Dreaming of a day when fear is defeated

June 16th, 2015

Before March 18, 2008, I didn’t fear death. I never thought about death. Death was distant, an abstraction, something that plagued other people. But it didn’t bother me.

All that changed when my dad died. I started having dreams about dying. I’d wake up in my sleep screaming in fear. Death was suddenly tangible. Grief was too real.

Almost a year to the date after dad’s death, the fears intensified. On March 17, 2009, my wife gave birth to our daughter. For the first time in my life, I found myself in charge of someone else’s life. The word “inadequacy” is merely an emaciated description of the fear I felt, and still sometimes feel having added two more kids to the mix.

After some time of grappling with these fears and finding that time doesn’t, contrary to opinion, heal everything, I eventually decided to see a counselor. I wasn’t sure I was healing correctly. The dreams were making me wonder if I was healing at all.

After meeting with my counselor for a number of months, I decided to ask her point blank: Do you think all the little fears we have — the fears of other people, of losing jobs, going broke, etc. – could be handled more easily if we first dealt with our fear of death? That is, if we human beings just accepted our own mortality, embraced the fact that we’re going to die, and dealt with the fear related to that reality, do you think then, we could more easily deal with all these smaller fears? As in, maybe fear of the other, overbearing friends, or going broke wouldn’t be as strong if I’d already dealt with my fear of death?

In response, my counselor said something I’ll never forget. She said something that, to this day, has served as one of the primary motivating factors to conquering my fears. She said, “I don’t think we can deal with the big fear of death until we’ve first handled the smaller fears. The smaller fears are preparation to face our fear of death.”

I don’t know if this is profound for anyone else, but it was revolutionary for me. If I am going to face my fear of death, manifest in the nightmares and panic attacks, then I first need to start with tackling the smaller, more mundane fears – fear of confrontation, failure, inadequacy, other people’s opinions. Then maybe I can tackle my fears of losing some else I love. Then maybe I can grapple with the fears related to my own mortality.

When I look around our society, as a whole, I see that I am not alone. I see a nation controlled by fear. We fear loneliness. We fear our rights will be taken away. We fear not fitting in. We fear not receiving our daily bread. We fear ISIS. We fear economic downturn. We fear the other political party. We fear gays, blacks and people with 19 children. Fear drives us to spend more and socialize less. Fear controls where we live and who we associate with. Fear provides the seedbed for hate. Fear is the unrecognized god of the American people. Secularism, supposed to free us from the tyranny of fearful, controlling deities, actually just replaced those old deities with Fear.

And all too often we Christians have fallen into idolatry with everyone else. And this, despite the fact that the most frequent command in scripture is, “Do not be afraid.” We ought to be the first and most willing to say that our random assortment of fears — not least the fear of death masked as it is under its various names — are simply ways of denying our own mortality and seeking assurance in other deities (a deity is simply a thing/person to which we entrust our lives) rather than the God who fearlessly died for us.

If I’m right, and this fear is our collective idol, then I want to be a part of a community that refuses to be controlled by fear — refuses to submit to and believe that fear is somehow our good for us. So, instead of complaining about it and denouncing it only in others, one by one, I am tackling my smaller fears. I’m having tough conversations (it may surprise some people that I don’t like confrontation, but take my word for it that, even though I’m opinionated and vocal, that doesn’t mean I enjoy tension.) I’m going toe-to-toe with my fear of failure and how my identity is found in successful preaching and teaching. I’m learning that though I fear being an inadequate husband and father, my wife and kids seem to love me, not in spite of, but because of some of those weakness. I’m learning to notice and think through the implications of fear-based media. And I’m learning to envision a reality where God, in Christ, has defeated fear and death both.

I’m convinced grief that taught me fear will never go away, at least until God wipes the tears away in the new creation. But maybe, just maybe, I don't have to live the rest of my life controlled by fear.

Your turn: What fear controls you? How have you wrestled with it? Any advice for those struggling with fear? 

Tom Fuerst blogs at Tom1st.com. You can subscribe to his blog via email here.

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