Fear

Fear is the mindkiller. I’ve always loved the prayer of the Bene Gesserit sisterhood from Frank Herbert’s Dune. It’s useful in many situations, but it is also a wonderful reminder that making decisions from fear is a bad idea, pure and simple. Nonetheless we make a lot of decisions based on fear. The fear of failing. The fear of rejection. The fear of being alone. The fear of dying. The fear of losing someone or something that we love. Rational fears, like a man standing in front of me holding a gun, and irrational fears, like toe-snipping crabs that fill the sand just under the incoming tide. We allow fear to rule our lives, and generally that fear is based on one thing: pain. Even the fear of loss (like the fear of a family member dying) is based on fear of the pain that loss will bring.

We fear known dangers such as drug-dealers, crazy snipers (I’m sure I’m not the only one who remembers the DC sniper), terrorist attacks, rising living costs, and lower wages. We fear the unknown. Will the girl I want to ask out say yes or no? Will I get the job I want? Will anyone ever love me? Will I ever be able to pay off my student loans? We fear things that we have no real reason to fear like spiders (very few of which can actually do significant harm to an adult human), roaches, or rain. And we fear things that we have very real reason to fear. Nonetheless, it still comes back to fear. Will I allow myself to be ruled by fear, or will I exercise a little trust?

Admittedly, there is a valid argument that wisdom must at least listen to fear (the beginning of wisdom is the fear of the Lord afterall). To live entirely without fear, without caution, and without reserve generally leads to an early grave. However, there is a difference between listening to fear and being ruled by fear. We are to display trust, and trusting God means following him even when I am afraid. This is not an easy thing to do in the best of times, it is certainly not easy when much of our culture (both left and right) is based on fear-mongering. If you want something new to be afraid of simply turn on the news. I promise some new threat is looming right around the corner. If that’s not enough, then start asking hard questions of yourself and find the very real fear that lies in challenging your beliefs. There is always an argument that can make you question even the most deeply held beliefs, and these are the arguments that we should face head on and explore until we have found understanding.

We can always find something to be afraid of and, if we allow it, that fear will rule our hearts like a tyrannical despot rules his nation. It will crush us, drive us to rash action, to foolish choices, and eventually either to destruction, to madness, or to both. There is a famous saying that the only thing we have to fear is this very fear that threatens to overwhelm us. I would wager that few of us know who to attribute this saying to (before I did a little research I would have mistakenly attributed it to John F. Kennedy), and I would wager much more that even fewer could tell where the quote come from or recite the entire quote itself.

In his first inaugural address in 1933 Franklin Delano Roosevelt (still one of my favorite presidents) said, “So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.” Roosevelt uttered these words in the midst of the greatest economic crisis that this nation has ever faced, and a humane crisis that one could argue rivaled the Civil War. Roosevelt called to a people, many of whom were jobless, homeless, and starving. In a time when people had many very real fears, Roosevelt called them to cast those fears aside and march together into the future.

He also said this, “Yet our distress comes from no failure of substance. We are stricken by no plague of locusts. Compared with the perils which our forefathers conquered because they believed and were not afraid, we have still much to be thankful for.” During a time in which many people had nothing, Roosevelt reminded them what they did have. He did not berate them for their fear, nor did he encourage them to believe that everything was alright, or even that it would be alright. In fact, he even called out the ‘foolish optimists’ who did. Instead, he reminded them of what they still had, and encouraged them to endure, and not only to endure, but to fight for a better world. Roosevelt was far from a perfect man, and he certainly was not a perfect president, but his words hold within them a truth that applies to all people in all times.

The key to overcoming fear is not to foolishly assume that the reasons for our fears aren’t valid. It is to see what we still have, and what we will still have even if the worst should come to pass. Christ commanded us to lay our burdens on him, to rely on God for our very sustenance, to put our eyes on him, instead of on the things of this world, and it’s something that I’m getting better at as I practice. My hope and my life lie in the hands of the father, and even if none of the things that I desire come to pass, even if all of the things that I fear come to pass, this will still be true. Thus, I have nothing to fear but to be driven by fear. Fear is the mindkiller.

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