Let’s talk about phobias. Wikipedia defines the word ‘phobia’ in the following way:
“A phobia is a type of anxiety disorder, defined by a persistent fear of an object or situation. The phobia typically results in a rapid onset of fear and is present for more than six months. The affected person will go to great lengths to avoid the situation or object, typically to a degree greater than the actual danger posed.”
Do you have any phobias? I do! If you know me well, you will know beyond a shadow of a doubt that my greatest phobia in life is, and always has been, snakes. I am terrified of snakes! And this fear doesn’t just affect me if I see a snake. It is always with me, especially at night. I probably think about snakes every single day… which is peculiar, considering that I pretty much NEVER see snakes. This is more than a simple fear. In fact, I would say that it has actually become an obsession. Isn’t that crazy? How messed up is it that I could be so afraid of something that I have become obsessed with it? It is so irrational.
But that’s what fear does to you when you let it get out of hand. It takes on a life of its own and starts to control you. As the definition above states, a phobia will cause a person to “go to great lengths to avoid the situation or object.” I know this all too well. I have worked at a summer camp for the past 7 years and a few years ago, there was a lot of talk about a snake that lived close to one of the cabins in the woods. Now, any rational person would recognize that this wasn’t the first snake that had ever lived within our camp boundaries. Any rational person would also recognize that going into the woods wasn’t a guarantee that I would see this particular snake. But what did I do? I pretty much refused to go into the woods for the rest of the summer! When the camp would be playing a wide game in the bushes… I would be in the office working on paperwork.
I was thinking about my snake phobia recently and realized that it has ebbed and flowed over the years, but ultimately it has gotten progressively worse. I have, at different times, taken steps to overcome this fear. There are times when it doesn’t completely consume me, but other times when it is all I can think about. Sometimes I genuinely believe that just seeing a snake in the wild would literally cause me to keel over and die from fear, while other times I have looked at, or even touched, a snake and survived.
The point is that I think our fears will have as much power in our lives as we give them. You may not have a crazy phobia story like I do (for your sake, I hope you don’t!), but you might battle the fear of losing a loved one. Maybe you are scared of making a fool of yourself and being humiliated in front of the people you admire and respect. Or maybe you are afraid to be vulnerable, and so you never truly let anyone into your world.
Whatever it is you fear—and whether it has taken on full-blown phobia status or not—your fear will always have the potential to control you. Every time we give in to fear, we convince ourselves more and more that we truly should be afraid. The more we choose to indulge our fears, the more they will grow, mature, and ultimately force us into submission.
In the past few weeks, I have been taking small steps to regain control over my fears. One simple step I have taken is to just talk about my fears differently. Instead of talking about how I am convinced that I would fall down and die if I ran into a snake, I am starting to tell myself that I’m not afraid of snakes anymore. The truth is that I know I am still scared, but I also know that God is bigger than my fear. And because of that, my fear doesn’t have to define me. God can write a new definition on my heart, and I am trying to be as open to that as possible.
Another step I have taken is to simply pray about my fears—one by one, listing them off, and asking God to dig up the roots of fear that have grown deep into my heart. I have also had to recognize that my fears had become a god in my life—guiding my decisions, manipulating my actions, having complete control. Praying through this has helped me to bring the one true God back into the center of my focus and to kick fear off the throne.
Finally, I have been taking small action steps. I have been pushing myself to have the hard conversations that I’m afraid to have. I have been going out of my comfort zone and talking to new people that visit our church on Sundays. I have been choosing not to completely freak out when Ryan turns the lights off unexpectedly at night, leaving me suddenly surrounded by pitch blackness! And I have been starting to think about visiting the petting zoo sometime this spring to meet a snake (the key phrase here is “starting to think about”. This one is going to take some time and mental preparation!!).
Letting go of fear can be scary in and of itself. For me, my fears had become a bit of a safety net to the point that I almost believed I wouldn’t be safe without them. But I don’t want fear to control my life anymore. I don’t want to fall short of my full potential because fear was holding me back. I don’t want to miss out on amazing opportunities to see the world, meet remarkable people, or experience the power of God, simply because I was too afraid. So I am choosing to take the power back, one small step at a time. I am choosing to let go of my fear, and to become the person I was created to be!
How much power or control have you given fear in your life? What fears are holding you back from experiencing your dreams? And what steps are you taking to regain control over your fears?