I’m scared—a lot.
I’m scared of roller coasters, wolves, being late for work, criticism, crashing my car, loved ones dying, having a heart attack, getting cancer, shark attacks, screwing up, and mean people.
Just to name a few.
Fear Is Normal
According to an article in PRNewswire, 84 % of us suffer from some form of fear or anxiety. Whether it’s worrying about losing our jobs, failing as parents, or getting dementia, fear haunts us like an angry wolf.
Fear’s like a monster. It tells us we’re not safe, not loved—or even worse—we’re bad. And before you know it, we forget we’re God’s original blessing, the Beloved.
But fear is normal. It happens to most—if not all—of us.
Even Jesus was fearful. Remember him in the Garden of Gethsemane sweating blood? That was human fear bleeding in and out of him.
The Spirituality of Fear
So, how do we deal with fear? Is there a spirituality of fear? How do we let fear become our teacher?
My wisdom-guides have taught me when we do the inner work to listen to our fears and engage in spiritual practices to calm them, fear becomes a wise teacher that helps us grow.
Here’s a smorgasbord of spiritual practices you can pick and choose from so fear can become your teacher.
Talk to the Wolf
Jon Sweeney, in his book, Feed the Wolf—Befriending Our Fears in the Way of Saint Francis, tells how Saint Francis was invited to help a town threatened by a dangerous wolf. Instead of trying to kill the wolf, Francis went to the wolf’s cave, sat down, and talked with him.
“What do you need?” Francis asked.
The wolf said he was hungry. So, Francis fed the wolf, and Brother Wolf became a friend.
When we meet the frightened, hungry wolf in ourselves, we have several choices.
We can try to kill it by numbing it with drugs, alcohol, or some other addiction. We can run from it hoping it will go away. But, neither choice works. They simply bury the fear inside of us until it comes out sideways like an angry, boiling teapot.
The other choice is to name our fears and then talk with them, so they become our teachers. Like Francis, we can ask our fears, “What do you need? What wisdom are you teaching me?” In doing so, we befriend Brother/Sister Fear and learn from it.
To discover the wisdom your fears offer, try this practice.
Take out a sheet of paper and create two columns. At the top of the first column write the words “I’m fearful of…” On the second column write the words, “This is what my fear is teaching me.”
Then list in column one all the fears that come to mind.
Next, take some time to ask each fear what wisdom or what virtue it’s inviting you to learn. List those insights in column two.
Then sit back and allow fear’s wisdom to guide you into wholeness.
For example, one fear I wrote down is the fear of disappointing others. I’m fearful the work I do isn’t good enough.
The fear is teaching me that if I do my best, that is enough. I am enough.
Now, I just have to integrate that truth into my being. I guess that’s why they call it practice.
I Just Wanna Be Mad for a While
Country Western singer Terri Clark sings, I Just Wanna Be Mad. In this hit song, Clark tells her spouse she’s fearful and angry. She just needs some time to be mad for a while.
My wife and I learned from Clark’s song that sometimes when fear and anger overwhelm us, we need to shut down on the inside, become quiet, and let the emotions have their way in us until they settle down like grains of sand floating in a glass of water. Then, as the emotions calm, we gain clarity about what we need. We discover the answers within us.
Like Jonah in the belly of the whale who was spit out after three days of belly aching, my wife and I give each other a maximum of three days to linger in our pity-pots. That way, we take the time needed to listen to ourselves and let the fear and anger settle down, but not get trapped in an endless cycle of negativity.
We know that eventually we need to re-emerge from our self-imposed “I wanna be mad for a while” and let the fear and anger teach us new wisdom and insights so we can grow.
The darkness then leads to the light.
Give Your Soul a Hug
When I let fear speak its wisdom, I often realize I’m fearful of myself. Fearful of my imperfections, that I don’t measure up, that the tsunami of my to-do list will pull me into a deadly whirlpool.
That’s when I realize fear is telling me to give my soul a hug. Let me accept myself and my imperfections as part of being perfectly human.
To make this practice real, I take my hands and rest them on opposite shoulders. Then, I squeeze my arms and shoulders into my chest with a squeezebox hug, take a deep breath, and let my heart remind me, “It’s okay to be perfectly human. I am a good soul.”
Try this practice as often as needed. See how hugging your soul is life-giving.
Practice the Smile
When the world drags me down, when the people around me seem to demand more of me than I have to give, I set the stopwatch on my iPhone and force myself to smile for one full minute.
The muscles in my face lift the frown on my heart into a simple grin. I laugh at myself like a circus clown as a surge of positive energy floods my body.
My buddy Nathan says he began this practice when a counselor told him to “Fake it till you make it.” In other words, practice being happy even when you’re feeling worried or down.
When we smile, his counselor said, the neurons in our brains rewire. It’s like pushing the “like” button on social media, and the logarithms refocus our attention on what’s right with ourselves and the world. The negative lens through which we’re viewing reality gets replaced with the eyeglasses of a positive, more hopeful truth.
Before we know it, fear and anxiety melt away with each smile.
Practicing the Spirituality of Fear
I guess there’s a reason Jesus said “fear not” at least 365 times as recorded in the New Testament. He taught us how to love, but knew fear was the emotion that tries to swallow us whole like a snake.
The Good News is that love always wins. And, with practice, we can befriend our fears instead of running away from them. When we do, like Francis tamed the wolf and learned what it needed, we can tame our fears and let them become our teachers too.
We can practice the spirituality of fear.
—brian j plachta
Next week, we’ll continue to unfold some of the practices we can integrate into our lives so we can befriend our fears and learn their wisdom. This month’s Finding Flow Webinar on November 30 will be on The Spirituality of Fear.
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
Join us for this free Webinar by clicking on the link below.