It would be so nice if we could just see the junk on the surface of our lives and just skim it off and be done right? It’s terrifying to think of how much work there is to do in my life when I peel back the facade on the surface. It’s like when I removed my old nasty leaky dishwasher and saw what was behind it….you dont’ wanna know. Even better, its aways fun when others confront us about our behavior that’s rooted in deeper issues right? Like Lego Batman, we may tell them “if you think there’s anything behind that you’re crazy” just to avoid the tough work that’s there. If we’re going to be doing this thing called sanctification though, we don’t have much of a choice! The following exercise is with fear, but really we can do it with any emotion that we experience. Emotions teach us about ourselves and point to what’s going on inside. We may see some algae on the surface, but to really do important work we need to deal with the chemistry of the whole lake to deal with it. No shortcuts!
Fear is not comfortable. Since we don’t like it, behind every fear we experience is going to be a way we manage it. We either deal with it by the power of the Spirit in the New Self, or by the Old Self with “it’s deceitful desires” (Eph 4). Underneath the way we manage it is a desire for something good we were created to experience (often safety/security). Let’s imagine this scene with all three parts interacting together (Disclaimer: I didn’t make this exercise up). Imagine three people in front of you lined up behind each other. The fear is in your face screaming at you. You can’t avoid it, it’s immediate and obvious. Behind the fear is your false self telling you what to do. It’s hidden a bit, and not super obvious, but with a little work you can uncover the message and the behavior it calls you to manage it with. Behind that false self is the good desire. As people made in God’s image we all have good desires given to us at creation, whispering to us about our deep longings we’re created for. The problem is, we seek to fulfill them in fallen ways, and fear is the trigger that sets us up for false-self living.
For example, you read CNN (not sure why) and see that the coronavirus outbreak is getting worse. Your fear screams at you, “I’M GOING TO LOSE SOMEONE I LOVE.” Your false self declares, “I can’t cope with that. I need to control my life.” This “controller” leads to short tempered anger, isolation (not the “good kind” that is called for in social distancing), judgements of other people who aren’t like you or seem threatening, and plenty of other things. All the while, behind your “controller” false self is your good desire for safety and security whispering to you. Now step back and look at this picture. Notice how quiet the good desire is? Notice how loud the fear is? Notice how you cope and never have victory? Hopefully you also realize that controlling your life is not the way to get safety and security because you can’t get those things on your own. If fact, when we live out of our old self we never get those good things. This behavior is not only counter-productive, it’s a counterfeit gospel that says “I get safety/security via control of my life.” This whole means of living doesn’t produce a kind of person who flourishes as a citizen of the Kingdom of God.
Here’s another example for those of us who aren’t scared easily. Someone else’s fear is presented to you and you know it’s exaggerated. How do you respond as the “stoic bulwark of biblical reason” that you are? Could there be fear underneath your mask? A fear of conflict, a fear of being exposed as an insufficient friend who can’t help? Maybe you have a spouse or a close friend who is afraid of what might happen. Will you act in fear right back? Will you be afraid you can’t fix them? Let’s reimagine the above illustration.
The fear may be “I CAN’T CALM THEM DOWN.”
The false self says “I must fix them anyway.”
But the good desire is for connection, peace, and their good.
Now, let’s again take a step back and see how this doesn’t work. Since when does fixing someone by yelling “get over it” ever really work? How does the proud “fixer” get you more intimacy and connection when you say “get over it?” It doesn’t matter if we use those exact words, or sugarcoat it with Christian-ese, we still can’t foster more intimate friendships that way.
How is your fear of the economy crashing, job loss, sickness, and death changing your behavior and relationships for the worse? What idols are you running to? What’s the cost of that? What are you really looking for? Let me be clear, those things are legitimately scary, but the question is, what do you do when you feel afraid?
The first part of this is just awareness. We have to realize that when fear drives the bus, we live in our false self and live out a false gospel. We strive to provide for ourselves the things only God can provide. We will never get what we deeply desire that way, and yet here we are stuck in these habits of heart. Don’t be deceived by yourself either. It may look like we’re tough on the surface as we pose as this independent picture of achievement striving for perfection. A fearful person doesn’t always struggle with panic attacks and anxiety. However, when we put our faith in something else other than God than we will always have fear driving us to secure something that is insecurable outside of Christ.
Part 3 will talk about how we can bring our fear to Christ, direct fear well, and work through some of the benefits of fear. When it’s put in its proper place it can bring glory to God and lead to wisdom, but it’s a bad bus driver!