It is estimated that there are 365 times that the words “Do not be afraid” or their equivalent appear in the Bible. The significance of this is that there are 365 days in the year, that translates into God telling us every day not to be afraid.
Why is that important? Because fear is one of the most powerful emotions that motivates people to do stuff, and (in my experience) when you act according to the fearful voice in your head you most often do or say things that you regret later.
Now, you have probably heard people (especially tough guy men) say, “I’m not afraid of anything.” Because they consider fear to be shameful, which is funny, because shame is the fear of what others might think of you. So we claim to be unafraid because we are afraid of being shamed for being afraid.
But fear is a natural part of how our brains react to the world. Let me stop here and define the word fear.
Fear is not necessarily terror. Fear is the heightened state of awareness we experience when our brains perceive something odd. For instance if you walk into your bedroom and notice that some of your stuff has been moved. Your brain senses that something has changed and you scan the room to determine what that is, only to discover that Mama has piled your clean clothes on the chair for you to put away.
It’s not a big deal, but it is a natural process through which your brain continually scans your sensory input to determine if something is wrong. If you smell a strange smell or hear a strange noise, it is natural for you to suddenly become alert to what’s going on around you to determine if there is danger or not. These are simple examples of the kind of thing we experience every day.
But the same thing happens when we perceive real danger such as lions, and tigers, and bear, “Oh my!” Things that truly threaten our survival cause an even more powerful response from the brain which then motivates us to a fight or flight reaction. We either perceive the danger as something we can confront and subdue or defeat, or something from which we must flee.
For instance, a bad smell in the house could be a sewer problem that could easily be addressed (fight) with a plunger for a weapon. But the smell of gas motivates us to leave (flight) the house and call the gas company to deal with the problem. And through experience and education we learn to interpret the difference between the two.
The part of the brain that processes this information is called the Amygdala which interprets what the eyes and nose perceive and if it’s danger we face, it sends a signal to the Sympathetic Nervous System. At which point the hypothalamus triggers the adrenal glands to release epinephrine (aka adrenaline) which acts like the accelerator of a car being pushed down hard sending us surging into action to deal with the situation.
(For more information please see https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/understanding-the-stress-response )
This is all part of our natural survival instinct, it serves us well to keep us alive and out of danger. So, fear is a good thing when we understand it and learn how to react properly to the experiences of our daily lives.
But fear can also be a dangerous thing in itself. When we misinterpret what our senses perceive we can easily be forced into a course of action that is not to our benefit. One of those things is knowing whom to believe, whom to trust, and discerning the difference between right and wrong, good and evil. The way we determine those things is based on our experiences in life, what we have learned from our parents and teachers, and the source(s) we look to for helping us understand what is true.
An example of the problem: You see a stranger, someone you do not know, and they are coming toward you. How do you react? Do you trust them?
Things your eyes will see and send to your brain to be processed and interpreted include: Age, gender, race, clothing, the sound of their voice, the expression on their face, the speed at which they approach, and many more things about this person all add to the amount of information upon which you will make the determination of whether this person is a threat or not.
Then there are things about your own context that also add to the pool of facts you have at your disposal. Are you alone? at home? can you shut a door between you? Are you in a strange country, or city? Do you know the language and customs? Are you in a public place with others around? Do you have a route you can easily take if you need to run? Do you have transportation? Have you just robbed a bank?
There are so many things to consider, so many things to fear. But here is the truth that will define your life. if you allow your life to be ruled by fear you will never experience the fullness of life you were created for. Don’t let the fear of what might happen prevent you from knowing the joy of the adventure we call life. Be willing to put yourself and your skills and talents before the world, some may be critical and mean, but from what I’ve seen of you over the past 13 years you have so much to offer, and you will make a tremendous difference in the world. You are a gift and the world is blessed to have you in it. Be the most awesome you you can be and you will change the world.
I love you.