This post was originally featured by the Culture Project here.
Be not afraid!
Simple yet epic words. Hearing St. John Paul II shout them in his passionate Polish accent is powerful. Coming from a man who lived it with his every breath, those words have always inspired me to be courageous and never settle for mediocrity.
Still, that phrase confused me. It led me to think that fear should be absent from my life, that it should be non-existent, and that I should never feel afraid. However, I knew it was impossible to completely extinguish fear from my life. With fear present, was I just a coward?
With time I learned that it’s okay to feel afraid. That does not mean, however, that we allow fear to control our actions. We must act in spite of it. That’s what John Paul II meant when he told us to be not afraid.
In my post on the demands of really loving someone, I said that fear is crippling. It holds us back and leaves us feeling stuck. In that article, I shared my fear of love and vulnerability. Fear has held me back from giving and receiving the love I desire. With a strong desire to love, the fear I felt had to be conquered.
Courage is needed in order to conquer fear. I once heard someone say that courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something is more important than fear. That judgment leads to the choice to take action in spite of the fear. Every great story involves a hero who must be courageous in the face of fear and hardship. Think of movies like Braveheart, Lord of the Rings, The Patriot, Gladiator, Batman Begins… the list goes on. Each protagonist possessed courage. Courage is heroic and heroism is greatly needed in our world today. I mean, imagine humanity without it. How dull of a world would that be? Without the bravery to do what is good and stand for what is true, our world would fall apart and become full of empty, lifeless, and passionless men and women… men without chests, as C.S. Lewis famously coined.
I won’t lie. Quitting is easier and it always will be. In one way or another, we all fear failure, vulnerability, commitment, and abandonment. Holding back is the safer option. Being courageous is risky and involves suffering because you are opening yourself to potential pain. A life of courage will tear and pierce your heart in ways that words cannot describe. It will cost you much. Yet, the depths that it opens in your heart will make you better: more human, more loving, more fraternal, more virtuous. To reach your potential greatness, facing your fear is critical and it is the deciding factor of your growth.
With my fear of being vulnerable, I knew that the love I desired was worth the fear of being rejected and hurt. And so, despite the risk, I chose to face my fear. And it was worth it. She was worth it. But most of all, that’s the kind of man I want to be: courageous and bold in the way he loves. When I die, I want to be remembered as a man who fought for what he loved and risked much to defend all that is good, true and beautiful. I’m not there yet, but heroes aren’t made in a moment. Like athletes, they are built over time, little by little, by every small choice to do the right thing.
But let’s be practical. Here are five tips that will help you conquer your fears and become the person you are made and aspire to be.
1. Face it.
The first step to beat fear is to recognize it. Don’t run. Face it. Until you’re real with yourself and stare fear cold in the eyes, you won’t be able to overcome it. Facing your fear is likely to be intimidating and certainly is humbling. After all, who wants to declare weakness? Still, starting here is crucial. Until you begin to understand your fear, you won’t overcome it. Unless the doctor knows the disease, he can’t give the cure. In my case, identifying and admitting my fear of vulnerability has been essential to overcoming it.
2. Get it out of your head.
Fear feeds off isolation. If you keep it to yourself, inside your head, it’ll remain and even grow bigger. Write it down and talk to a trusted friend or mentor about it, or even a counselor. Don’t deal with it alone: get it out. Inside one’s mind, fear is large and loud. Putting it on paper and into space with your words helps to see fear for what it actually is. Seeing it written on a little piece of paper makes it less overwhelming. At that point, it is possible to speak truth to your fears. This is necessary because fear is deceptive. It says you can’t when in reality you can. Consequently, speaking the truth deflates fear. Bring your fear into the light and feed it with truth.
Since fear holds us back and leaves us feeling stuck, the ultimate solution is action. It means doing whatever you’re afraid of doing. Afraid of flying? The only way to overcome it is by eventually getting on a plane. Terrified of public speaking? Give a talk. Scared to commit? Make a commitment. Yes, it is scary. It’s nerve-racking. It may even be humbling. But fear isn’t overcome by hiding. It is conquered by walking through it. I wish there was an easier way, but there isn’t. If you’re scared, that’s okay: Do it scared. But make sure you do it. In my case, although afraid of opening my heart to possible hurt, I pursued the girl who would later become my girlfriend. Eventually, by loving her, I became less afraid and more courageous.
4. Don’t take life too seriously.
“The only reason to take this life too seriously is if it’s your only one,” said Archbishop Fulton Sheen. Laugh. Be ridiculous. Be silly. Enjoy the beauty of creation. Watch a sunset. Gaze dramatically upon the ocean. Pour your heart into helping those who need you. Jesus and Mary were the most joyful people in history. Jesus didn’t come to make us all sad, instead, He came to transform us to being fully alive. In Jesus’ own words, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (Jn 10:10). Honestly, God wants us to be as carefree and joyful as children. His children. Trust God with complete abandon and watch your fear melt away.
5. Fall in love.
There is no better motivation than love. All other motives pale in comparison. It is said that a knight could have no courage without love; his love gave him a reason to fight. Conquer fear with love. My proposition: fall in love with Jesus. Already have a relationship with Him? Go deeper. He is always the answer. No love can really satisfy us besides His. Be patient though; love takes time to develop. He’s crazy about you and me. Do you know that? There is a unique place in His Heart that thirsts for you and your love. Despite what the world says, falling in love with God is incredible. However, it takes the experience of loving him to know that to be true. St. Augustine said it best: “To fall in love with God is the greatest romance; to seek him the greatest adventure; to find him, the greatest human achievement.” God will give you the strength to overcome your fears. Rely on him. He’s waiting to give you all that you need.
Do not become discouraged if fear exists in your life. Battling fear is human. Until I die, I will have to fight it. Already, this somewhat silent battle has made me into a better man… a man who is more courageous, more virtuous. When you overcome fear, you will be free. With this freedom, thriving and flourishing can actually happen. You are able to be yourself, fall in love with life, live to the fullest, and love with all your heart. Do not settle for anything less. Be not afraid!