Showing love and patience can cast of fear

It is said that Christopher Columbus kept two records of the distances traveled on his first voyage to the New World in the Santa Maria. One was true, he thought, but he deliberately faked the other. Ironically, the fake log turned out to be the more accurate of the two.

To alleviate his crew’s fears that they were getting too far from home on an unknown sea, Columbus gave them a reduced mileage estimate. When, for example, he told them on Sept. 11, 1492, that they had covered 16 leagues, he recorded 20 leagues in his secret log. Though he didn’t know it, Columbus’ “true” distance records were overestimated by 9 percent, on the average. His faked distances came out closer to the actual distances traveled.

The problem lay in the inaccuracy of 15th-century navigation. No one at that time could measure east-west distance accurately at sea, partly because timepieces (sandglasses) were affected by the motions of a ship upon the waves. Speed had to be guessed at — usually by watching things float by. Columbus, like most navigators, was forced to use dead reckoning, which involves laying out a compass course and estimating the distance traveled on a chart. He happened to be very good at it, but there was much room for error.

When the crew found out about his deception, they threatened mutiny. Before they did, however, land — and a New World — appeared!

No wonder it is said that, “fools rush in where angels fear to tread.” These words of Alexander Pope, written more than two centuries ago, suggest an interesting paradox. Fear, like pain, is often regarded as man’s enemy. For the believer, this impression may be reinforced by assurances that the Lord does not give us a “spirit of fear” but, by contrast, “a sound mind.” However, there is a sense in which fear, like pain, is man’s ally in that both are motivational states which have considerable survival value.

One of the important tasks of parenthood is to communicate an appropriate set of fears of the developing child. The resolution to the paradox is that fear is man’s enemy if it controls him, whereas it becomes his ally if he is in control of his fears.

When fear gains mastery, it often expresses itself in the symptoms of phobias or anxiety. A phobia may be thought of as a fear in which the perceived threat is exaggerated in relation to the actual danger. For example, the person with a phobia for flying maximizes the undeniably real, but nevertheless remote, likelihood of a disaster so that he either avoids flying entirely or flies with great discomfort. Fortunately, psychotherapeutic treatment of phobias is often highly successful.

Anxiety is the “feeling” component of fear. While fear (or phobia) involves an intellectual appraisal of threat or danger, anxiety is the unpleasant emotional response which accompanies fear. A certain level of anxiety is healthy and adaptive in that the unpleasant emotion which we experience is response to present danger moves us to take steps to reduce it and to prevent its recurrence.

However, anxiety becomes maladaptive when it becomes severe and dramatically manifests itself in acute subjective distress which may include palpitations, chest pain, difficulty in breathing, dizziness, and a variety of other physical sensations as well as conscious experience of absolute terror. These episodes, known as panic attacks, are often interpreted by the sufferer as the signal of serious physical disorder, i.e. heart attack, which in turn engenders more anxiety.

There is increasing evidence that panic attacks can be generated biochemically and need not be responses to perceived threat or danger. It is known that panic perceived attacks can be precipitated in certain predisposed individuals chemically, i.e. by breathing carbon dioxide. It is hypothesized that panic attacks occur in susceptible individuals when a hormone or a chemical receptor in the brain whose function is to regulate anxiety is deficient or defective. A solution to this explanation of panic disorder is medications, currently available and used in treatment, which are effective in treating panic disorders biochemically.

Traits such as “fearlessness” and “courage” are highly regarded in our society and deservedly so. Isn’t it interesting to speculate that some of the differences among us on these traits may reflect biochemistry more than character?

I remember when our youngest son was trying to learn how to swim. The greatest problem was conquering his fear of water. We started out at a young age to try to help him conquer his fear. It seemed that nothing was available to help. Until a teacher sacrificed a day off from work and spent unprecedented hours of the day helping him to conquer his fear. Now God has blessed him to swim like a fish, all because he conquered his fear.

The Bible says, “fear has torment.” The rest of that verse from I John 4:18 says, “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear, because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love.”

I’m starting to think that the kind teacher that helped our son learn how to swim really showed so much love and patience that it cast out his fear. I believe that life has many fears no matter what age the person may be. Perhaps the older a person is, the more complicated and entrenched their fears. Easter to me is Jesus Christ showing us so much love by his ultimate sacrifice and willingness to pay it on our behalf that his agape love cast out our fear.

Whatever you may celebrate during this season of Passover and Easter, I pray it’s enough love to cast out your fear. Hopefully, with so much love, you can help cast out someone else’s fear as well.

The Rev. Darrell W. Cummings is pastor of Bethlehem Apostolic Temple in Wheeling and Shiloh Apostolic Temple in Weirton.

COMMENTS