It’s probably not a surprise that fear is a big topic right now. You don’t have to drive too far to see that Halloween is in full swing. In fact, in my neighborhood, some people started putting up their decorations in September.
It seems every year that the “business” of Halloween gets bigger. And with that comes an even bigger focus on fear.
I’m not going to get into the ins and outs of Halloween, but I do want to have an open discussion about what’s at the heart of this time of year: fear.
When you boil it down, Halloween thrives on fear. And lots of it. While watching football the other night, I saw two downright grotesque commercials for horror films — films that would give even the most calm, even-keeled person nightmares.
But you know what fear also does? It drives us. I want you to take a moment and think about that for a second. There are a lot of decisions and actions in our lives that we base on fear.
Fear of disappointment.
Fear of failure.
Fear of missing out.
Fear of lack.
Fear of hurt.
Fear of pain.
Fear of death.
Fear of fear, even.
That’s not even the full list. I’m sure you could come up with more. But can you see how fear motivates us? Now sometimes that can be a good thing. Fear can keep us safe, it can keep us from doing some dumb things.
But fear rarely knows its limits. It’s like mint. Have you ever grown mint? You plant one little spear and before you know it, it has taken over. What started as a good thing quickly becomes a parasite in unexpected ways.
That’s been the story of my life. As someone with anxiety and OCD, I’m driven a lot by fear. I call it, “the tyranny of the ‘What if?’” The fear-driven scenarios run constantly through my mind, taking the shape of, “What if X happens?”
So what are we to do? If fear is controlling us – controlling you – how do we flip the script and control it? I have one piece of advice for you…
Talk to it. Yes, talk to your fear.
I recently spent an hour with my Christian therapist talking about my underlying fear problem. After months of work, we realized that fear was driving a lot of unhealthy reactions and habits in my life. One of the big ones? Fear of being with my own thoughts.
As we talked about my fear, she asked me to do something just a little strange: She asked me to imagine my fear as a person. She told me to talk to it. To ask it questions. To describe its feelings.
Like I said, it’s a little weird. However, it is rooted in ancient wisdom. The Bible talks about “resisting,” and a great way to resist is to call something out and speak to it.
So that’s what I did. And what did I learn? A lot. I learned that my type of fear entered into my life initially as a way to protect me. My childhood was filled with chaos, forms of abuse and a lot of hurt. Fear entered my life at a young age to keep me out of those situations. To drive me away from the pain. At the time, it worked.
But then I also learned that my fear didn’t know how to control itself. It became that mint in the garden. It started out good and healthy, but before long it grew out of control. It took over my life. Its effects are still evident in my life now. And I’m just now starting to learn how to prune it, how to contain it to the right area of my life. To use it for what it’s intended for.
How do I do that? Again, I talk to it. I listen to it. Not in the way that I listen to every command it tells me, but listen to why it’s there in the first place. Sometimes it tells me it’s genuinely concerned for my well-being. (“Don’t speed through that yellow light!”) But other times, when I’m listening for the “why,” it exposes its juvenile tendency of lacking self-regulation. (“If you don’t work until 11pm tonight, your client is going to hate you and you’ll lose the contract!”)
See the difference? One is healthy. The other is overbearing, overreacting, and downright false.
But through talking to it and listening, I’m learning better how to decipher the good from the bad advice. For too long I gave my fear too much blanket trust, and therefore too much control. But now I’m learning to control it by letting it speak, but then understanding that I don’t have to let it be a tyrant. I have a vote. God has a vote. And together, we can elect to let it rule the moment or not.
So this month, as fear descends like a heavy fog over everything from our neighborhood lawns to our convenience stores, I want you to use that as a reminder to talk to your fear – especially if you’ve found yourself controlled by it. Ask your fear questions. Imagine it as a person that’s holding your hand and you are walking in a quaint park. Listen for what it says.
But then, don’t be afraid (pun intended) to talk back to it. To let it know when its place in your life is out of whack. That our creator did not intend us to be ruled by fear. That it (the fear) doesn’t have to be codependent on you. That there’s something else – someone else – that is there to protect you. And he doesn’t have any of the nasty side effects.