“Fear is a Liar.”
This is actually the name of a song written by Christian singer and songwriter Zach Williams.
So is it? Is fear a liar? The answer lives in the gray.
Fear is an important and, at its most basic form, innate human response. The human brain is designed to experience fear when it recognizes real danger, activating the fight or flight response in the amygdala, part of the brain’s limbic system. This is the “you see a bear coming toward you in the woods” response, also referred to as the “lizard brain”. In these moments, you do not want to have a long debate in your mind before responding. You brain is designed to respond quickly in the name of survival. And thank God it does!
However, this is only one side of the fear spectrum. There is another side and this, I believe, is what Zach Williams is referring to in his hit song. What happens when fear starts shaping our not so life or death thoughts and decisions?
Just to be clear, fear is a normal human emotion. There is nothing wrong with experiencing fear and admitting we are afraid. That is a more a sign of being emotionally healthy than a sign of a problem. When I talk to my kids, I tell them courage is not a lack of fear but rather moving forward despite your fears. I, of course, did not make this up–it is essentially the definition of courage. This is also the crossroads of helpful and destructive fear. To say it another way, this is where fear can begin to lie to us, leading to an inappropriate and potentially damaging response.
I know this is true because of my journey with anxiety. When you are anxious, you are stuck in fight or flight mode. Every decision you make tends to fall into one of those two categories. You either fight back or your check out. Your mind believes it has no other option. Everything becomes a black and white choice. The problem is the truth often lives in the gray. This means finding the best solution requires to you wade into the gray. Do you feel the fear rising?
I believe we currently have a fear problem. We have allowed fear to force us into fight or flight mode, seeing the world through a black and white lens when it requires a lot of gray. People who are hungry for power have exploited this reality to further divide us and prop themselves up. They have fed us narratives that further activate our flight or flight responses, feeding our fears and convincing us that it is a zero-sum game. Leaning into this relieves our fears in the short term, providing us the illusion of the comfort we desire and confirming our confirmation bias. The problem is we are believing a lie, which is why we never experience the peace we really need.
The solution? It is the no different than what I, and so many other parents, have told their kids: courage is moving forward, or wading in, despite your fears. In this case, it is wading into the gray. If we want to “win”, we need to become uncomfortable in the short term as we seek to truly understand every side of the issue. What issue? Most of them. Certainly, there are items that are truly black and white, but the majority exist in the gray. If we have the courage to move into the gray, ignoring the people who are attempting to exploit us for their own benefit, choosing courage instead of fight or flight, we will discover the real solutions for which we are searching. We will root out the lies that divide us and bring together the truths that will ultimately unite us.
In many ways, it goes back to the willingness to be curious that I wrote about in the last article, Simply Curious. It is hard to be curious using our lizard brain. True curiosity requires courage. I have discovered this through my faith journey, my work in impoverished communities, my marriage, parenting, and life in general. When we wade into the gray, it is not always easy but it is rewarding. We no longer operate out of fear because we realize what we thought was a “bear in the woods” is actually another God-created person who shares many of the same hopes and dreams as we do.
Where do we go from here? It starts with identifying where you currently stand. Are you operating in the fear-based, black and white world? Once you know where you are, you can determine the next best step toward the gray. This will require courage and grace. It certainly does for me (I am a work in progress). You will be tempted to move back, but remain curious and willing to wade forward. As you do, I believe you will discover a more vibrant and hope-filled world.
Fear is sometimes a liar. Let’s have the courage to find the truth.
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