The other day, I was walking along the beach here. It was a windy day, and the water was crashing relentlessly against the sand. I was just about eating my hair it was blowing into my face so much. Into this weather, I watched a mommy duck lead three little babies charging into the water. They were splashed about mightily, and once or twice a duckling capsized before they righted themselves and made it past the break.
As I watched them, I suddenly heard a panicked chirping behind me. A fourth duckling came racing down the sand and stopped just shy of the water, calling for its mom on the other side of the break. The mommy duck quacked encouragingly to the little straggler, but the baby duck was having none of it and stayed firmly planted on the shore. Meanwhile, the other ducklings were having the time of their lives, swimming around like little champs and totally getting the hang of the rough waters.
I wish I could say I’m not, but all too often, I’m the fourth duck. I’m the one that let’s fear stand in the way of something good for me. If we’re being honest with ourselves, we’ve all been the fourth duck at some point. We face the same fears as the other ducks, but somehow end up stuck on the shore while everyone else is learning how to swim.
Fear can be confusing, though, even from a biblical standpoint. We’ve all seen the bible verses telling us not to be afraid, but then we also see the ones that tell us to fear the Lord? So which is it? Are we supposed to be afraid? Or are we supposed to be fearless? Perhaps the art of healthy fear lies not in being and more in doing.
Look at the language of the don’t be afraid verses. The verbiage is all about being. Don’t be this thing, it tells us. Don’t let this be all that you are. Don’t let this stall you. The verses for fear of the Lord are all about doing. Adopt this attitude. Act this way. Form this habit. The language of these verses tells us so much of how we are supposed to approach fear and how it can actually be used to strengthen and improve us.
We’ve all heard the expression about everything you’ve ever wanted is on the other side of fear, but maybe fear isn’t just another hurdle. Maybe fear is a tool. Fear isn’t holding you back like a shackle, rather, it’s the weight that conditions all your muscles of bravery and courage. The better you learn to bear that weight, the stronger you become. To give in to fear is to look at the weight and claim you could never lift it in the first place. That’s unhealthy fear. But fear has its purpose like anything else. A healthy sense of fear can actually teach us valuable skills that better prepare us for the next bout of life.
1. Fear makes us humble
If there’s anything everyone could use more of it’s humility. We are by nature fantastically self-centered creatures. We are so often obsessed with thinking we have it all together and can keep it that way when nothing could be further from the truth. Healthy fear has no room for that. It looks at your illusions of capability and gets out a broom to clean up this mess. Healthy fear throws our own capability into startlingly sharp relief. It’s basically the Ego-Eliminator 3000.
And that is a very good thing! After all, nothing slows down positive motion quite like an ego problem. Having the illusion of our own capability stripped away, while painful, sharpens our focus to the actual task at hand. We’re forced to look at something bigger and scarier than ourselves and make an actual plan to realistically handle it.
2. Fear teaches us respect
When we’re humbled, our attitudes tend to go one of two ways. We either pitch a fit and rail against what we think are unfair circumstances, or we take a step back to appreciate whatever delivered us through fear. We’re not dumb. We know when something was too big for us to handle and we needed help. This is one of the areas of fearing the Lord. Healthy fear gives us the opportunity to recognize just how small we are in the grand scheme of things and give credit where credit is due.
The author of Psalm 33:8 got it right when the said: “Let the whole earth fear the Lord, and let everyone stand in awe of him.” Healthy fear is stepping back and recognizing the terrifyingly awesome power of God with reverence. Healthy fear brings out our sense of respect.
3. Fear helps us grow
At the beginning of this post, I referred to fear as a weight. Not a shackle, but a weight. The lessons we learn from healthy, ego lessening, respect inspiring fear change us for the better. The more we work with fear instead of avoiding it, the stronger we get. It’s like any other training regimen we take on. Our courage muscles need to be worked too. Every instance of fear we encounter and come through to the other side leaves us that much stronger for the next one. You can’t avoid the scary things of life and expect them to leave you alone. It is far better to tackle it head-on and grow from it.
And I know, that in itself is scary and quite frankly a lot easier said than done but consider this: There is no fear unfamiliar to God. He knows. He sees. He’s aware of exactly what it is you’re going through and he intends to see you to the other side. He’s not punishing you with the scary stuff of life, he’s growing you. That mommy duck wasn’t trying to drown the fourth duckling, she was trying to equip her baby for the life ahead of it. God’s helping you grow.
Remember the verbiage of Biblical fear. Fear doesn’t have to be a state of being. Pick the weight of fear up and do something with it. You’ll be all the better for it. Hop into the surf, duckling. Hop into the surf and swim.