“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.” – Nelson Mandela
It’s an interesting week to consider today’s topic. Last Sunday was the 600th anniversary of the Battle of Agincourt, and this Saturday is Halloween. The former was a remarkable military victory despite seemingly impossible odds — the latter is a celebration of goosebumps and monsters. Clearly there is a range of things people are afraid of — spiders, heights, enclosed spaces, flying, public speaking, clowns, robots, embarrassment, serial killers, the number thirteen, death. Some are indeed quite trivial, while others are justifiably frightening.
Fear is real
I do not dismiss the reality or the power of fear. For too many years I was its prisoner. In my case, though, I was a prisoner to the fear of failure. Although I accomplished a great deal, I was always haunted by the notion that my work wasn’t good enough, that others would laugh.
School and work forced me to work to deadlines, and I found that deadlines sharpened my mind and focused my attention. In this way, I harnessed the fear of failure to my advantage — I couldn’t obsess over the minutia when to miss the deadline altogether was a greater failure.
However, my own creative output was forever in the process of becoming — always in the next iteration, but never shown to anyone or exposed to the light of day. That was miserable.
My path away from the fear of failure came in several waves. First, there was the diagnosis. Bible teacher and author Steve Brown hosts his “Born Free Seminar” from time to time, and I attended one in my state. A self-administered and self-scored diagnostic assessment that was part of the seminar revealed to me that I was a prisoner of the fear of failure. This, in spite of all I had accomplished to that point.
From there, I had to outsource my self-criticism. I began to work on my creative projects but no longer for myself, but for God. This took away the fear of what others would say, and enabled me to both have healthy boundaries and to pursue some personal goals. Hey, this blog finally got out of my head and out of my notebook and onto the web. That was big for me.
Now, I do not wrestle with the fear of failure. I have adopted Michael Hyatt’s saying: “In my world, there is no failure, only learning.” And when things don’t turn out as I had hoped, I speak to myself the way a coach or teacher would speak to a valued student. This may sound funny, but I recommend it.
Can you back that up theologically?
Yes, I can. Because I have been redeemed through the substitutionary atonement of Jesus the Messiah, God has accepted me. Romans 8:1 says, “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” If God has accepted me and does not condemn me, I have no right to berate myself when I fail. It doesn’t impress God, and it doesn’t help me improve.
OK, but what if I worry about money?
I get that, but worry is another word for fear. Jesus taught that we aren’t to worry about what we will eat, or what we will wear, because God knows what we need and he cares about little things of much less worth than you and I — like sparrows and flowers — so we can trust him to provide for us. We need to focus on Him, and God will provide all the essentials.
It isn’t unspiritual to have goals or to work hard to accomplish them. And being wise with money is a gift, not a sin. Just keep your eyes on God and seek to please Him as you pursue your dreams.
But wouldn’t you agree death is scary?
I think the most frightening thing about death is the unknown. We seek to avoid pain and we lack trust that God will receive us when we die. This is what is so remarkable about the resurrection of Jesus. As the Bible teaches, Jesus — who was fully human and fully divine — absorbed the full measure of God’s wrath for the sins of all humanity and died. This is the penalty for rebellion against a holy God — death. But Jesus proved that he had paid the debt by rising to life on the third day. This demonstrates His victory over sin and death — and delivers us from the fear of death. After all, if our elder brother defeated death, what is left for us to fear?
A lesson from history — by way of Shakespeare
I mentioned the Battle of Agincourt — that pivotal battle in the Hundred Years’ War where England’s King Henry V faced the vastly numerically superior French army under the command of Constable Charles d’Albret. Historians vary in their estimates, but the French outnumbered the English by as much as six-to-one. On the eve of St. Crispin’s Day (which is October 25) in 1415, Henry rallied his fearful troops and led them to rout their foes. Soldiers entering a battle battle face death, yet they go anyway.
Shakespeare’s play, Henry V, dramatizes the scene and provides some of the most stirring words ever written. In the video below, you can see Kenneth Branagh as King Henry speaking to his tired and worried men in this famous scene from Act IV, Scene iii:
To be the best possible version of yourself, take an inventory of your fears and work to overcome them. The world needs your strength and your deep conviction that, with God’s help, you can come through when it counts. Just as the king counted on his men at Agincourt, your King is counting on you. Giving in to fear leads to regret for the opportunities squandered. Don’t let it keep you from fulfilling your purpose.
So how about you? How are you working to conquer fear in your life? Add your comments below.