Faith and Fear Part I: Stories of Fear and Stories of Faith
Faith recognises and confesses the stories of fear in which we live our lives and that stifle, imprison and oppress, because faith is of a different story.
Faith frees us to approach our fears and pain courageously and find that they are doorways into new and different realities. Realities of belonging. Realities of possibility. Realities of worth.
Stories of Fear
We learn these stories from birth. They are ingrained in our DNA. They become scripts for our lives. Like delusional actors, we play the parts assigned to us in these stories without thinking, believing them to be all there is. And so we allow these fears to chase us through the drama of our lives..
These stories are compelling: they have a stage, a world that makes sense - a worldview if you like. They can comprise beliefs about ourselves, others or the world. “You aren’t wanted.”“Life is cruel.” “Everyone leaves you eventually.” “People will hurt you.” “You can’t trust people really.” “You can’t do much.” “Something’s wrong with you.” “God sees you and is never pleased.” “You don’t belong here.” “You’re unlovable.” “You’re here to help others.” “You’re here to get to the top.” But these beliefs are felt deeply within our bodies.
These stories have characters - of which you are one or many - that are given predictable rules. Rules by which we learn to act. They may be taught (“Hurry up!” "Man up!"), or learned from experience (“To be tolerable to others, you must be quiet and gentle and polite.”). They are often reinforced by validation from important others.
These rules then govern the way we present ourselves and behave in public, as well as how we view ourselves. If we have learned a stereotypically masculine script, built on the fear of being vulnerable, we may build an armour to protect ourselves. This could be an insecurity-masking swagger or bravado or being a 'lad'; it could be anger and aggression; or it may be stoicism rationality (think Spock from Star Trek), a need to always be right, or humour.
These rules may also be more stereotypically feminine, built on the fear of being seen. We hide and avoid the bad we imagine could or will happen if we put ourselves out there. We avoid risks. We avoid anything where we could get it ‘wrong’. We avoid being visible and noticed. We do what we think will be acceptable to others. We might be gentle, kind and a good listener and generally ‘nice’, or give all of our time and energy to looking after others.
As in a drama, these rules define our character: tragic hero, comic sidekick, scheming villain. It is very difficult to break-out beyond our role (improvisation is not allowed!). They are what we must do. What we should do. What we are allowed to do, if we're to be allowed to stay on the stage.
Faith is of another story
There is a part of us, I believe, that must be quieter than the rest. Stiller. For, it can hear, or perhaps remember, the whisperings of another story, a story older than our fears and the predetermined characters that fear has had us play. A story that lives in each of us. This is what I mean by faith. To move beyond the fear-stories that dominate our narrative, we need to learn to be quiet and listen into this this part of us and the faith-stories it hears.
How do we uncover this story? How do we find our faith? It can happen suddenly and violently, when some unexpected event rips apart the characters we have so carefully played and exposes them, if not as fictions, then as incomplete or misleading. Such points of crises are when lives fall apart and are plunged into voids of breakdown and depression.
Fortunately, there is another way. We can learn to cancel the noise generated by our fear-stories and reconnect with our faith-story. We do this by spending time in environments that - unlike our 21st Century hyper-connected world - allow quiet. With people who have done or are doing the same reconstructive work. In places and space that encourage - even force - us to be still. By grounding ourselves in the natural world.
And then we allow our faith-stories to speak into the stillness.
When we tap into this alternative narrative, we may begin to find the courage to look at the other stories, the fear-stories, that we have been living in and view them more critically. To judge the fears that drive them and us, and assess the logic (or illogic) behind them. We stop looking at the audience and turn to look at the stage on and the script to which we have been playing. And when we do this, we often see how ludicrously disconnected from our inner needs and desires this stage and script have become.
The process of exposing the fears that have driven us thus far in life can feel like entering dark caves of pain. These fears feel like abysses of confusion. But, if just a little bit of faith can let us approach the entrance to these caves and feel these fears and pains as they are, or to freefall a while in the abyss of confusion and disillusionment, we may find that these are doorways to new realities - realities that we may have (in faith!) long suspected existed, heard whispers of, or distantly remembered. We discover stories of belonging, possibility, hope and worth.
Living somewhere between fear and faith
Discovering these new realities is not the end of the process. We will likely continue our lives oscillating between our fear-stories and the rediscovered faith-stories. We will catch ourselves living the former, approaching again the fears that hey are built on, and re-entering again into the land of faith. Until some other event or actor pulls us back onto the old stages.
I suspect that the value of self-care practices, such as journaling, walking in nature, listening to music, reading and watching films, or more spiritual practices, such as mindfulness and prayer, are that they give space where we can sink through our fear and into our faith, and maybe even hear the stories it faintly hears. And in doing so, to begin to live - even for a short time - a story of faith rather than fear.