Recently one of my good friends was on a mountain snow skiing and came off a really steep slope on some sheet ice and slid over a 40 metre cliff (that's metres not feet) and there was some immediate and serious concern for his back, as he lay motionless in the snow.
Everyone was stunned, and when I received the news my heart sunk, I was shocked, what can you do? That very real fear was felt not only by my friend as he sailed over the cliff, but by his family and by his friends as we wondered whether he'd be OK, and whether he'd ever be able to walk or be the same again.
Luckily… Very luckily in fact, he was fine! He's not superman, but he survived a fall that could have killed him, and it's frightening for him the more people stress that fact. It was miraculous, and a day after he was airlifted to Hospital on a stretcher he was able to walk, he could stand, and slowly and painfully he's come back to full health in a remarkable recovery. He's back at work and keen to get back into life, and even go water skiing as soon as his physio lets him.
On a side note, the same thing happened to my cousin a few years back; he was snow skiing and lost control over a jump and landed on his back. He did break part of his back, but fortunately he was super lucky, and thankfully he too made a full recovery, and has a few metal rods in back to show for it.
In my second story, the fear of the unknown and the uncontrollable is so real it leads people to spend millions of dollars in preparation for something that hasn't happened.
I watched this show on the National Geographic channel the other day called Doomsday Preppers, where some crazy, often rich Americans give the viewer a guided tour of their new bomb shelters and doomsday bunkers fully equipped to withstand nuclear war, a volcano or a zombie apocalypse. They're proud as punch to show how prepared they are, and how if a disaster strikes they'll be far more ready than the average American.
One family lived in a fortress of a house, built from old shipping containers welded together, and they had enough preserved food, water and weapons stored away to last several years on their own. The granddaddy of all fallout shelters is in Kansas; it's built into old limestone caves and covers an area of 2 million square feet complete with all the amenities you could imagine, and able to house 5,000 people.
Now I don't want to bag genuine safety precautions, like having smoke alarms and wearing a seat belt, but these guys take it to a whole new level and it blew my mind that all that energy went on protecting against a perceived threat governed by a future fear.
Trapped by fear
Fear can make people do things that aren't healthy and lead to obsessive behaviour which alienates and restricts true freedom.
Many have had those encounters like in my first story, those horrific heart-in-your-mouth moments when someone you love is in real danger or you get that call from the doctor or knock on the door from police. This legitimate fear is uncontrollable, and it's a natural reaction at times to want to wrap the ones you love in cotton wool to protect them from a scary and dangerous world.
Fears can however stop you from giving things a go, and taking any risks, you become anxious and timid about the 'what ifs,' and maybe you'll never be confined to a wheel chair, but that fear can paralyse you from truly living.
What do you fear?
There are those fears we joke about and categorise into 'our irrational fears,' like having a phobia of the dark, spiders, sharks, loose hairs, public speaking or maybe even gay people.
At times fear is harnessed for evil where some group, government or army can incite fear using propaganda in order to control people.
Fear is a powerful tool.
The media is often criticized for scaremongering, and using similar fear tactics to sensationalize a story. Millions die every month of malnutrition in the third world, yet a shark attack fatality will make the national news for a few days because fear gets people talking.
Fear sells papers.
The angle I want to unpack a little though, are those big dark fears swimming below the surface that we're so afraid of we often conceal them and don't know they exist. These fears hidden deep down often make us do stupid things, and we avoid them at all costs.
A lurking fear
For me, I'm fearful of disappointing people, and I need to learn to say no, and be OK with letting people down. Our fears can keep us up at night, our imaginations run wild as we think in negative, cynical defensive modes. We think of different ways of putting people down, (maybe it's just me, but I often play out in my mind a situation where I'm making myself look good, standing up for myself, at the expense of someone else).
Maybe you have a fear of failing, (or falling) a fear of being alone, the fear of not being loved or a fear of not living up to the expectations of others. Do you fear death, maybe a fear of the unknown? Do you fear disappointment, ridicule or rejection? Maybe it's 'others' you fear, what about being vulnerable, or the fear of not being in control which can lead to uncompromising and nasty control freaks. Each fear has its own manifestation, and can hide away undetected.
Our default human condition will suppress what's too painful. Jim Morrison was onto something when he said, "We fear violence less than our own feelings. Personal, private, solitary pain is more terrifying than what anyone else can inflict." Whatever we fear, whatever we run from will end up becoming our master.
To fear not
I've quoted Richard Rohr in previous articles, and he never fails to disappoint. On the subject of fear he says, "We fear nothingness. That's why we fear death, of course, which feels like nothingness. Death is the shocking realization that everything I thought was me, everything I held onto so desperately, was finally nothing. We long for the space where there is nothing to prove and nothing to protect; where I am who I am, in the mind and heart of God, and that is more than enough." He goes on to say, 'Remember, death is an imaginary loss of an imaginary self that is going to pass anyway. This very journey is probably the heart of what Jesus came to reveal."
I love that insight, it's so freeing, that what we fear is often just an illusion. The beginning of wisdom as it says in the book of proverbs is the fear of God, every other hidden fear is just our own weakness and insecurities holding us captive.
Rather than a YOLO attitude of 'Meh, whatever happens will happen,' I'd say Jesus' message is crucial, that discovering in him, we're truly free from fear. We begin to discover we no longer have to live up to 'others' expectations, that death has no sting, we don't have to plot every possible course in life, that failing, being rejected and feeling vulnerable is OK and part of life. Jesus says it simply; 'fear not for I am with you' and discovering how to do that may take a life time.
It's funny how once a fear is addressed, brought into the open and conquered; we wonder why we were ever so afraid to start with.
Fear is a trick, and fears worst characteristic, is that it cripples your true self. We all have these desires, these longings deep in our souls to be creative and life changing, to seek wisdom and meaning to have passion, love and justice. Fear will take away the ability to live those dreams.
Fear must simply be exposed as the fraud it is.
Brad Mills enjoys the outdoors and almost any sport... For a day job he's a journalist who works at the Rhema Broadcasting Group in Auckland New Zealand.
Brad Mill's previous articles may be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/brad-mills.html