May 16, 2024

The Purpose of Fear—& How it Helps us Overcome the Storms of Life.


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Rainy season has descended on Nicaragua.

The heat lightning warned us of its coming, dancing arrogantly along the purple horizon. I’m coming for you, it flashed.

And it came.

At the stroke of midnight, the thick, humid air was shattered by a downpour that woke dreamers from their peace.

I was not sleeping but had been watching from the window as the lightning paced closer, illuminating the trees, the clouds rearing their heads like war horses, hooves cascading.

The buzz of the daytime cicadas hinted that the weather was shifting—about to get wetter. The frogs slopped up from their ponds to sing their way into evening romance. Or maybe they were hollering for a good romp. New life was stirring.

The last few weeks have nearly buckled us under the heat and silent tension, waiting for the rain.

Last year’s rainy season was not terrible. I remember only a few gnarly storms, and I think Roo, four or five months old at the time, didn’t seem too nervous about them. Storms can be a scary thing for dogs.

But this week, as the rainy season cracked open the sky, the wind slammed the window shades, the thunder pounded over our heads, and the rain came down, Roo looked worried.

Have you ever seen a dog look worried? Their sweet, little facial expressions can display a range of emotions. Nearly every one of my emotions has been reflected in Roo’s sweet face at one time or another. Her face isn’t always sweet when she’s eating my shoes, chewing pages from my books, or gleefully toilet-papering the house with reckless abandon. Then, that mischievous face receives a hard glare from me.

But this night, as the air around my house rose and swelled and became a great wind, thunderous, pelting, and arched fully to let loose, Roo’s ears laid back against her small head. Her brows furrowed, and she nervously watched the window, then searching, her eyes met mine.

She was not calm. But neither was she panicked. I know of dogs who shake and shiver and hide in closets or under beds when storms break. When I was a kid, we used to have a dog who would take a sh*t under the bed every time he sensed thunder. The storm literally scared the sh*t out of him.

Roo was frightened—unsettled. I did my best to cuddle and comfort her. The rain fell, drenching everything in its path, taking no prisoners. Despite the fear the storm sparked, Roo seemed to calm as I pet her, speaking kindly.

Her fear was real, but I felt no fear of the storm. How glorious the rain felt to us humans, after weeks of sweating profusely, even while sitting still in the shade.

How relieved the arid land must feel, the dust melting to mud, the leafless trees drinking every drop, eager to don their green again.

The wild nature outside felt no fear, but the pups, they quaked.

I did not fear this first storm. But there is plenty else that strikes fear in me. Nearly everything I fear, I can trace back to a thought.

Fearful thoughts grip me. They puff and double up and double up again until I am lost in a forest of dark, scratching imaginings that create space for tears, anger, and denial.

Someone once referred to this terrible trail that fear takes us down as “awfulizing.” Fear is enticing, telling us awful stories, and heaving spoonfuls of horrific examples where the fearful thought for us was once a fearful fact for another and shouldn’t we run now? Shouldn’t we hide? Shouldn’t we turn back?

See, fear says, this happened before and can happen to you, and then what will you do?

Fear serves a purpose, but stopping us isn’t it.

The purpose of fear is to show us the things we need to address. Fear shines a discomforting light on the part of ourselves we need to take a brave look at, and then do something about.

We don’t want to lose ourselves to fear, but often fear wins.

Fear wins when we don’t respond with bravery or calm. Fear wins when we slump, actionless.

Fear wins when we define our every choice by it. We cultivate fear when we listen to its horror stories. We cry and scream or we do nothing to change our situation and talk about something else instead.

That’s what fear can do, and if I’m honest, I can quickly scratch together a list of times when fear won.

When fear chose the angry words I would spout to a loved one. When fear kept me working in the same toxic place. Fear kept me home. Fear kept me on the beach instead of in the surf.

The purpose of fear is to teach us to respond with calm and bravery to the things we need to change.

Fear shines a glaring light on a truth we are meant to see.

What part of ourselves needs a little love? What part needs a little healing?

What part of ourselves do we finally need to listen to?

No, fear is not fun. Fear is a menacing thunderbolt from the sky, striking for our attention. We might quake—and quaking, like Roo, is okay.

Fear’s job is to make us quake and shake, but it’s also fear’s job to jumpstart us to be brave. To ask for help once the quaking starts. To look around for comfort and calm when we can’t draw on it ourselves.

Fear asks—demands—us to change things and do something new.

That first storm that shook the night ignited fear, no doubt. But when it passed, when the storm no longer scared us (or at least no longer scared Roo), when we leaned into calm and bravery, it was only then that we could see beyond the storm for what it had brought us.

And what do storms bring? Storms bring change. Growth. Greener days.

Storms bring new life.


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