The Bible says, “Be not Afraid” but who are we kidding? We are all afraid. We just try to hide it.
“Don’t let them know you are afraid.” How many times have you heard that advice? If you’re asking for a raise don’t let your boss see you sweat. If you can’t score a point don’t let your opponent see how nervous you feel. If you see a wild animal, stay calm; creatures can smell fear. We are raised to control our fears and we admire people who appear to be cool as a cucumber, those who remain calm in the face of danger.
But is it necessary to go through life downplaying your fears? Is it even wise to pretend we are not afraid from time to time?
These days, the truth is we have plenty of fears to give us pause. You can’t help but feel anxious about COVID as experts predict that strains of the virus will circulate in the population for the foreseeable future. You can’t help but have questions about climate change, as temperatures rise around the world and storms get fiercer all the time. You can’t avoid feeling nervous about our democracy as people still claim the last election was stolen fifteen months later.
Amanda Gorman, the young poet who read at President Biden’s inauguration, wrote about fear last week in the New York Times. Gorman moved onto the world stage with her braided hair and bright colors speaking movingly about history and hope, the picture of youthful elegance and calm poise. So I was surprised to read that she was terrified that day and had been for weeks before. She had insomnia and nightmares, and could barely eat. It wasn’t stage fright that had Gorman in its grips. She was scared of getting COVID because she was too young to be vaccinated but that wasn’t what paralyzed her. The truth was she worried about the publicity. As a Black woman, living in a modest apartment with her mom, she worried her notoriety would make her a target for violence. She wondered if the honor was worth the risk.
Then, just before she gave the Inaugural Committee her answer, Amanda Gorman realized that being brave doesn’t mean you have eliminated your fears.
Courageous people listen to their fears but somehow find the strength to face them and move through them. That has been true forever, because we all need some fear to warn us of danger. Gorman says, “If You’re Alive, You’re Afraid”. Maybe what we should try to do is to start acknowledging our fears. It’s a tricky balance, and I won’t pretend that I’ve mastered it by any means.
But I have observed that real heroes use their fears. They listen to their fears and pay attention to them. They respect their fear without allowing it to cripple them. The problem for many people today is we give our fears too wide a berth. Once our anxiety has come into our homes, we set a place at the table for our fears, and let them have too much say in the conversation. We give our worries way too much real estate in our heads. The truth is everyone is afraid, but the real question is “Do we hold our fears or do they hold us”?
Again and again, the Bible says “Be Not afraid.” Why? Because we are not alone. And we get really frightened when we forget that.