What does it mean to be fear-ful? Fear is a pervasive feeling that can easily take over our life for a while because of our grief. We are full of fear, we are filled with fear. A sense of being chronically fearful is a normal part of grief, one that gradually subsides as our shock transforms into the dull ache of reality without the one we love and now grieve. According to Edmund Burke, “No passion so effectually robs the mind of all its powers of acting and reasoning as fear.”
When we grieve, fear has the power to paralyze us, to immobilize us, to make us question our every decision, large and small. Fear takes many forms: fear is anxiety, fear is worry, fear is dread, fear is agitation, fear is apprehension, fear is alarm, fear is panic. In grief our spirit is especially vulnerable to fear - we react to everything that challenges our competency and our faith. For a while we feel helpless, sometimes hopeless, because we’re powerless to change what’s happened. And so when the circumstances of life bring us to this place of grief, there’s a kind of emotional vacuum, a void, an empty space that fear quickly and easily fills with an almost never-ending supply of dire thoughts and negative suggestions.
What is it that’s causing us to be so fearful all the time?
- Because of the death of one we love, suddenly we take a look at our own life and are overwhelmed with fear that we will become ill, or have an accident or die.
- We fear change – the inevitable, heart-wrenching upside-down, inside-out change that occurs when a loved one dies. Our life is never again the same. Everything changes, nothing stays the same.
- We have an irrational fear of the unknown. What will happen? How will my life go on? Do I have enough money? Where will I live? Who will take care of me?
- We fear the future. Yet who really knows what life will be five years or five months or five days or five hours or five minutes or even five seconds from now? We waste valuable emotional resources in grief when we spend time on fear of what life might be in the immediate or remote future.
Often we take the first step toward resolving our fear when we acknowledge it and name it for what it is, sometimes with unaccustomed honesty. It’s hard to admit that we’re fearful, but when we do, we’re strangely relieved. If we recognize the effect fear is having on our life, we’re able to take a step back from our fear and perhaps better understand its cause. Then we forgive ourselves our humanness because we’ve temporarily succumbed to fear - we’re normal and fear is a very real part of grief. When we dismantle our fear and confront it, then we’re empowered to do something about it - we manage it or put an end to it because it’s irrational. And along the way, gratefully we discover that we’re stronger than even our very worst fears.
Though fear is sometimes almost a knee-jerk response to the death of one we love, fear cannot permanently define our lives. When we find ourselves awash in fear, fear-ful, we breathe, in and out. And when we breathe, we allow God’s power and presence - the fresh air of the Holy Spirit - to fill the lungs of our heart and mind and soul and spirit with the life-giving comfort of God’s quiet and calm. Consciously inhale. Consciously exhale. Remember to breathe.
I sought the Lord, and he answered me, and delivered me from all my fears.
Psalm 34:4 NRSV
Keep me this day, O God, in your safety beyond my fear. Amen.
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