From those hours of scrutinizing the clouds, something struck me that has stuck with me to this day. When clouds were beginning to form but they hadn’t covered the bright sun yet, the sky would take on a threatening dark gray-purple hue. But, when the clouds had filled the sky enough to cover the sun, and absolute destruction of home and health seemed inevitable, the sky would actually turn a dull gray.
And it turned out that there’s nothing really very threatening about a dull gray. All that a dull gray usually means is that it’s just going to be a boring cloudy day.
Fear is a huge topic to tackle. I don’t intend to address the entire topic of fear and how to deal with it, but I would like to share some lessons I’ve been learning about the personal little nagging fears and anxieties that I live with which frequently go unnoticed.
Not a Tornado
Since I’ve left behind those days of fearing severe weather (mostly), I’ve realized that fear itself didn’t leave completely. It just popped up in other parts of my life: thoughts about my grades sometimes, or money, or the future in general. Like many people, I’m way too good at extrapolating fears to the worst case scenario. “I’m scared I won’t get an assistantship with tuition coverage and a stipend to help with finances for school. If I don’t get an assistantship, I probably won’t be able to pay for school. If I can’t pay for school, I won’t be able to go this year, and I’ll have to reapply, and who knows if I’ll get into grad school when I reapply. And if I can’t get into grad school, how will I even provide for a family since my field is so specialized?”
When I play out my fears to their worst end, I’m doing just what I did as a kid: getting sick to my stomach about some threatening-looking purple clouds. When they play out in reality, those purple clouds — those threatening fears — are much less harmful than I expected. To be honest, I didn’t actually get that assistantship that I thought was so important, but other funding opportunities appeared and the Lord has continued to provide for us. We’re doing fine. There’s no tornado; it’s just a bit overcast.
Not Justin Bieber
While redecorating the work rooms at my school this semester, somebody put a cutout of Justin Bieber behind one of the room’s doors. At the beginning of the semester, every time I would see the cutout it would catch me off guard (not that I’d admit that to anyone), because I thought some creeper was just standing behind the door. What if I had never turned to face the cutout to figure out what it was, only ever seeing it in my peripheral vision, and had started avoiding the room altogether because I was startled every time I went in there? That would be ridiculous.
But I treat little nagging fears this way all the time. Maybe it’s a thought in the back of my mind that just sits there, but that starts stressing me out for no identifiable reason. Maybe it’s an assignment that I don’t want to try to tackle because I’m not sure what it involves. Maybe it’s a person that I know I should talk to, but doing so would require stepping out of my comfort zone. Maybe it’s my taking forever to finish this post because I’m wondering whether these fears are unique just to me. All of those situations are motivated by peripheral vision fears, and I’m finding that it’s much more effective to turn my head and look directly at whatever is causing the fear.
When I’m starting to feel stressed out about something, I’ve begun asking myself, “Is my action right now motivated by fear? And if so, what is it?” I’m finding that when these tiny fears that drag me down are recognized and identified it’s much easier to realize how illogical they are in the first place and address them. But the first step involves realizing that fear is present at all.
A Disclaimer: This post was intended to be a practical look at some day-to-day fears that I often face. On an even broader scale, as a Christian I believe that those who are in Christ have no reason to fear anything life brings. The paradox is that the fear of God frees me from the fear of life’s terrors. For some insight into how this works, this message from my pastor addresses it quite powerfully.