I grew up in and eventually became a religious leader of a religious thinking dominated by the language of fear. We preached the fear of hell, fear of missing heaven, fear of being wrong, fear of losing salvation, fear of the judgment, and so on. Fear was our weapon of choice to keep the faithful in line. In reality, we were all living in fear. Funny thing is the Christian experience is supposed to be one of love which is supposed to mean living without fear. This is evidenced by the New Testament verse, “there is no fear in love, perfect love casts out fear (1 John 4:8).” And yet there we were damning each other to a life of fear. The truth is though that fear is so much embedded in the human experience that each of us has been affected by it in some way or other. We live in a time of great fear. A happy and successful life is not the absence of fear but the ability to manage fear and live with courage. Some of the greatest spiritual giants of the ages have been plagued by the darkest fears. Managing fear starts with awareness of it’s appearance and method of work. So, what is your greatest fear? The one only you know about?
Hilary of Poitiers a well-known fourth century theologian wrote that fear is divided into several varieties. After reading them I found them to extremely helpful in understanding how to recognize the presence of fear in my life. Let’s examine two of them.
Hilary wrote, shrinking is fear of some act about to take place. Have you ever heard the expression, “to shrink in fear?” It evokes the specter of danger looming large. The larger it appears the smaller we perceive ourselves to be and the more vulnerable we feel. In the Old Testament, Joshua the leader of the Israelites sent out 12 spies to scout out the land before attempting to invade. 11 of them came back with the report, “there are giants in the land so big, compared to them we are like grasshoppers.” What they meant was, “we feel like grasshoppers and we are sure if they saw us they would think we are as small as grasshoppers.” Needless to say, they discouraged any plan to invade. The twelfth guy Caleb disagreed. He declared, “we are more than able to defeat them.” The 11 were shrinking back in fear to such a degree that they felt as small as grasshoppers compared to the enemy. This is shrinking fear. It does not matter if the danger is imagined or real, fear is largely a matter of perception. We make ourselves small by the way we think about what may be ahead of us, and the smaller we feel, the larger the thing appears and the less likely it is that we will do anything and the more likely it is that if we did do anything we will be defeated. The bigger we imagine the thing to be the smaller we feel. Don’t let your imagination run away with you (literally)!
Fear of Shame
Shame is fear arising from the anticipation of blame: and this is the highest form of the affection. Blame and shame go hand in hand. The more I blame others for my problems the more shame I feel and the more shame I feel the more I blame others. It is a vicious circle. Shame comes from the fact that I am unable to accept responsibility for myself and I end up handing that responsibility to someone else. They are to be blamed for my feelings, my situation, my responses. That sense of helplessness is the basis for shame. Refuse to blame and you escape this demon of shame.
Don’t miss the next post in this series.