My wife says there are two basic human emotions: love and fear. All other emotions fit underneath them.
Joy, happiness, gratitude, peace, wholeness—each of these emotions fit beneath the love column.
Anger, hatred, bitterness, judgment—these negative emotions fit under the fear category.
Because our minds can think only one thought at a time, we get to choose which emotion—love or fear—we want to experience in each moment.
Fear, however, seems to be the emotion that most often traps us because we have a natural tendency to protect ourselves. It’s instinctual. Some public speakers like Dale Carnegie even teach us to look at the worst-case scenario to avoid being hurt or surprised.
Like learning to ride a bike, however, we can teach ourselves to override fear so love becomes our go-to emotion. It takes inner work, but eventually we can take the training wheels off of our lives and ride down the path of choosing love more often than fear.
Here’s a smorgasbord of practices that can help you practice love instead of choosing fear.
Practice the Pause
When an Olympic diver gets ready to jump into the pool, they walk to the edge of the diving board and pause. They take a few moments to center themselves emotionally, and then dive from the pause.
Like a diver, we can learn to practice “the pause” throughout the day. When we feel overwhelmed, we can stop what we’re doing, take a moment to catch our breaths, center ourselves with a short prayer, and then move back to the task at hand.
We then dive into the rest of the day from a more centered, grounded place within us.
Strip off Shame
Have you ever stripped off wallpaper? It takes a lot of elbow grease, scraping, and lots of patience to tear off the paper and create a smooth surface on the wall.
Shame can be a lot like old wallpaper. It grips us, wraps itself around our heads, and makes us feel unworthy. Fearful we don’t measure up.
When we decide shame no longer serves us, we can strip it off by claiming the truth of who we are. We can allow ourselves to be loved by God and others and know that at our core, we are worthy of love and happiness. We can claim our self-esteem.
With patience and lots of inner work, we can come to know the depth and breadth of God’s unconditional and crazy love for us—as we are, here and now.
To Yoke or Not to Yoke—That Is the Question
Before tractors were invented, farmers plowed their fields by harnessing a pair of animals, typically oxen, into a bow-shaped bar attached to a plow. The harness was called a yoke.
Jesus said he wants to yoke himself with us. He invites us to put on the yoke with him so together we can plow the fields of our lives with ease. If we put on the yoke with him, Jesus said our daily burden becomes much easier, for his yoke is easy and his burden is light (Matt 11:28-30).
Too often, we think we can pull life’s cart by ourselves. We try to go it alone without seeking divine guidance and inspiration. When that happens, we pull life’s burdens solo, and, as a result, we go in circles.
Instead, if we stop, ask God for help, and let him yoke with us, we become a dynamic duo plowing the field of life with human energy and divine grace. We pull the plow together and watch as the seeds of love grow.
Vent! Let the Steam Out
“I just need you to listen, not try to fix it,” my wife Denise says when someone or something has jerked her emotional chain too hard. “I need to vent.”
When I hear that word “vent,” I know it’s time to zip my lips and put my listening cap on so Denise can release the negative energy that’s boiling up inside of her.
Sometimes the best way of letting go of fear and anger is to vent it with a loved one. Like a teapot spewing out boiling water, we need to spew out the steam of fear and anger when life hits us too hard.
The next time fear or anger boils up within you, ask a good friend or mate to “let you vent.” See how it helps lower your temperature so you can get back into the flow of inner peace.
Tell Chicken Little “She’s Safe”
One of my favorite children’s stories is Chicken Little. She’s the frantic hen who runs around claiming the sky is falling.
Sometimes when I watch the evening news, it seems like the sky is falling. “Terror, inflation, war,” scream at me from the announcer’s mouth. I become like Chicken Little—scared and overwhelmed with fear.
That’s when I have to tell my inner chicken, “Everything’s going to be okay. You’re safe.”
When fear grips you, when it feels like the sky is falling, take a moment and remind yourself that you’re safe. You have people who love you and who you love. God’s still in control.
Sing It! Shake It!
One of my grandson’s favorite activities is dancing. When he hears the song, “Baby Beluga,” he takes my hand and, with a smile as big as the sun, says, “Dance, Grandpa.” Soon we’re circling around the kitchen floor laughing, singing, dancing—and shaking off life’s heaviness.
When life gets too heavy, when the fear monster nips at our heels, sometimes a simple song and dance is all we need to remember life’s filled with joy and good things too.
Let music fill your heart with a song. Tap your toes and remember love always wins.
Practice Choosing Love
The older we get, the more we experience fear. There’s a healthy fear that tells us not to cross the street when rush hour traffic is speeding by.
But, unhealthy fear, the kind that tells us the sky is falling, can become our natural response to life. When it does, we become bitter, self-protective, and angry.
If fear has a spirituality, which I think it does, it’s supposed to teach us how to practice love, to let go of unhealthy fears like shame, and to find the inner freedom to love ourselves, God, and others like Christ taught.
My gut tells me we have to learn how to practice choosing love, because life’s bitterness too often teaches us to fear.
The more we choose and practice love, the better we become on the inside and out.
That’s the way we change ourselves and the world.
—brian j plachta
Sign up for the Free November Webinar:
The Spirituality of Fear—Practical Ways Fear Can Become Your Teacher
Do you sometimes wonder:
- Is experiencing fear normal?
- What options do we have when we become fearful?
- How can our fears become our teachers?
- Is there a spirituality of fear?
Join me for the free November Zoom Webinar to explore these questions and others.
During the webinar you’ll discover:
- Most if not all of us experience fear
- We can run from fear, bury it, or learn the wisdom it’s trying to teach us
- There are a smorgasbord of spiritual practices we can integrate into our lives to name our fears, calm them, and discover what they are trying to teach us