I’ve shared many times that I grew up in the church. My parents were involved in ministry and leadership most of my childhood. I’ve also suffered significant anxiety and panic attacks since the earliest I can remember. And I learned very quickly that to avoid being labeled “defective” in the faith, I would need to pretend that I was fine.
Back then, I truly believed that something was wrong with me spiritually. I’d stay up all night sometimes…pacing, quoting Scripture, and begging God to actually save me. Why wasn’t I good enough for Him? I tried. I read my Bible. I prayed. I went to church. I fasted. I served. I was super disciplined and hard on myself. My anxiety and panic only worsened.
I went to the altar more times than I could count. I repented of all of my sins. I cleaned out my life of everything that didn’t obviously scream “JESUS”. I said all the chants the right way that were supposed to deliver me. Still anxiety and panic prevailed. It tormented me often, day and night. Can you see how I would begin to think that God hated me?
What I couldn’t see until I was almost 40 years old was that the panic and anxiety I was struggling with wasn’t an attack of Satan or demonic oppression or a lack of faith or any of the other things that had been suggested to me along the way.
The anxiety and panic in my body was a gift from God.
I know, right?! I’m still a little mad about it, but I’m also thankful to finally be healing. It is God who made our nervous systems to react when we aren’t safe. It is He who gave emotions so we could be informed of what is going on inside of us.
Fear became necessary when sin broke the world. Without fear, we wouldn’t stop at red lights, stay aware in dark parking garages, or lock our doors. Without fear, we would open ourselves up to evil temptations and abuses. Without fear, we would let all the people with nefarious motives take advantage of us. Without fear, we would all be psychopaths.
And here’s the doozy…sometimes fear is telling us the truth.
As the Lord continues to heal me, I have begun to see this so clearly. I wasn’t safe in some of the situations and environments that I was in as a defenseless child. I wasn’t safe believing some of the things I was being taught about God. I wasn’t safe and I wasn’t being properly protected. My body was built to warn me automatically because that’s how much our Creator loves us.
After a long pattern of not being safe in certain situations, my brain decided that I just wasn’t safe at all and never would be. My nervous system learned how to survive by staying in “fight or flight” mode. Because I did not have the knowledge and understanding to process through the roots of my fear and because I did not have control over what kind of situations I was often in, my body did what it had to do to protect me.
In a crazy, mixed up way, fear saved my life.
Now I know how this sounds, because I know how much trouble I have writing it. And why in the world would God tell us so many times in His Word “do not fear” if fear isn’t a horrendous sin?
Because He knows exactly how He designed our physical body to operate. He knows that we need those hundreds of reminders…encouragement that fear is not to be our master…encouragement that even in the direst of circumstances we can trust Him…encouragement to keep pursuing His perfect love. All the Biblical heroes needed these reminders. Even Jesus, who sweated great drops of blood because of the state of His nervous system in the Garden.
The emotion of fear and the “spirit of fear” are two different things. But did you know that the Bible mentions the “spirit of fear” in only a couple of places? The one that was quoted at me often… “Well Candace, you know that God does not give us the spirit of fear, but of power, love, and a sound mind.” I believe it with all my heart, but in context, Paul is telling Timothy in that verse to be bold in sharing the Gospel. The “spirit of fear” (or in other translations, the “spirit of timidity”) attacks when we are prompted to witness and minister to others.
Another Scripture tells us that we have not received the spirit of bondage to fear, but we have received the spirit of adoption. This Scripture is speaking of when the “spirit of fear” attacks our confidence in salvation and our place in the Kingdom.
Both these instances are speaking specifically about Gospel related fears. The ”spirit of fear” is the enemy’s attack on the spread of the Gospel.
That‘s not to say that the enemy doesn’t use the emotion of fear to prevent our Kingdom work in other ways. But it’s not always what it looks like on the outside. Christians with visible anxiety and panic problems could still be fully living in obedience to God, while Christians with no issues with the emotion of fear could be living fully for themselves. Some of the biggest problems that we have with fear are undercover. We fear people’s expectations, so we kill ourselves to meet them. We fear people’s opinions, so we live to keep up with the trends. We fear not being good enough, so we strive and strive and strive. We fear not being in God’s Will, so we never take the steps of faith needed to live out our calling.
Whenever we feel fear, it is always an opportunity to stop, draw close to the Lord who is our Refuge, and examine ourselves. Fear is an indicator of what’s going on inside of us. Sometimes fear shows up physically because we have ignored things that need to be dealt with…sometimes it’s because we are exhausted from our striving…sometimes it’s because we are in unsafe relationships…sometimes it’s because of circumstances outside of our control…sometimes it’s because we are faking some things.
Sometimes fear is the only one being honest.
Whatever way fear shows up in our lives, there is always a remedy for it. Always. The Bible gives it to us straight up…no beating around the bush.
Perfect love casts out all fear. He who fears has not yet been made perfect in love.
God’s love was very rarely preached when I was growing up. Rather, human sinfulness and our unworthiness was the focus. God’s love is dangerous to religious people who use interpretations of Scripture to manipulate, shame, and scare people into building their earthly kingdoms for their own egos. The more rooted and grounded we become in the freedom of God’s love, the more fear-based and condemnation-based tactics are exposed.
Condemnation and shame only grow fear. Love stops fear in its track.
Here’s how this is playing out in my own life.
How I used to handle it: Fear shows up. Immediately overwhelm myself with shame. “This is silly. Why am I afraid? I’m not supposed to be afraid. God COMMANDED me not to be afraid. I’m screwing it up again...” and then pray more, get prayed over, quote more Scripture, kick myself some more while I was down for not having enough faith...on and on and on until the fear went away temporarily but was more ingrained than ever when it returned.
How I am now practicing: Fear shows up. Immediately remind myself of God’s love. “God loves you. That means He is going to see you through this no matter what you do or don’t do right now. He’s not leaving and He’s all powerful. You are His child. Of course He is going to work all this out for good. You are safe. It’s going to be okay.” Usually, this immediately starts to calm my nervous system and I am able to work on the root of my problem more rationally with the Holy Spirit and the Word. And if I can’t calm down, I am able to recover more quickly after the attack and then work on the root more rationally with the Holy Spirit and the Word.
Please don’t misunderstand. I am not trying to attack popular worship songs or advocate for fear. Lord knows, I can’t wait for the day when evil is vanquished and we never have to fear again. The emotion of fear only exists because of evil and sin, but it isn’t an emotion to be cast out of you, shunned, or ignored. It’s a warning signal that needs to be examined and processed with the Holy Spirit. As God’s love heals the indicated damaged roots, fear’s presence will diminish in our lives.
But we won’t ever expose those roots if we are afraid to ask fear why it keeps showing up. One of the enemy’s best tricks is twisting something God created and convincing the Church that we are serving God by avoiding it altogether. The emotion of fear is there to tell us something.
Maybe after you examine and process your fear with the Holy Spirit, you find out that the spirit of fear is attacking and you need to rebuke it and obey God despite it. But maybe after you examine and process it with the Holy Spirit, you find out that you have been triggered by a past trauma or you’ve been drinking way too much sugary coffee or you have way too much going on and need to take a restful vacation.
As I wrote this, the Holy Spirit reminded me of the time that Joseph was afraid to go to Judea because Herod’s son had come to power. It was after the fear that Joseph was warned in a dream not to take baby Jesus there. His nervous system warned him first.
Fear isn’t always a liar, sometimes it’s trying to save your life.