The Faces of Fear

May 3, 2016

Fear is an emotion that grows and matures with us. It starts with the monsters and the neighborhood bully, then becomes sitting the bench and never going to the dance. And when we are all grown up, it slithers around as failure and loss. It lurks around with many faces, changing with our moods and our location; the company we keep and the moments we are living in. Fear has faces. 

Fear has a face…and it is called anxiety. That face spins my head into every possible scenario of what-ifs, and probably-nots, but maybes. I stared down one of my early anxiety faces with a visceral reaction to the first day I was on call as an attending. Driving into the hospital that morning, waves of nausea passed through me. Imagining every impossible scenario of injuries that could come through that door…the cardiac injury, the retrohepatic caval injury; the mangled extremity; the mass casualty. I couldn’t finish my coffee. I could hardly focus on the road. Could I handle it? The stakes are high. A life in my hands. What if I fail? The perspiration beading on my forehead..I simply cannot fail. Anxiety hung over me, with a racing heart and dancing stomach. During my very first case, my hands slightly trembling, I kept looking up at the door, wondering when my attending would saunter in, smelling of the coffee he had been drinking in the hallway, to both check on me and reassure me. He never came in. Anxiety keeps me on edge, crippled with voices that tell me I could fail.

Fear has a face…and it is called anger. The burning red face with cheeks and ears on fire. The one with nostrils flared that has eyes of hatred and a tongue with indignation. How could he have possibly betrayed me like that, after he looked me in the eyes and promised, “I will maintain your confidence. I support you.” But oh how quickly the confidence was broken! My heart burned and my tone became terse. “Surely, he has ruined everything! What will happen now? I had a plan that he has sabotaged! He has hurt me and I will speak ill of him now!!” I was forced to make decisions I wasn’t ready to make and I had no idea how the chips would fall. Anger spewed from my fearful face.

Fear has a face…and it is called guilt. After the piercing words I have said flippantly and the commitments I have failed to keep, there is the sorrow that I feel, worn on the sallow face of guilt. I joined in the gossip after I swore I would not, because I feared missing the conversation; I vowed I would stay in touch, but I never called because I feared I couldn’t face the gravity of her loss; I was greedy and selfish and I fought un-fair because I feared I was losing control. And when I glance back at those moments, the face of guilt haunts me to the core.

Fear has a face…and it is called isolation. The smirk on the evil face of isolation tells each of us that we are alone. That loneliness is a feeling unique to me in this moment that no one else could fathom. That all of the happy people of the world have no skeletons, no burdens, no haunting past or no terrifyingly unknown future. A friend said to me just the other day, “I felt like I was alone; afraid to say a word; afraid I would be a burden.” The irony is that the face of isolation keeps us not only from soothing our own wounds, but being the balm for someone else’s when we least expect we could be. Isolation silences hope and suffocates the life-giving breath of companionship.

But fear has an enemy, a conquerer…and it’s face is called Surrender. The soft yet strong, the radiant and peaceful face of Surrender, relieves the weathered face of fear. Surrender mitigates anxiety, unruffles anger, forgives guilt, and gathers the lonely. “Don’t be afraid of them—any of you! The Eternal your God will do the fighting for you.” (Deuteronomy 3:22-The Voice) The face I wear may have another name…fatigue, despair, silence, impatience…but at it’s core is fear. Yet Surrender comes rolling in with a welcome face that says, lift up your head, your hands…and your heart. Don’t you trust Me? The opposite of fear isn’t confidence…it’s Surrender. 

Disclaimer: My viewpoints are not necessarily reflective of my employer, or any local, regional or national organization that I belong to. As a matter of fact, I pretty much just speak for myself. Please keep that in mind.

1 Comment

  1. Reply

    John Jung

    Excellent observations. Honest assessment of our emotions is the path to freedom.

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