I remember it as if it had happened just yesterday: while hiking in Utah with my husband, a heavy rainstorm came up. There was no lightning, and the trail we had been hiking was quickly becoming slippery with mud, so we decided to wait out the storm beneath an overhang along the trail. I was already nervous about being in the open during the storm, so you can imagine how I felt when I saw small pieces of rock being washed down from the cliff above us. I had just told my husband that I thought we should try descending the trail anyway when a sizable chunk of rock tumbled down only inches from his head!
We hurriedly scrambled down the trail, trying not to look at the steep edges along it as our feet slid in the mud. By the time we reached the bottom of the hill, we were soaked and muddy. As we rejoiced in having safely made it to level ground, the sun came out and the storm was gone. It seemed incredible that we had just minutes before been afraid.
Responding to fear
We often read in the Bible where God tells His people not to fear, or not to be afraid. If you are someone who is timid, like me, you might wonder whether this means that you shouldn’t ever feel the emotion of fear. But God has given us our emotions, whether joy, sadness or even fear. The key is to consider how we ought to respond to those emotions.
I have never been more afraid than when I saw that rock nearly crash into my husband’s head. I wish I could say that I reacted to my fear with courage, but really, I just cried and prayed out loud as I raced down that trail! I can remember my heart pounding with panic. I wasn’t thinking of anything except running away from danger. And this is the problem with fear: if we let ourselves be swamped by it, fear can overwhelm our thinking and cause us either to freeze or to act wildly to change the situation. Often, fear can cause us to act without thinking, and we can end up in worse trouble than whatever we had originally feared.
Life presents us with all kinds of challenges and obstacles. Sometimes we’re going to feel afraid. What should we do then?
Pause. Occasionally, we are faced with an urgent situation that requires immediate action. Most of the time, though, we fear things that are less urgent. We fear for our finances, our health, the safety of loved ones… all kinds of things. When you feel that kind of fear, pause. Take a deep breath. Try to identify what you are actually afraid of. In 2 Timothy 1:7 2 Timothy 1:7For God has not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.
American King James Version×, Paul reminds us that God hasn’t given us a spirit of fear, but rather of power, love, and a sound mind. God doesn’t want us just reacting in whatever way first comes to mind. He wants us to take time to call on Him and to act out of our understanding of Him and His ways.
Talk to God. In 2 Chronicles 20, King Jehoshaphat of Judah was told that a huge army was coming to attack. The first thing he did was to proclaim a fast and to gather the people before God to ask Him for His help. We can do the same thing! God can see all aspects of a situation, while our vision is limited. And when we’re afraid, we might see only the challenge in front of us. Talking to God reminds us to focus on Him rather than on our fear of the challenge in front of us. We might feel ashamed to confess our fears to Him, but we don’t need to. After all, doesn’t He already know our thoughts and feelings?
Talk to someone else. Have you ever been worried about or afraid of something, but ashamed of feeling that way? Maybe you didn’t want to confess it to anyone. I think that has happened to all of us. We aren’t sure what others would think of us for feeling as we do, and so we keep the matter to ourselves. But have you noticed that when we do that, the problem often doesn’t seem to get smaller? Instead, it seems to grow even bigger. I have often been surprised to find that when I talk to a trusted friend about a situation, the situation doesn’t seem as bad as I thought it was. And knowing that you aren’t all alone can give you a lot of courage. They may even be able to help you think of ways to approach whatever is filling you with fear.
Decide whether there is anything you can do. Take some time to consider whether there is anything you can actually do about the problem confronting you. Ask God to help you to know how to proceed. Back in 2 Chronicles, God told Jehoshaphat that he wouldn’t have to fight that battle… but He also told Him to have the army take their positions. Sometimes God will remove the challenge. Sometimes He will walk us through the challenge.
Move forward. If you can take proactive steps to deal with whatever has frightened you, absolutely take those steps. But even if there seems to be nothing to do, it’s important to keep moving. Fear is a place we will all visit from time to time, but we don’t want to live there! Remember that talking to God and asking for His help and guidance is the best thing to do, and sometimes it is the only thing you can do. When you have done that, make the choice to focus on the tasks that you have in front of you.
Rein in your thoughts. Philippians 4:8 Philippians 4:8Finally, brothers, whatever things are true, whatever things are honest, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.
American King James Version×reminds us of the things that God wants us to focus on: things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, worthy of praise. When you are feeling fearful, it can be difficult to think of even one thing that has those qualities! Remember, though, that whatever you look for is what you will see. If you focus on the fear, you are just going to find more and more ways to be afraid. Challenge yourself instead to find just one good thing. Write it down. Challenge yourself to find another good thing, and write that one down, too. It could be positive aspects of your situation, or remembering ways God has delivered you in the past. It could be as simple as flowers blooming or a sunny day or a text from a friend. Take control of your thoughts and choose not to let them be hijacked by fear.
Fear is a call to action
One way to help gain control of fear is to remember that—like many feelings—it is a call to action. We can decide in advance that what we will do when we feel afraid is to call on God first. If we make it our practice to talk to Him at all times, every day, it will be easier for us to not be overwhelmed by fear, but to turn to Him instead and to walk in faith and understanding.
My adventure on the mountain in Utah had a happy ending, but I definitely don’t want to feel that panicking feeling every day! It was a good reminder to me that my natural instincts when I’m afraid are not very useful. Taking time to turn to God and to look at a situation more calmly will always yield better results.