Staring Fear in the Face: Part One
Hannah Montgomery shares from her own journey with fear some keys to not being overcome by it. This will be a three part series, with one post this week and two posts next week.
We hope you find it as helpful as we did!
In Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Harry has a ‘regroup’ moment with his friend Professor Lupin. Trying to get to the bottom of why a particular magical creature always turned into a ‘dementor’ for him, Lupin suggests this might be because ‘what you fear most of all, is fear itself.’ And then he adds – ‘This is very wise.’
I’ve thought about it a bit, and I reckon in most part, I agree. Wisdom from JK Rowling actually peppers itself through all the series. The truth is that fear is a formidable opponent. It can squash even the strongest, fiercest, most resilient individual. Nobody is beyond its reach. And if we have not already, many of us will make acquaintance with fear in these days. Fear is a human condition, a normal physiological response to threat. The fact you have a ‘fear’ based emotional response shows that you’re actually engaging with rather than burying the reality of the situation we face.
But left unchecked – allowed to wander and multiply, mutate and move into our neighbourhood – fear will take over. Fear will dictate our decisions, our relationships, our future. Fear will not lead us to good places. This is what Lupin foresaw. And fundamentally important to this article – I think Jesus foresaw it first. Possibly this is why ‘do not fear’ occurs as a phrase in the Bible 365 times – more than any other command.
Many of us will make acquaintance with fear in these days. But we do not need to befriend it. ‘Do not fear’ does not have to be a hard to follow command that offers no help in your hour of need. Allow me to level with you – these are a few of my hard-won gleanings from some of my own grapples with fear.
Feel your fear
That anxious knot churning in your stomach. The slightly nauseous throat. The lack of moisture in your mouth. The thumping in your chest. It’s easy (oh believe me I know it!) to be swept up by our physical response to fear, conscious or unconscious. But we need to move from physically feeling our fear to really feeling our fear.
If you’re more of a thinking type than a feeling person… stick with me here. There is good science behind this. Firstly, accept that this is how you’re feeling. Fear is a normal and natural response to what is happening in the world right now.
Secondly, we need to learn to ‘feel’ our way all the way down to the pain that fear so often sits on top of. What I mean is – try to talk it out. Verbalise your fear. De-root it, pull it up, examine it for what it really is. What are you afraid of? Why? What other pains does that fear pull up with it? What memories does it bring up? The pain needs to be felt, to be heard, to be listened to – and then it will quieten down. (It’s ok to cry.)
I really rate Pete Scazzero and his ministry Emotionally Healthy Spirituality. He has talked for years about our need to recover a more healthy theology of grief and loss in the church. We need to relearn that Jesus was a man just like us who suffered and knew pain, and this wasn’t an embarrassment to him – he embraced his vulnerability and fear before the Father as a model for us to follow after.
This pandemic is a big loss – we don’t have to have lost somebody to the virus to be experiencing loss. The truth is you still have lost your basic concept of freedom, your ability to walk down the street carefree and unconsciously present. Many of us have lost jobs, or the ability to do our jobs the way we normally would. Finances. Stability. We’ve lost our normal state of connection, our ability to hug, to reach out and touch a friend, to physically respond to other people’s needs and pains and joys. We’ve lost what we thought we had but actually never did – control. We are so clearly not in control. (We never were, but we like to live with this illusion in the west. I think that some of our most painful realisation in this pandemic will be how vulnerable we truly are.)
Losses need grieving. Grieving takes time, and guts, and courage. Feel your fear – feel it all the way down because only when you’ve done that have you really grieved what you’ve lost and are losing. Don’t be afraid to stare fear in the face, it’s the only way through. We’ve been pretty good as a culture at papering over the loss, putting on the brave face, putting our heads into the metaphorical sand – you pick your image. This isn’t what we see Jesus do in the gospels. He felt his emotions, he lived his story, he loved people deeply and so he therefore felt pain. The pain served a purpose – it led him to a cross, a grave, and ultimately out again. Don’t be afraid to walk with him into the crucifixion. Resurrection always happens afterwards.
My one caveat here is that there are points when it’s not a good idea to feel your fear. Believe me when I tell you that trying to turn off my inner catastrophising is far easier at midday than midnight. There is something that happens for me about the hours of 9pm where my rational thinking takes a vacation till daylight breaks again the next morning. So as much as you can, (and I know it’s not always that easy), avoid letting your brain go off down horrendous rabbit holes after dark. Wait until the morning to seriously consider and work through the fear or worry that your brain has just conceived.
Hannah Montgomery is wife to Tom, mother to Charlie and Grace, mentor, friend, leader… But most importantly, she is a woman who seeks to know personally the deep heart of God. Her pilgrimage into that deep heart of God has not always been easy, but along the way she has discovered some beautiful truths that provide nourishment to others on their journeys.