Picture this: you are in your house alone watching television and you hear the front door open and bang against the wall. You jump off the couch. Your heart is racing and you stand frozen for a moment. Then you start to run but you don’t know which way to run or why you are running.
After a few seconds, you realize the wind caught the door and there really is no danger. But your heart is pounding so hard you can actually hear it. Without you doing anything intentional, your breathing increased, your muscles tightened, and the blood vessels in your eyes started pumping more blood to your pupils so they would expand so you could see better.
Your hands started to sweat and your tummy jumped up into your chest. You are not going crazy; this is your body initiating the fight-or-flight response that is critical to any animal’s survival.
What Is This Thing Called Fear?
So what is this weird thing called fear? God made our brains incredibly complex, to respond even before we’re able to process the response — a part of the brain that’s often referred to as the lizard or reptilian brain. Fear starts with a stimulus that triggers chemicals in the brain that signal your heart, blood, and muscles to get ready for quick action. These are called autonomic responses and we don’t consciously control them.
The fact that this response is automatic is a good thing. These physical responses are there to help you survive a dangerous situation by preparing you to either run or fight for your life. We see it play out in our lives every day. If you are sitting in the stands at a game and see a baseball coming at your head, you either reach up quickly to catch the ball, or if you are nonathletic like me, you gasp, duck, and expect your husband to catch it for you.
Fear can also make us sick. According to Dr. Lissa Rankin, “When your body is in the stress response [caused by constant fear and worry], it can’t repair itself. Bodily functions break down every day, but they can only repair themselves when the body is in a state of physiological relaxation. When the stress response is repetitively triggered, organs get damaged and the body can’t fix them. The cancer cells we naturally make, which usually get blasted away by the immune system, are allowed to proliferate. The effects of chronic wear-and-tear on the human body take their toll, and we wind up sick.”
So we know that fear can act as a deterrent from danger, but it can also wreak havoc on our bodies. Not only that, it can mess with your mind. Fear can make you lose perspective and abandon your sense of reason.
The crushing power of worry can turn your head to mush. This is why as moms we need to pay attention to the place fear has in our lives. Fear can affect our health. It can affect our mood and our resilience. Worst of all, it can affect the way we mother, as Liz, mom of two, discovered.
Who Invited the Ugly Stepsisters?
Worry and anxiety are closely related to fear, and I think of them as the ugly stepsisters. As in the case of Cinderella, the stepsisters were mean and nasty and up to no good. They constantly got in the way, stubbornly inserting themselves as roadblocks to Cinderella’s peace of mind and happiness. This can be true of worry and anxiety as well, which are the related manifestations of fear. They can show up as nervous thoughts and overblown emotions, and disguise themselves as stomachaches and difficulty in making decisions. They can be the very antithesis of reasonableness.
But this is the power of fear and why I think it is one of the most destructive tools of Satan. He wants to blind us from what God wants to do in our lives. Satan can’t thwart God’s plans, but he can sure try to confuse and distract us away from what God is saying to us and what is true.
Jeremiah 29:11 reminds us
For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’
This verse not only tells me that God is thinking about me, but He has a plan for me and it’s a good one. God’s not plotting disaster for me. He’s on my side. Satan does everything he can to get me to forget this. That’s why he throws the door wide open to the ugly stepsisters of worry and anxiety as often as he can.
What Does God Say?
I think it’s time for us to be honest.
We’re all going to deal with fear, no matter how many hours we’ve spent in Sunday school or how long we’ve attended church.
God is not surprised by our fear; in fact, God directly addresses fear in the Bible over three hundred times! In Psalm 56, David cries out, “When I am afraid, I put my trust in you.” God doesn’t try to hide the fact that we will have fear, and He never condemns or shames us because of it. While He does urge us to not let it take control of our lives or define who we are, He always gives us the why behind it.
For I am the LORD your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you. – Isaiah 41:13
So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. – Isaiah 41:10
Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. – Psalm 23:4
Over a hundred verses in the Bible specifically tell us not to fear, and they are written with the knowledge that life is full of scary stuff that will cause the natural reaction of fear to rise up in us. The point of the “fear not” is not a “shame on you” from God, but rather, Daughter, I know you are afraid; let Me help.
Excerpted with permission from Brave Mom by Sherry Surratt, copyright Sherry Surratt.
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What are the things that you worry about the most? Try to put names to them (for example, turbulence, someone breaking in, fear that my child will be hurt). Where do these fears come from? Do they come from an experience or somewhere else? Leave a comment on our blog!