Life + Culture

Don’t Coddle Your Fears

Don’t Coddle Your Fears

We obey what we fear. Some fears are instinctual but others are conditioned. Most fears are expressions of things we believe. And what we believe governs our behaviors.

Courage is the positive expression of faith — we believe good will result from an action or non-action. Fear is the negative expression of faith — we believe bad will result from an action or non-action.

Fears are extraordinarily powerful, but frequently they do not tell us the truth.

Fears can be overcome, but only by changing the beliefs that fuel them.

Sometimes we have good reason to fear. Much of the time, however, our fears are unfounded or greatly exaggerated.

Fear of the Deep End

When I was six or seven years old, my mother enrolled me in swimming lessons at a local junior high school. At first they were fun, as we learned new skills in the familiar security of the shallow end. But as the lessons progressed the instructors had us spend more time in the deep end of the pool where we were forced to rely on what we had learned about treading water, floating on our backs and our new swimming strokes. That was a bit scary, but the instructors stayed close.

But then came a dreaded day: all of us would have to jump off the diving board into the deep end.

I didn’t fear jumping. I loved taking running leaps into the shallow end. After a while, I was even willing to take tentative jumps into the deep end, provided that the side of the pool was within reasonable reach. But the diving board was a good 15-20 feet away from the side of the pool and the thought of jumping off of it into the abyss was terrifying.

Why was I so afraid? If you had asked me back then, I’m not sure I would have been able to articulate my fear. I probably would have answered something like, “I just don’t want to do it!” I just knew it was overwhelming. But looking back, I know what I was afraid of — drowning.

Facing My Fear

When my turn to jump finally came, I got up on the board, walked carefully toward the end, and stood there, scared to death. My fear was immobilizing. I couldn’t jump. My instructor was close by, treading water beneath me. He said, “Don’t be afraid! You can do it! You’re going to be okay.”

Why did he tell me that? He told me that because he had equipped me with the skills to swim and he was nearby to help me if I got into trouble. Therefore my fear of drowning was unfounded. However, it was still governing my behavior. I was not in real danger, but I still believed that this jump might be the last I ever took. My instructor knew that the only way to cure my fear and rid me of my unbelief was to make me face it. I had to jump in order to make the discovery that his promise that I would be okay would prove true. He knew that if I jumped, my fear would lose its power over me.

I don’t know how long I stood there debating with my instructor; maybe five to seven minutes. But it felt like an hour. He was exhorting and encouraging me and I was explaining to him that I just couldn’t jump. I would start walking to the back of the board and his exhortations would get stronger. I’d come back up to the front of the board and begin to muster the courage to jump and then lose heart and back away. What I was experiencing was a faith struggle. Would I believe my fears or would I believe my instructor’s promises? What I chose to believe would make all the difference in my behavior.

Finally, in my mind and heart the scale of faith tipped from believing my fears to believing the encouraging promises my instructor was making to me. And I jumped. It was not a heroic jump. But it was a life-changing jump. When I jumped, I discovered that my instructor’s promises were true and my fears had been unfounded. A whole new dimension of swimming joy began to open up to me. Faith replaced fear, confidence replaced paralysis. I got up and jumped again. And then I did it again.

Life-Changing Jump

The next week, when they had us jump again the old fear was back again and the first jump was a bit hard, but not as hard as it had been before. I jumped after a short battle for faith. And then I was off. It wasn’t very long before I was diving off the board and later off a high dive at a local beach.

My instructor could have coddled my fear. He could have pitied that terrified little boy cowering on the diving board, begging him not to force me to do what terrified me. He could have come up and put his arm around me and guided me off the diving board and escorted me back to the comfort and security of the shallow end. I would have been grateful to him that day. But I would not have been grateful later. I would have spent much more of my childhood splashing in the shallows and missing out on the joy of the deeps.

Are you standing on a diving board? Is your heavenly Instructor telling you to jump in? Are you terrified, pacing back and forth on the board, begging him not to make you do it? Are you telling him why you can’t? Is he making precious and very great promises to you that if you jump, a whole new dimension of joyful faith-swimming will open up to you?

His promises are true, but you won’t really know that until you jump. It doesn’t have to be a heroic jump. But it just may prove to be a life-changing jump.

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