There is a problem with the traditional way we think about facing our fears. Take the following metaphor to help us understand why: A man stands in the center of a perfectly dark and empty room. The man has lived in this room all his life and has never seen the light of day. In the complete darkness, a small but bright light begins to shine on the far side of the room, about 20 feet away. At first, the man is afraid, but soon decides that he has no reason to fear because the light is so much smaller than him. Then the man turns around and sees his shadow, about 20 feet away, for the first time. At this, he jumps in horror at the large and distorted monster in the room with him and is terrified even more when the monster jumps at the exact same time as him.
In our metaphor, the light represents our source of truth, insight, and wisdom. For example, the ultimate source of pure light is God – the holder of all truth and wisdom. The shadow represents the areas of our life where we feel vulnerable, out of control, or un-repaired. The function of the light is to let us see the shadow. Without the light we are blind, which is much worse.
Traditional fear management says to face your fear in order to overcome it, suggesting that the correct direction for our man to face is the shadow. I will grant you that sometimes this strategy works (which is why the axiom has been allowed to live for so long) but it doesn’t work well or, better, we don’t understand why it works sometimes but not others. The problem seems to be that all us humans naturally begin to craft solutions and strategies based on what we are looking at or focusing on and this causes issues when trying to work on our fears. Let me explain what I mean.
Imagine you go to a big magic show. During the performance, you will try to base your beliefs or solutions about what you just saw on what you could see or focus on at the time. Later, if you watch the T.V. special exposing the truth behind the magic, only then is your focus shifted enough that you can plainly see what actually happened. My ability to make an accurate solution is largely based on if I can see the problem accurately. If my view of the problem is distorted or distracted, my solution will likely follow suit. In turn, if we are like the man in the room, facing the shadow or un-repaired parts of ourselves in the hopes of overcoming them, we have two choices of where we can put our focus: on the light, or on the shadow.
Traditional “fear fighting” says that we should face the shadow. The problem here is that our focus is solely on the shadow, thus we are left with only those solutions and strategies that can be made based off the shadow. In that moment we are searching for solutions based off a distorted part of ourselves that is blown out of proportion. Can you see where that might go wrong?
What then should we do? Turn our back on our fears? Yes…but in a very specific way. We choose to face the light – head on. Only when we face the light, the source of truth and wisdom, can we begin to make strategies of find solutions that will be based off something crisp and clear. When we begin building our forward progress on truth, instead of the shadow, we will naturally have a much better shot at actually overcoming our fears.
What about all those fears behind me? If I ignore them won’t they just stab me in the back? I have wrestled with this question myself. The fear that if the man takes a few steps towards the light his shadow will only grow bigger and more imposing. Strangely, reality has shown me the exact opposite. Every step I take towards the light, the truth, my shadow shrinks. The more I face the fullness of light and wisdom, the less power my fears hold. The more I become a student of the truth; the more I overcome my fears! It seems to be yet another one of life’s many paradoxes.
So, should you deal with your fears? Yes, but not the way you might have first thought. Face the light. Face the truth. Face wisdom and you will find your solutions working better then expected. You will find your fears to be silently slipping away. If you are not sure how one metaphorically “faces the truth” try what I did as a starting point. Pray something like this: “God, please let me be irresistibly attracted to wisdom and wisdom attracted to me. Help me to listen, be open, and be sticky so that the wisdom you give me stays with me.” Finally, if you need help on your quest for wisdom, go get help from the wise people around you. Enjoy your journey!
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