Someone suggested that fear was the very sentence pronounced on the snake at the beginning of time: “You will crawl on your belly and you will eat dust all the days of your life” (Gen 3:14)! Fear is certainly a very great curse, and it has deep roots in our nature. Add to that the fact that further fear is educated into us. Very unwisely, adults play on a child’s fears in order to control him or her. A pattern of fear then becomes second nature, and this is the main cause of aggression in our world. It became crystal clear to me once in meditation and I have never forgotten it: most aggression is fear. Experience bears it out: the world’s greatest tyrants have all been cowards. A human being (or a snake for that matter) who is not afraid is usually not aggressive. It is not only in our own interests, then, but in everyone else’s too that we learn to control our own fears.
    But how do we try to control our fears, in fact? In the same way, probably, that we try to control anything whatsoever. Each person will attempt to control fear by the same methods that he or she uses to control children, animals, or indeed anything at all that needs control. How do you try to control your children, for example? Is your method wise and successful? If so, then that would probably be a good way to control your fears too!
    People have different ways of controlling children. Some do it by being cruel, or by allowing them no freedom at all, or by spying on everything they do, or by being distant and censorious, or by belittling them (I know a few who do that), or by trying to make them nervous and fearful of everything. I think most people, when they think about it, would consider all these methods wrong. Wise people tell us that the only way to control children is to understand them. Of course there is a cold clinical sort of understanding that may well do more harm than good. But real human understanding has warmth built into it - in a word: love. A psychiatrist friend told me that her method with her own children was, “Love ‘em like hell, and let ‘em alone!” In her case, at any rate, it seems to have worked very well: they all grew up to be fine people.
    The great difficulty is that it is so very hard to think clearly in one’s own case. It is easier to advise other people, because we don't have their blind spots (even though we have our own). Our own affairs are so close to us - like the glasses on our nose - that we cannot easily see them. Fear is one of these affairs, if not the principal one.
    So, how do we control our fears?
    By repressing them? That is the same as being cruel to your children, or over-controlling. Your fears hide from you then, by telling you lies - just like over-controlled children.
    By belittling them? “There’s nothing to be afraid of!” But if there is nothing to be afraid of, why are you afraid? Fear is a fact about you when you’re afraid, and you don't need people (even yourself!) telling you it’s not a fact!
    By always giving in to them and taking at face value everything they tell us? Obviously not.
    We need instead to understand them. In order to understand them we need to look at them. “Everything that is now covered will be uncovered,” said Jesus. Why not look at our fears now rather than later on when they have had time to disguise themselves and to poison our whole life? “Do not be afraid!” he kept saying. It means: Don't let your fears dictate to you; hold your ground, don't run away! It is like developing confidence in yourself as a father or mother.

Donagh O'Shea

These are brief articles, one per month,
on a wide variety of topics concerning the living of the Christian life.