Fear is perhaps the oldest emotion known to mankind. Over the years, it has often been my greatest friend—and my greatest enemy. I was raised in a strict Pentecostal environment in the Deep South. My pastor, parents, and Sunday school teachers constantly warned that Jesus could return to the earth at any moment to “catch away” His people. They cautioned that anyone He found committing any kind of sin would face eternal damnation; there would be no mercy. When I went away to college and experienced freedom from my parents’ control, the fear of burning in a lake of fire and brimstone haunted me like a ghost.
In retrospect, I realize that this fear worked to my advantage. It was a real deterrent to the temptations that surrounded me: illicit drugs, sex, and wild parties. However, once I graduated, moved to the big city (Los Angeles), and started a life on my own, I faced a host of debilitating fears. These fears were an enemy to my quality of life: fear of flying to my corporate assignments, fear of living in an apartment all alone, fear that every man I met was a wolf in sheep’s clothing, fear that any day a major earthquake would swallow up Los Angeles, fear of crossing over a tall bridge. On and on went the torment.
Let me hasten to say that fear is not always a bad thing. Fear is a natural response to real or perceived danger. Healthy fear causes us to lock our car doors, buy alarm systems, and to look both ways before crossing the street. Fear becomes unhealthy, however, when it controls our behavior and keeps us from doing positive things.
Fear is learned behavior. We can learn it from childhood conditioning, personal experience, observation of other people’s experience, media exposure, or other channels of information. Over the years, my apprehensions and trepidations learned through all these channels have been persistent; however, I have been equally persistent in my quest to overcome them.
I’ve modeled the pattern. I saw my fear of earthquakes progress from anxiety about the predicted “big one,” to extreme fear during a significant temblor, to quake-phobia in which I kept an overnight bag packed by the door. Further, until recently, I flatly refused to visit San Francisco under any circumstance due to its devastating quakes. It’s no wonder that Paul admonished, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God” (Philippians 4:6). He knew that if we didn’t nip anxiety in the bud, it would progress in its intensity and get a stronghold in our lives.
Scripture declares that fear is not from God. “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind” (2 Timothy 1:7). As a woman of faith, I believe this and I passionately teach it. I also know that “believing is behaving.” Therefore, in the final analysis, our behavior is the decisive test of what we really believe. When we succumb to the “spirit of fear,” it is because we have embraced an erroneous belief about God and His ability or willingness to deliver us from the fear-triggering situation, person, or thing.
I have concluded that I will probably always have to battle one fear or another; however, I have resolved that I will not allow any of them to hinder my progress or derail my destiny. I’m going to run toward this emotional giant and conquer it!