What is the opposite of fear? If you were to describe the direct contrast of fear, the force that reckons with, opposes, and walks the opposite path of a fearful life, what words would you use?
Living fearlessly could mean living with courage, but I also believe that fear and courage can exist in tandem. Moving forward with courage does not always mean that you have lost all fear of the situation, only that you gained the gut and grit to move forward anyways. Courage is a helpful, even necessary, quality but perhaps not the opposite of fear.
Living fearlessly could mean a life and mind at peace. But peace seems much too neutral a state to do anything more than cancel out fear. Peace does not walk in direct opposition to fear, showing another road, providing new actions and directions to go when fears and struggles plague our lives.
Living fearlessly could mean a life of truth. Instead of the fears and anxieties that plague you at night, you begin speaking the truth of your situation and accepting the hard reality. But sometimes fear and truth coexist. Sometimes those anxieties that keep you up at night are much more than vague possibilities. Sometimes the truth is full of fearful realities.
The description of fear’s antipathy that rings most true to me is that found in 2 Timothy 1:7: For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-control.
The contrast to fear is threefold: power, love, and self-control. These are the qualities, the traits, that not only cancel out fear, but allow us to live in direct opposition to a fearful life. And right now, I am seeking to understand what these words mean for someone who suffers with chronic pain.
Power – We are not all-powerful, but God has granted us a certain agency and the ability to make decisions in life. When you live in constant pain or with the effects of constant chronic illness, it feels as though your life is out of control, and you can begin to lose that semblance of power you had before the illness began.
At this point, you must assess what you can still do, and find those small snippets of life where God has still given you power over your body and surroundings. Sometimes I run through a list of these in my mind: I can still sit, stand, and walk (even though only for short periods of time, I can still do these things). I can still see, hear, touch, smell, and speak. I can do some cooking and light cleaning; I am able to eat, and enjoy the company of others. I can write, my brain and cognitive abilities are at full functioning, and I can still work as a counselor for a few hours a week. These are the things I can do, and when I focus on them, the fear loses a bit of its power.
Love – Living fearlessly means loving self and others. When I became sick, I began loving myself a lot less. The person I used to like and admire changed into this new being – someone I was unfamiliar with and did not know how to love in the midst of her limitations and shortcomings. Thus began a process of relearning to love the actual real me. Looking back, I’m not sure the person I liked before was actually me, but just the things that I was able to do because my body was full functioning. Chronic pain has caused me to step back and look at the person I actually am, my identity in Christ, and who I am as a child of God. What I can do is not who I am, and I am continually learning the hard truth of this statement.
And what about loving the people around you? Sometimes the way I love others seems small and insignificant, but I try to grab hold of the small tokens of love and appreciation because I have found that focusing on loving and caring for those around me brings great joy, draws me out of a pit of self-focus, and lends a small hand in living a less fearless life. So, I sent an encouraging note or text to a friend, I call and talk to someone who is struggling, I make lunch for my husband, or cook a meal for a new mother. Sometimes these gestures take a lot out of me, sometimes they cost me a whole day of energy, but I have found them worth it in the end.
Self-control – Self-control in the midst of chronic pain means that every day I do the things that are good for my body, whether I want to or not. I take the vitamins, go on the walk, do my exercises, manage stress, go to bed at the right time, and eat healthy foods. Self-control means I am disciplined to each day pray, delve into Scripture, and find time to be in relationship with God. Self-control means I learn how to manage my strong emotions of anger, jealousy, and discontentment and do not allow them to consume me. I am not sure how to articulate the exact connection, but when I do these things on a regular basis, I feel less fearful.
Most important is understanding the source of all these qualities. They do not come from within. We do not have power, a capacity for love, or the ability to remain self-disciplined in and of ourselves. These things flow directly from God, who gives us what we need to live a life without fear.
How would you describe the opposite of fear?