Things don’t always go according to plan; the world and the circumstances that make up our daily lives are too unruly, too unpredictable for that. Despite our best efforts, sometimes the wrong thing, our worst-case scenario, happens. One way in which we respond to things going wrong or the anticipation that they will is fear.
What causes fear?
Fear is a powerful emotion that is triggered by the threat of harm toward our emotional, physical, or psychological well-being, whether that threat is real or imagined. The threat that confronts us may also be toward our loved ones, which can serve to heighten our fear even more. Fear can cause us to avoid the things we think will cause us harm, and that can be a good thing.
If you find yourself walking in an unfamiliar part of a city, fear can keep you from danger by making you stick to well-lit roads and avoiding alleyways. Fear of potentially dangerous things such as snakes or scorpions can make you steer well clear of them when you encounter them in the wild. In this way, fear can function to help preserve you from danger.
Fear can also make you more circumspect, and that can go a long way toward holding you back from foolish or rash decisions. However, fear can also lead you to avoid situations that may be good for you in the long run. Fear of the unknown can prevent you from trying out new and exciting things.
Fear of rejection can prevent you from asking that person you like out for a coffee. Fear of public speaking can prevent you from taking up that opportunity you’ve been presented at work.
What you fear may be real or very possible, but because the outcome is far from determined, fear can keep you away from finding out and deprive you of the good that could come your way. Fear can cause you to self-sabotage perfectly good opportunities and you may not even realize you are doing it.
How to Overcome Fear
Fear, though useful in some circumstances, is a problem if it becomes a controlling factor in your life. You can take a moment to inventory your own life and ask yourself what motivates the decisions you make or decide not to make. Is it fear of failure or rejection? Those are powerful emotions that can control your life in unhelpful ways. What are the steps for how to overcome fear in your life?
Identify your fears
One way in which fear can hamper our progress is that it can be a shapeless thing that controls us without us being fully aware of it. Naming your fear goes a long way toward addressing its influence over you. When you are about to make a decision or have already decided and fear played a large part in it, ask yourself precisely what it is you are afraid of. Attempting to understand when the fear began can also be useful in challenging your belief in that fear.
By identifying what you’re afraid of and examining it in the light of day can go a long way toward demystifying and disempowering your fear. You may come to find that what you’re afraid of is something you shouldn’t be afraid of, or that even if it’s real fear, or a likely outcome of fear occurring , the risk is worth the effort in the end.
Even in situations where fears are driven by underlying anxiety disorders, being able to identify what we’re afraid of goes a long way toward conquering those fears. Remember that avoiding real or imagined fears only helps to maintain the fear and the intensity. The only way to squash the fear is to face it.
Your fears may not come to pass
Fear would have us live in an as-yet-undetermined future. The fear of the unknown, of what might happen, the big “what if” is what drives most fear. The future is opaque to us, and it’s that very quality that drives many of our fears. One way to overcome our fears is with the reminder that the scenario we are concerned about may not come to pass.
Focusing on the present, on the task that’s right in front of you, will help to deal with the fear that flows from the anticipation of what is to come. The future holds many possibilities, one of which may be your fears realized, but others may hold success. Recognizing that what you fear most isn’t the only possible outcome of a given situation and that can help you make an effective decision.
Try and draw from the past. Think about past times when you had been afraid but had positive outcomes. Recalling past events that worked out for the good, can help you keep the confidence you need in the future.
Life happens, but you’ll be alright
Jesus said to his followers, “In this world, you will have trouble. But take heart, for I have overcome the world” (John 16:30). Our lives this side of heaven are fraught with possibilities of both joy and sorrow, and that’s something we need to reckon with. But a greater reality is that Jesus promises that we can have courage as we face any “trouble” that will come our way because he has overcome the world.
There is nothing that can be thrown our way that has overcome Jesus and that he cannot help us through. We can have confidence, as David did, that “though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for your rod and your staff comfort me.” (Psalm 23).
Our shepherd, Jesus, walks with us, and so no matter what we encounter in life, he will ultimately preserve us. Relying on Jesus can help you let go of the control you feel you need to grasp onto to help keep you safe by avoiding fearful situations.
As you think about how to overcome fear, it’s also helpful in some cases to work through worst-case scenarios that could happen should your fears be realized. We are stronger, more capable, and resilient than we realize, and sometimes simply facing our fear head-on will help us realize that even if what we dread most happens, we can live through it and emerge on the other side just fine.
It may be helpful to work with a therapist, but using visualization, or exposure, you can begin to get a handle on your fears, especially if those fears are highly specific and part of a condition such as an anxiety disorder.
Be strong and courageous
Walking into danger despite feeling afraid is what is known as courage. One way to overcome fear is to act despite it. Scary situations don’t stop being scary because you’ve identified the source of your fear and trust that the Lord will bring you through it.
However, what fear will often do is prevent us from acting as we ought to or acting in ways that will benefit and enrich our lives. Being able to take a step of faith requires trust, self-trust. Try not to keep yourself from the blessings Jesus has for your life.
Before embarking on the campaigns to claim the promised land, the Lord told Joshua to be strong and courageous (Joshua 1:8). There were many obstacles ahead of Joshua – the stubborn and fickle people of God were a reality he had to deal with, along with the many armies and battles that lay ahead.
These armies and nations were formidable, and the task before him was daunting, but Joshua was to face them nonetheless because that is what God had called him to, and the Lord would go with him. To overcome fear doesn’t mean that you stop feeling afraid – it can simply mean that you act despite the fear and don’t allow it to stop you from doing what you’re meant to.
A love that’s bigger and stronger than our fears
When faced with challenging circumstances, knowing that we aren’t alone makes a difference, as David found out in his life. Romans, one of the letters in the New Testament, reminds us of several things. First, it reminds us that whatever we go through now can’t compare with what’s on the horizon for God’s people. And Paul knew about facing scary situations, between being publicly beaten, shipwrecked, stoned, and so on because he followed Jesus.
If what you fear is the hardship that stems directly from being a disciple of Jesus, Paul reminds us that the struggle is temporary, and the reward is eternal. But more than that, Paul reminds us that we are all God’s beloved and that nothing can ever separate us from His love.
Fear attempts to obscure the truth and stifles action, and one of the core truths fear often stifles is that we are loved. We fear rejection, failure, etc., because of the emotional blow they deal to our sense of self-worth. But if we know that we are loved deeply, eternally, and that nothing can separate us from that love, that security can embolden us.
Paul writes, “If God is for us, who can be against us?… For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:31,38-39).
God’s love is bigger and stronger than our fears. We can overcome our fears by recognizing that love and walking in the confidence that regardless of the storms we find ourselves in, God intends our good and we are safe in God’s hands. Fear may be a powerful emotion that can make us hesitant to step into an unknown future but knowing that whatever may come will never separate us from God’s love can help us overcome that fear.
When fear takes up too much of our lives, it deprives us of the freedom God intends for us. If you find that fear is controlling your life and preventing you from flourishing, take a courageous step and speak with a trustworthy individual like a friend, licensed therapist, or spiritual leader for guidance.
“Sad Feet”, Courtesy of Anemone123, Pixabay.com, CC0 License; “Do not give up”, Courtesy of Alexas_Fotos, Pixabay.com, CC0 License; “Time for Change”, Courtesy of geralt, Pixabay.com, CC0 License; “If not now, when?”, Courtesy of Alexas_Fotos, Pixabay.com, CC0 License