I drew back in fear from reporting a sexually-harassing boss once. I knew I’d lose my job if I pushed my agenda. Watching the boss go on to harass several others, I came to hate my cowardice.
Many Greek words translate into “fear” in the New Testament, but three appear most frequently: eulabeia means reverence, phobos means anxiety, and deilos means cowardice. God does not condemn feelings of fear, but He does call us away from cowardice. Cowardice is allowing feelings of fear to drive our choices. Cowardice leads to a lifestyle of avoidance. While God understands our weakness, He knows this basic law of human psychology: Avoidance increases fear.
All of the anxiety-related disorders, including PTSD, OCD, social anxiety, specific phobia, and the rest, involve patterns of avoidance. The flawed reasoning goes like this: If I’m afraid of something, I avoid it, and the fear goes away. End of story. But fear doesn’t work that way. The truth is that each time we avoid something out of fear, we imply to our own unconscious minds that it is dangerous. And fear increases.
Now, there is a place for avoidance. If I DON’T avoid ACTUAL danger, say, a dog who happens to be foaming at the mouth, or an abusive spouse, or a gun-toting racist, I have another issue. But avoidance of non-threats—a problem with most anxiety disorders—reinforces the irrational fear residing in the substrata of my psyche, and puts me out of sync with reason and reality.
Every treatment for anxiety involves facing triggers. Through structured, graduated, collaboratively-planned exposure, individuals raise their trigger tolerance. They stay in their triggering situations long enough for the nervous system to habituate. In other words, anxiety treatment is, at its core, courage training. As the person faces fears, their self-respect returns along with their sensible, rational approach to life.
But we can’t face these fears on our own. Think of a fear you’d like to face, and imagine yourself taking the hand of Jesus and walking toward that fear instead of away from it. Now do the same with another fear. Imagine yourself having courage, hand in hand with Jesus.
Pray with me. Oh, courage-giving God! Thank You for helping us sort out our fears from the useful ones to the fears that keep us from living fully and freely. And thank You for then filling us with your power to walk toward, instead of away from, the phony fears based on the lies of the enemy. Keep the power flowing! In Jesus’ courageous name, Amen.
“Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” John 14:27