by Dick Innes
Ann Landers, well-known newspaper counselor, receives an average of 10,000 letters a month. Almost all of them are from people burdened with life's problems. She was asked if there was one problem that people seemed to struggle with more than any other. Her reply? Fear!
Yes, fear is a common problem from which none of us is immune. According to a well-known doctor, 90 percent of the chronic patients who see today's physicians have one common symptom--fear.
A recent issue of The Christian Businessman reported the results of a survey that revealed the following major concerns of small business owners: a fear of poverty, a fear of criticism, a fear of illness, a fear of rejection, a fear of growing old, a fear of being separated from loved ones, and a fear of death.
These fears are by no means confined to business people. They are common to us all to some degree, along with many other fears, such as a fear of failure, a fear of losing one's job and a fear of feeling inadequate--one of the most common fears of all.
Then there are innumerable phobias such as a fear of the dark, fear of high places, fear of closed-in places, fear of insects, and so on. Fear is very much a part of life. It is a God-given emotion. We rightly fear driving through a red light or riding with a reckless or intoxicated driver. In right amounts, fear is a strong motivator, a self-protective survival factor.
"Ninety percent of the things we fear never happen."
Fear becomes a problem when it is irrational or when we have too many fears. Fears can be listed under one of several categories: fears that are imagined, fears that are projected or displaced, fears that are learned, and fears that are caused by a threat to our security--either physical or emotional.
Fears that are imagined. As somebody else has said, 90 percent of the things we fear never happen. A further 9 percent we often make happen ourselves, For instance, a person who has a deep fear of failure (conscious or unconscious) may get himself so anxious about failing, he will make himself fail.
Fears that are imagined need to be recognized for what they are--imaginary--then simply but firmly refused to be believed.
Fears that are projected or displaced. These fears have their roots in the past. One lady I know was badly burned in an accident some year ago. She now has an "unreasonable" fear of fire. Just the smell of smoke will trigger her unresolved memories and inner terror.
Or take a man who, when he was growing up, felt totally smothered by an over-controlling mother. Unless he faces and resolves his old fears, chances are he will now project them on his wife and have a unreasonable fear of being controlled by her.
In fact, whenever we over-react, we can be almost certain that we are projecting or displacing an unresolved fear from the past onto a present situation.
Fears that are learned or conditioned. As a child I used to have an unreasonable fear of grasshoppers. No grasshopper ever harmed me so from whom did I learn this fear? You're right. It was my mother. She had a terror of them, so I learned to be afraid of them too, along with a fear of the dark, the bogeyman, etc. Fortunately, learned or conditioned feelings of fear can be reconditioned. I still don't care for big grasshoppers, but the way I overcame my irrational fear of them was to realize that they were harmless and to practice picking some up. I wouldn't suggest the same process for overcoming a fear of snakes, but very often to do the thing we fear is an effective way to overcome learned or conditioned fears.
Fears that are real. Fears, such as the fear of losing one's job and income, of living alone when elderly or bereaved, or losing one's health, etc., etc. can be very real to those going through these experiences.
The question is, how do we overcome our fears?
First. Learn to admit them. This is the first step for resolving any problem. As Jesus, the Master Teacher, once said, "You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free."
"You can control your actions no matter how you feel."
Second. Verbalize your fears. This gets them out in the open where they can be dealt with.
Third. Don't allow your fears to control you. It's okay to be scared out of your socks at times. However, it's immature to allow your feelings to control your actions. You can control your actions no matter how you feel. That is a choice you do have!
Fourth. If your fears are imaginary, acknowledge this and refuse to believe them. Get facts before jumping to conclusions. Remember, what the mind dwells on, it will eventually believe and act on. Refuse to dwell on fearful thoughts.
Fifth. If a fear is an ongoing anxiety that has no apparent cause, realize that it is most likely a symptom of some hidden fear. If so, it may be wise to see a trained counselor to help you find and resolve the cause.
Sixth. If the fear is real, accept your situation but take whatever steps you can to change the circumstances that cause your fear. If you fear a layoff, upgrade your training to suit the needs of the changing work environment. If you fear being alone, reach out to others and help meet some of their needs. In so doing, you will meet some of your own. Realize, too, that most adverse situations don't last forever.
Seventh. Above all, learn to trust in God. There is no greater way to overcome fear. The Bible says, "Fear of man will prove to be a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is kept safe."
Trusting God is not a cop-out or an excuse for avoiding personal responsibility for our well-being. Trusting God is knowing that no matter what happens, God will bring good out of it if we do what we need to do and trust the rest to him. The Bible also says, "For we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him."
When I'm afraid, I say to myself, "What would I do if I weren't feeling scared?" I then act accordingly. I also commit and trust my life and circumstances to God every day. God can take much better care of these than I can. And he does. He will do the same for you if you do your part and daily trust your life to him.