Friday, August 19, 2011

Diving Into Fearlessness

Lucy Van Pelt: Are you afraid of responsibility? If you are, then you have hypengyophobia.
Charlie Brown: I don't think that's quite it.
Lucy Van Pelt: How about cats? If you're afraid of cats, you have ailurophasia.
Charlie Brown: Well, sort of, but I'm not sure.
Lucy Van Pelt: Are you afraid of staircases? If you are, then you have climacaphobia. Maybe you have thalassophobia. This is fear of the ocean, or gephyrobia, which is the fear of crossing bridges. Or maybe you have pantophobia. Do you think you have pantophobia?
Charlie Brown: What's pantophobia?
Lucy Van Pelt: The fear of everything.
Charlie Brown: THAT'S IT!

It's interesting to me how fears become phobias and then they become debilitating. I'm not one of those Howard Hughes reclusive types completely crippled by fears but I find that my phobias get in the way. Or at least provide a handy excuse for trying new things and getting out of my comfort zone.

I have a pretty strong fear of heights but it materializes in strange ways. Put me on the observation deck at the Empire State Building or Sears Tower, and I'm completely fine. I enjoy it, even. Put me on the top row of bleachers at a football game or basketball game and I'm a basket case. I somehow developed this pathological fear of tripping on the bleachers (because I'm clumsy) and somehow falling through the gap to my death, or at least paralyization. (Side note: Is paraylization a word??) Roller coasters are evil--I get all pale, clammy, and shaky when I ride even the smallest ones. And diving boards just seem completely insane. I think this is because the Natatorium had a high dive and it seemed sooooo high when I was a kid. In fact, while most kids loved the Nat I eventually started not liking it so much. I got too over-whelmed by all the kids and noise and not being able to keep up.

Maybe that's the root of it all. Not being quite adequate, not being as brave, as fearless, as capable. I'm a klutz so falling down bleachers is a complete possibility, and as a child that would be scary. I wasn't (and still am not) a very strong swimmer, I can swim but I'm not very good at it, so diving boards would be very scary, the water is so deep. Roller coasters look scary, and people are always screaming, and what if my seat belt came off?

What ifs and perceived (or even real) inadequacies. The perfect equation for fears to become phobias and then debilitating. I have fears of conflict, fears of success, fears of failure, fears of imperfection, fears of being noticed, and fears of being unimportant. I think if we all admit it, we're all a little prone to fear. Sometimes fear is healthy, it keeps us safe. It is good to fear the hungry, angry bear we meet in the woods. It is bad to fear standing up for yourself, or taking a chance, or trying something new.

Lately I've been feeling trapped. Trapped by my circumstances and trapped by the fear of changing them. Better the devil you do know than the one you don't. And I just keep thinking about these words the Apostle John wrote, the Apostle of Love: There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. (1 John 4:18) Or the way The Message puts it: There is no room in love for fear. Well-formed love banishes fear. Since fear is crippling, a fearful life—fear of death, fear of judgment—is one not yet fully formed in love.

There is no fear in love, love banishes fear. Time for another Biblical theorem: If God is Love, and there is no fear in Love, and if God/Love is for us, nothing can stand against us. Thus, there is nothing to fear. 

Because all of the things I listed, and anything you can think of, any of your personal phobias, are meaningless in the face of Love. The greatest thing to fear is Judgment Day and eternal separation from God/Love. That fear has already been banished. Jesus paid the price, He stands in my place, even when I still have fear and still do wrong. His Love has eliminated the power and reality of that fear. So what else is worth fearing?

Today I faced one of my fears. A little diddly one but still a fear. We take my students swimming every Friday in the summer time. I normally avoid getting in the pool, unless it's about a hundred degrees. Today the water was cold from the rain last night and I was trying my darnedest to not get in. My students were splashing me (ah-hem, irritating me) and then another supervisor (and friend) decided to join them by doing an enormous cannonball right in front of me. I was drenched. And shivering. So the only logical thing to do was to get in the stupid pool. Then I started thinking...this is the last swim day, and that diving board doesn't look so high, and the kids would be so excited. And no joke, I thought back to this episode of The Biggest Loser when all the contestants had to jump off the highest building in Australia. And I envied their chance to face their fears. Well, here I had one. A little fear but something that had kept me from trying  it all my life. So I got in line with three of my students and they gave me pep talks the whole way. One said he'd jump in the shallower part at the same time I jumped off the board. So with all their little faces cheering me on, I held my breath and took the plunge. It was cold and deep, and I'm sure I didn't have good form swimming back to the rope, but it felt good to do it. They were so proud of me and while it seems silly, and maybe even is, I was proud of myself.

Sometimes we have to start small. Throw off the little things holding us back before we can take on the big ones. Thankfully, graciously the greatest one has been conquered. Eternity is now on our side, for those who Believe. So, with that in mind, what shall I fear? Nothing.

I'm divin' in, I'm goin' deep
In over my head I wanna be
Caught in the rush, lost in the flow
In over my head I want to go
The river's deep, the river's wide
The river's water is alive
So sink or swim, I'm divin' in
("Dive" by Steven Curtis Chapman)

1 comment:

  1. I once took care of a younger patient who confessed he had a fear of falling asleep... he had thoughts of never again waking up. He said, "I know it's a silly thing to fear." Then I said, "Not as silly as my fear of popping balloons!" He paused and looked back up at me... "Yep, you're right! Good night!" :)


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