Spiritual Direction: When Our Fear Shapes Us

Spiritual Direction: When Our Fear Shapes Us August 9, 2022

Spiritual Direction: When Our Fear Shapes Us

When Our Fear Shapes Us

It is a challenge for many of us to be fearless. When we look closely we realize our fear shapes us.

A few years ago I decided to give up fear. I belong to a church which divides each year into liturgical seasons, and one year I decided I would give up fear for Lent.

Giving up fear is not about never being afraid of anything. There are some things which are healthy for us to fear. For me, giving up fear has been more about gaining a more honest relationship to it. I do not want to act from fear or allow it to control my life.

Most of the time the things I fear come from within myself. I start to feel afraid I am not doing an adequate job, or am not a strong enough person.

When I talk with people about their fears it often takes them some time to recognize what they are. Each of us has our own fears and anxieties.

This week, many of us remember and reflect on one fear we seem to share.

It is the anniversary of the beginning of our fears about nuclear war.

The fear of nuclear war is, for some of us, a significant fear which has shaped us. We remember how it feels when a terror we cannot understand seems to threaten everything.

For some of us this fear is just one more reason to be afraid. Others experience this fear as a new and unique sensation. Each of us is shaped by the shadow of fear in our own ways.

We see what is happening in the world all around us and feel surrounded by war, famine, pestilence, and death.

It is easy for us to recognize when our fear shapes us.

How Our Fear Shapes Us

Fear can be a powerful experience, one of the most basic parts of who we are. Our fears, often unconscious, shape the ways we work to protect ourselves. Feeling afraid sparks some people to begin fighting. Other people are inspired to run away.

Fear may paralyze us, stopping us in our tracks. We may translate our fear into anger, or frustration, or impatience. Fear makes some people lash out, while others swallow their fear. Some people use humor or laughter to express their fear.

All these different ways of sharing our fear can make our lives more complicated. We may both be afraid, though you respond by running away and I respond by getting angry.

We tend to become even less able to understand each other as we grow more afraid.

Working to understand and let go of fear, I have come to know fear better. It is not because I look forward to spending time with fear or because we have become friends. You might say I have come to recognize fear more honestly and learned more about it. I am coming to respect fear and look it more directly in the eye.

Looking fear in the eye has shown me powerful lessons. As I reflect on and apply those lessons I grow more able to help other people face their own fears.

One way we share our fear is sharing what we have learned from and about fear with each other.

We do not need to share our fear in the ways which seem to come automatically. As we look fear in the eye and get to know it better, we can share our deeper insights. We can help each other face our fears and appreciate the lessons they have for us.

Recognizing Our Fear Shapes Us

Some of us assume spiritual life should free us from living in the shadow of fear. It is easy to think we carry a spiritual flashlight or torch we can shine into fear and dispel it.

Light is a good, descriptive analogy of spiritual life. It can be easy for us to forget, though, light is what creates shadows.

The value of shining light into shadow is the light allows us to see. It is not the mere act of shining a light on fear which makes it less frightening. The shadow of fear changes when we use the light to look in and see what is real.

Like light, spiritual life gives us the ability to see and understand the shadow of fear. We see what we can, reflect on what we see, and apply what we observe.

We may need to look for some time before we see what we need to see. It might help us to talk with someone about our fear and the shadows it casts in us. The shadow of fear does not dissolve in us immediately.

There may be times when we think we have learned fear’s lessons for us, but we find more. It may be we need to look again, more than once, to find what is hiding in the shadow.

Understanding our fear, and the shadow of fear, will take time.

Appreciating Our Fear Shapes Us

This is not to say our fears are not real. There are times when what we fear will happen does happen.

We face realistic prospects of conflicts and natural disasters. Especially now when we are in touch with people all over the world, there are things to be feared.

One of the keys to facing the shadow of fear is taking time for contemplation. As we grow in our understanding of fear and of each other, fear casts less of a shadow.

Even in the face of scary times, we continue to look fear in the eye and seek its lessons.

Fear is an essential tool. One of the reasons our fear shapes us is how essential it is to who we are. We each respond to fear in our own ways and each have our own lessons to learn.

When will we pay attention to the ways our fear shapes us today?

How can we begin to practice what we learn from how our fear shapes us this week?

[Image by mdid]

Greg Richardson is a spiritual director in Southern California. He is a recovering assistant district attorney and associate university professor, and is a lay Oblate with New Camaldoli Hermitage near Big Sur, California. Greg’s website is StrategicMonk.com and his email address is StrategicMonk@gmail.com.

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