I recently watched the trailer for a film about climber Alex Honnold’s free solo climb of El Capitan. While watching, I became so utterly consumed by fear that my stomach was in knots and the palms of my hands started to seriously sweat. I was grateful the trailer was short.
Did I have an actual reason to fear? I was sitting in my study watching a video on my tablet; I was not on the face of a giant cliff. But in that moment, it didn’t seem to matter.
Fear is a funny thing that way; it can seem to completely overtake us. But we actually get to decide each moment and with each experience if we will let fear overpower us. It takes more than willpower, though. So how do we conquer fear?
Last summer I had the opportunity to give this some serious thought when I was working at a camp. The activity one particular morning was ziplining. After a rock climbing accident earlier in my life, I had developed a fear of heights that I had never really challenged. But here I was at camp, where the campers in my group were overcoming fears, pushing their human limits, and challenging themselves every day. One of the campers asked if I was going to participate in this activity. I hadn’t planned to participate, but then a voice came from inside saying “Are you really going to let your fear get the best of you here?” So I decided to try it.
I paired up with one of the boys; we were going to go on the tandem ziplines together. Someone counted down – “Three… two… one… jump!” – and the camper jumped off the platform and started off. I, on the other hand, was still on the platform. I couldn’t seem to make myself do it.
I knew from my study of Christian Science that I did not need to let fear win the day. This isn’t to say that we should ever ignore our fears. Sometimes it might be best to heed them and not push forward, and spiritual insight can lead us to avoid dangerous situations. But it felt clear to me that this was not one of those situations.
There’s an encouraging statement in the Bible that says “Perfect love casts out fear” (I John 4:18, New King James Version). “Perfect love” to me is universal, ever-present, all-absorbing, all-encompassing, spiritual love that comes from God, who is infinite Love itself. It is the kind of love our divine Father-Mother, God, has that says “I am right here embracing you and will never let anything happen to you. I am protecting you. I am upholding you and carrying you. All you have to do to feel My love and care is open your heart to Me.”
Fear really stems from thinking we’re subject to some power other than God, good. And when we realize that as God’s children – the spiritual expressions of God’s limitless love – we are always safe and cared for, we find renewed strength to challenge fear as fundamentally powerless in our lives. Mentally pausing to listen and allow our thoughts to be at one with divine Love helps us find inspiration that guides us to safety and brings comfort, confidence, and peace.
So in this case, I thought about the love and joy I felt when I saw the campers facing down their fears and pushing the limits of what they thought they could accomplish. And the sheer joy of the camper who jumped off that platform and whizzed down the zipline ahead of me. It’s natural for all of us to feel love and joy. It’s how God made us.
And then, there we went again: Three… two… one… jump! And I went! And I loved it. It was so much fun that on the next leg of the zipline, I actually raced the camper (who had kindly waited for me at the next platform).
Understanding and feeling God’s love has helped me overcome both small and larger fears. I have also experienced how identifying and overcoming fear in this way is a key element in the practice of Christian Science healing. Moment by moment, we can choose to recognize that we actually live in God, in the consciousness of divine Love, where there is nothing to fear. Divine Love is always here to guide us through all kinds of challenges. As we listen and allow ourselves to feel Love’s ever-presence, God will show us the way to break through fear.