I always enjoy challenging myself, but this time I thought that maybe I had gone too far, or at least that’s what my nerves were telling me that morning.
An athletic and somewhat younger friend of mine was looking for a partner in an upcoming race, something of which I was happy to do. However, this wasn’t just any race; it was a Spartan Military Sprint, which meant 5 miles (no problem), mostly uphill (a little bit of a problem), and 20 military-style obstacles (what?!?). From what I could see online, these obstacles consisted of jumping over 5-8 foot walls, climbing cargo nets and ropes, carrying sandbags and buckets of rocks, lifting 115 pound cement weights, and maneuvering on rings, all while running through mud. It seemed like a good idea at the time of commitment, as that was two months beforehand and this event wasn’t until the end of the summer, but as the end of August became more of a reality, my fears kicked in and I could feel my stomach dropping.
Since I’m as stubborn as I am foolish, I’d never quit something I committed to, so I awoke that morning scared out of my wits, running out to the store an hour before the race to buy power bars to eat (maybe those will help!). It was there that I just happened to run into a friend of mine. The chances of me seeing her in that area at that time with me being in that area at that exact same time right before the race were astronomical, so I could only chalk it up to diving intervention. I told her about my upcoming race, a race that she had previously done herself, and told her how scared I was. With a desire to help me out, she told me that we first needed to identify what it was that I was afraid of. I hadn’t really considered this line of reasoning before, and after a moment of reflection, I told her that it was mostly a fear of what could go wrong, that I was afraid of something unknown, and nothing more than that.
Fear can stop us in our tracks, paralyzing us to the point of avoidance and inaction. Our inclination for flight over fight usually wins out. However, if we can look at our fears with a clear head and a logical mind, we find that there is nothing to fear. Fears are often based on nothing and are a result of our being worked up over nothing. We fear the unknown future and worry about what could happen, but if we reason out the possibilities, we realize that our fears are baseless.
Likewise, my fears for this race were based on nothing but fear. It wasn’t like a fear of snakes or spiders, as those have tangible objects at the heart of the fear. My fear was based on not what I could see or feel, but on the possibility of disaster. When my friend questioned me, and I realized that my fears were based solely on the unknown of what lay ahead, I realized how unfounded my fear was and that the possibilities really weren’t so bad. My tension lessened, and I immediately calmed down.
In 1932, towards the end of the Depression, the country had experienced a harsh economic and agricultural downtown, so they elected Franklin Delano Roosevelt as president in the hope that he would bring about change. Knowing the obstacles that he and the country faced, in his inaugural address he talked about what was really stopping us: “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” We can get so wrapped up in being worried about the unknown, that the only obstacle we really have is ourselves. We create our own obstacles through fear. If we can pinpoint a source of our fear and find that there’s no foundation there, then our fear quickly dissipates.
When King Nebuchadnezzar threatened to throw Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the furnace because they refused to worship his gods, they were initially given a chance to repent. Instead, they refused to defend themselves, as they had no fear as to what would happen to them: “If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and He will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. But even if He does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up” (Daniel 3.17-8). They felt that it didn’t matter if they were thrown in, because either way they weren’t worshiping a false god. They showed no fear because there was no foundation for it. They reasoned out the outcomes, and for them, death was not a thing to fear but was a means of being with God.
With my race, I also began to consider the worst that could happen. When I went through the scenarios, none were really all that bad. Logic and clearheaded thinking kicked in, and I grasped that there really was nothing tangible I was afraid of. My baseless fear was causing me to not act. For the three Biblical figures, clearheaded thinking lead to two possible scenarios, and since both were acceptable, there was no need to fear. If we can take time to think clearly, we can get at the heart of our fear and see what really lies there. Then, we can work towards lessening it or eliminating altogether, two approaches that lead us towards action. This week, take time to examine the fears that hold you back and determine what is at the center of those fears. Chances are, your fears are built on shaky ground. Amen.