, frustrated, disillusioned, self-pitying. Irrational as it may be, drinking was my solution to challenges in life; and particularly in dealing with my fears. Other people may binge-watch TV, over-eat, over-exercise, overspend, etc. “Over-“ is an indicator for me… it usually means I am (over-)indulging in one thing to avoid something I don’t want to deal with. Too often it is fear that I am trying to ignore.
Being fearful is not always a bad thing. I get a sense of fear when I mismanage money (overspend) because it causes some undesirable results in other areas or or at other times. Learning to manage resources better (stewardship) eliminates or minimizes that fear. So fear can motivate me to improve my choices sometimes.
There is a problem with being fearful about things that are not real and present threats, however. In the last 12 months I’ve heard of many things to fear: the Zika virus, terrorists, the economy, political candidates, escaped convicts, illegal aliens, aging, dying, living, fracking, earthquakes, weapons of mass destruction, that guy running North Korea, gingivitis, global warming, rush hour traffic, caffeine/sugar/carbs, hair loss and weight gain. I’ve known cigarette smokers (men) that bought cigarette packages with the warning label: “may cause low birth weight” because it wasn’t as scary as the ones that said “using this product will kill you”.
Rick Warren, author or The Purpose Driven Life and pastor of Saddleback Church in California, says there are 365 occurrences of “do not be afraid” in the Bible. I didn’t count them myself but I know there are a lot of occurrences of similar phrasing in the translations I use. Whatever the count is, it is clear that God doesn’t intend for us to be consumed with fear. God wants us to acknowledge real dangers and avoid them but He also wants us to ignore perceived threats that have little probability of affecting us.
The danger of being fearful is that we are forced to take our eyes off Jesus so we can watch the thing we’re afraid of. Fear affects my relationship with God. It diminishes my peace, steals my joy, causes me to see things with a negative lens, and makes me suspicious and cynical.
So what does a picture of camels have to do with fear? If most of our fears are founded on nothing but our imagination – or if we allow fears to become bigger than they really are – then we’re being deceived about where we should be looking. In the picture, the “black” camels are actually shadows of real camels. The shadow-camels are much larger than the actual camels because the sun is very near the horizon. The actual camels are the tiny white lines in the picture.
I am learning how to recognize fear and analyze whether it is reasonable or not. It’s a process. If it isn’t a reasonable fear, I can choose to do what I’ve been told by my Father: “do not fear” and “have faith”.
And Jesus answered them, “Have faith in God.” Mark 11:22