As his hands approached mine, tears sprung to my eyes. “Breathe, Heather, just breathe.” Slowly I reached out and took the balled-up snake. My friend came with me to the Pet Aquatic Wearhouse to witness this event (though she surprisingly did not ask for a turn holding the snake), and to take my picture “snuggling” my new snake friend.
For a few minutes, I stood there feeling a bit shocked and a bit thrilled. Anyone who knows me knows snakes are near the top of my no way list. To be fair, I have a Biblical reason ~smile~…
The LORD God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, cursed are you above all livestock and above all beasts of the field; on your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life. I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” (Genesis 3:14-15, ESV)
See, snakes are literally Satan. But, enmity or not, I needed to be able to walk down a trail without fleeing the wriggling sticks. Leaving the pet store that day, I felt a little freer. Was my lifetime terror behind me? Not completely, but I was on my way forward. I faced a fear in a very comfortable environment. Now should I visit the Australian rainforest? (Well, maybe just a walk down a well beaten Virginia lane for now.)
What Scares You?
And, how has this fear(s) affected your life? It is time to do a little digging.
- Stroll down memory lane. Did something happen to me? Did someone tell me a scary story? Did someone laugh at me when I spoke in front of the class? Did someone teach me to be afraid of this?
- Admit the fear. Say it out loud. I am afraid of cats. I feel helpless and breathless in enclosed spaces. I do not speak my mind because I am terrified of losing friends and being alone. Something as simple as verbalizing a problem makes it less powerful since it externalizes the belief outside of yourself.
- Bring others into your uncomfortable space. This can be a counselor, a friend, a trusted co-worker, a sibling, a pastor, or a significant other. Find someone with whom you can be transparent.
- Take it to God. “What a friend we have in Jesus; all our sins and griefs to bear. What a privilege to carry, everything to God in prayer. Oh, what peace we often forfeit. Oh, what needless pain we bear. All because we do not carry, everything to God in prayer” (lyrics by Joseph M. Scriven).
- Face it. When you look your fear in the face and charge through, it cannot have power over you anymore. Hold that snake. Go up in that hot air balloon. Train for that marathon. See that counselor about your anxiety. Call that old friend and do your best to make amends. Tell your boss (kindly) what is bothering you.
- Keep facing it. I am so proud that I held that snake, but I would feel so much less freaked out by snakes if I had gone back to that pet store and held another one, and then a bigger one, and then babies (they are squirmy!). Keep facing that fear until it no longer phases you.
- Mark it off your list. Once you conquer your bigger fears, start working on your less concerning ones. Write down what makes you nervous, afraid, and terrified and find a way to face them –with the support of others when possible. Fear puts chains around you and binds you.
Fear of Public Speaking?
Confession time: a few weeks ago, I received my first speeding ticket. In hindsight, let me just advise… if you have been neck-and-neck with another vehicle for twenty miles and you are getting really annoyed, pull off the road or slow down and let them get far away. Keep your emotions in check.
In this instance, I instead let my aggravation get the better of me and I sped around the annoying white SUV (who just would not get away from me) only to get stuck behind another vehicle who was going “too slow.” In that moment, I had a choice. Calm down, slow down, and realize it was not worth risking life and limb or fly around the second car and hope for the best.
I chose poorly.
A few seconds later, I heard a siren and saw lights flashing in the distance behind me. “Maybe he is trying to get to an emergency? Maybe he is not stopping me?!” There was only one way to find out. I put on my blinker and turned into a parking lot, and sure enough, he followed me. Anyone who has ever gotten a ticket knows that sinking-gut feeling.
As the officer handed me my ticket and license, he asked, “When was your last ticket?” When I told him it was my first, he perked up and suggested I come to court and talk to the judge. “First, a ticket; and, now, talking to a judge in front of other people? Two fears at once?!” So, attempting to keep my car insurance from shooting through the roof, I will go to court and seek mercy for a removed or reduced charge. As the date gets closer, my nervous butterflies will surely multiply. The most cited fear among the masses is the fear of public speaking. The second most cited fear is death. Think about that!
Though I know it is not the same as standing before a large audience and preaching a sermon or giving a lecture, it is “public” enough for me. It is not something I would choose, but I hope this experience will help me chip away at my fear of public speaking. Perhaps a silver lining to this speeding ticket is the chance to face a fear or two and come out a little more confident. That, and being more motivated than ever to drive safely – which I have!
Fear and Your Relationship
Fear will undoubtedly keep you from living as freely as you want to live, but fear affects two lives when you are in a relationship. Then, if you have children, your fear begins to affect multiple lives – perhaps generations. One benefit of marriage is that it shoves unpleasant truths in our faces in ways we could perpetually ignore as singles. When Eric and I got married, many fears surfaced I might never have realized on my own. His different personality and outlook on life rocked my comfortable world and showed me I was fearful of rejection, the spotlight, losing relationships, of changes (large and small), and even a real fear of success.
Eric loves me – and, for that, I am thankful – but my fears and my stubbornness have greatly impacted him. I would love to sit here and write that despite all my faults, Eric is hopelessly enamored with me and would do it all over again if he had the chance. The truth is my fears – more so me hiding from them – has caused Eric a lot of stress, frustration, and setbacks over the years from where he was hoping to be by this time.
If you are dealing with fears, create a plan for conquering them as a gift to yourself and your family-to-be. Not a soul on earth is completely without fear, and admitting your struggle is not shameful. There are people available to help. Think of the payoff: not holding your significant other back from pursuing and fulfilling his or her dreams; not passing on unnecessary fear to your children and grandchildren; and, being released to live in freedom.
Memorize Scripture and Be Ready to Use It
For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. (Hebrew 4:12, ESV)
The Bible is no ordinary book. It is living. It is active. It is a sharper than the sharpest sword. Scripture is our weapon against fear.
As a child, Mom taught me 2 Timothy 1:7 in beautiful King James:
For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind. (2 Timothy 1:7, KJV)
For years, I quoted this verse when I felt fear or anxiety rising. What a blessing that one small snippet of the Bible was to me, and God has given us so much more!
Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. (Isaiah 41:10, ESV)
Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. (I Peter 5:6-7, ESV)
When I am afraid, I put my trust in you. In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I shall not be afraid. What can flesh do to me? (Psalm 56:3-4, ESV)
These few passages are just a drop in the bucket. Open the pages of Scripture and pour them into your soul. Post verses all over your house. Repeat them until they flow out of you effortlessly. “Fear, you are no longer welcome here!”
Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go. (Joshua 1:9, ESV)
Keep breaking free!!!
Which fears are keeping you from giving your best?