This is a talk I gave at Minneapolis Friends Meeting on August 22, 2004
This morning I’d like to talk about fear. It’s a subject I’m quite familiar with – maybe more familiar than I’d like.
I had reason to contemplate it in some depth earlier this summer when my son Ben and I took a long road trip through the southwest. We’d planned to spend a day in Las Vegas to see the sights there. And in particular, Ben wanted to find a really great roller coaster to ride while we were there. He’d heard of one called Stratosphere. I don’t know how many of you have been to Las Vegas recently – I don’t think of Las Vegas as a big Quaker vacation hotspot – so I’ll describe this thing for you:
Imagine a tower about the height of the IDS Center downtown. Now add another half an IDS Center on top of it. Now we’re up almost as high as the Sears Tower in Chicago. Now, put a roller coaster on the very top. I don’t know what kind of demented mind came up with such a thing, but there it is. That’s Stratosphere.
The very thought of riding a roller coaster on top of a 1,200 foot tower kind of makes the pit of my stomach drop out. But I had a plan. If we ended up riding Stratosphere, I would just keep reminding myself, “This is only fear. This is only fear. You’ve felt this before. It’s going to be okay.”
Well, in the end we didn’t ride Stratosphere after all. Ben chose another very big roller coaster to ride instead, which was plenty hair-raising enough even though it was planted firmly on solid ground. But the thoughts I’d had about fear stayed with me.
Aside from thrill rides, there are other things that scare me that I think are more significant, and play a bigger role in my life. Fear of public speaking, for instance.
When I think of what prevents me from doing things I want to do – things I dream about doing, maybe things I need to do – it’s usually not lack of physical ability that stops me. It’s usually not lack of time or lack of money. I’m not rich, but I usually find that time and money can be available for anything I attach enough importance to. Very often, the biggest obstacle is fear.
Fear of change.
Fear of the unknown.
Fear of making a mistake.
Fear of looking foolish.
Fear of being noticed.
Fear of not being noticed.
Fear of failing.
Fear of succeeding.
Fear of getting involved.
Fear of commitment.
Fear of not having enough.
At various times in my life, fear has kept me in jobs that didn’t fit. It’s kept me in relationships that didn’t work. It’s kept me from deepening relationships that probably could have worked better. And many times it has kept me from saying things that really needed to be said.
The thing is, fear can’t be conquered by fighting it. I find that if I fight my fear, try to force it away, it just hangs on tighter. And that makes sense! If I fight it, it’s under attack! It gets scared. It wants to hold on.
I find it helps more to think of fear as my friend. After all, it’s trying to protect me. Maybe in a misguided way, maybe in an irrational way, but it’s trying to protect me from something. It’s on my side. Fear does serve a purpose. None of us would last very long if we had no fear of anything. We need fear to help keep us out of danger.
But at the same time, sometimes the things we fear most are the very things we most need to do. Discerning the difference can be a challenge.
So fear needs to be listened to. It needs to be respected. It needs to be heard. It needs to be treated gently. Sometimes it needs to be talked to and reassured. And then it can loosen its grip.