One of the most helpful books I have read in a while is Mastering Fear by Robert Maurer and Michelle Gifford. Here I share two major observations.
The first is how the authors establish very quickly an important corrective argument to conventional wisdom: fear is good. It’s not bad. Fear, as it turns out, is truly a life saving mechanism. Our survival counts on it. You can see it in the natural world, and for humans, we are no different. Fear triggers our survival mode and gets our senses on high alert.
When working with the idea that fear is good, I connected it to my Christian worldview and stumbled upon an incredible re-focusing on a somewhat perplexing concept. The scripture commands “do not fear” so frequently that you begin to figure out this is a very important piece of advice. People throughout the biblical narrative are constantly told not to fear.
But here in Maurer’s work, we discover fear is actually a good thing for us so long as we do not apply fear to the wrong objects or over inflate the situation at hand. Is this conflicting information?
This is incredibly intriguing because the scripture does in fact offer us something to fear. It’s a Person. Fear the Lord. Fear God. We come to find God is asking us to not fear our situation, our accusers, our circumstances…but to fear only God.
To me it was always strange and off putting that we are to fear God. What does this phrase mean in a deeper sense?
In light of Maurer’s work in Mastering Fear, an explosive reality kicked in for me. I am to fear God literally for my benefit. Not out of an unhealthy fear. But the type described in the book as the mechanism which heightens our senses, directs our focus on the object which we must pay attention to.
Fear is good for us so long as we direct our fears on the only thing we should fear. Because as the brain kicks in with hyper focus we will spend time trying to figure out the object of our fear with closer attention.
The second major observation is what the author’s offer as the healthy solution to utilizing fear. Since fear is good, we must use it correctly and place it on what only matters. But how we cope with undesirable fear is striking. The authors suggest the only healthy response for humans found through several studies and research is the following: we must reach out and support each other.
Built into us is the natural response to reach out to other humans when we are afraid. This is observable in children especially, but not long after or during childhood we begin to toughen up or begin to lose trust in people. And so we resort to not asking challenging questions or reaching out to other people when we find ourselves scared of terrible circumstances or events in our lives. Or even simple situations we may personally become fearful over that others do not find terrifying at all.
If we can only muster the courage to reach out and express what it is we are fearful of to other people we will find not just step by step solutions to our fears. The act in and of itself, reaching out and asking for help, is what calms our fears.
I find this incredible in light of what God’s answer is yet again for us. Christian community is foundational to the faith. The Trinity itself, as perplexing as it is to comprehend, offers something intrinsic to our nature. The Trinity has been in eternal community on it’s own. The essence of God is community.
So it is no wonder when we are created in His image, we are created as individuals who need Him and need others. Christian community is called throughout scripture to love one another, help those in need, to confess our sins to one another so we may be healed, etc. Much of the New Testament is instructing the Christian to become more unified with each other. To be able to share everything with each other.
We must share our fears with each other. It is literally how we are wired. And it is the only answer to calming our fears.
We hardly even need a step by step answer to get us out of our situation. See Job and his friends for that one. We simply need to be with each other silently for days if it takes. But we need to be able to come to each other with our fears and be both receptive enough to listen to each other’s fears and also willing enough ourselves to let our guards down.
I sense there is need for a ton of support out there based on what so many people are afraid of today. We are afraid of so much, when instead, we need to recognize how good fear is if we direct it towards the only Person worth our intense focus. We need to reach out to others when we are afraid because we are designed to cope with each other.
The authors of Mastering Fear tie handling fear in a healthy manner to the laws of success. They state, “successful people recognize their need for support and consistently see reaching out to others as a strength rather than a weakness.” (P. 51) The authors’ desire was to figure out elements of successful people and found their approach to fear being a key factor.
I make this final note because it means when we are viewing a person who has made it in our field or conquered a major obstacle in life we do a great disservice to ourselves believing they just toughed it out or set out on their own and made their course corrections all by themselves. Not at all. They became fearful just like anyone else but found the humble courage to ask others for advice, to express their fears and to move forward by doing so. We truly are wired to help each other.