I’ve made no secret of my dislike for the term, disability. I use it because I don’t want what I’m saying to get lost behind needless offense, but I’ve long felt that the word, handicapped, is more accurate. The charge that it refers to begging with cap in hand is false. Disability is not necessarily inaccurate. Whatever the condition that has earned us that label does take away some measure of ability. But if we say a machine or function is disabled, we mean that it doesn’t function any longer. A handicap on the other hand is just an impediment. It does not disable us. It only makes it harder in some way for us to win. It doesn’t stop us from winning.
I’ll get off that soap box now, and I will keep using the word disability lest nothing else be heard because I really wrote this to talk about a condition that can really disable us needlessly. I have discovered it to be more profoundly disabling than almost any physical state in which we might find ourselves. It denies us opportunities we would have otherwise had. It paralyzes us more surely than any accident or disease. That condition is fear. The worst thing about it is that we can choose to conquer it but often choose instead to embrace it.
Fear is a God-given emotion just like all the others. It is given to us as protection. To have absolutely no fear is not bravery but foolishness. The problem with it, just like any emotion, is when we allow it to control us. If we allow fear to displace reason; if we allow it to become the sole motivator of our action or lack thereof, then it turns from protector to jailer. And it is a cruel master.
I want to write about it because I have seen it play a devastating role in the lives of people facing disability but it is certainly not limited to us. The opportunities lost to its clutches are too many to count. Careers that could have taken off never launch. Relationships that could have bloomed were never seeded. God-given talents never saw the light of day. It is a tragic waste.
For those of us with disabilities, fear has more weapons at its disposal. It’s easier to believe we cannot accomplish what we want to, especially when the world around us agrees! Few will argue with us if we say, “I can’t do that.” Additional dangers do exist. We might fall. We might get lost. We might fail for any number of reasons beyond those confronting people without additional challenges. Or, just maybe, we’ll succeed! One thing is certain. We cannot succeed if we never try.
Fear isolates us and then feeds on the isolation. In the absence of other perspectives, our own distorted view grows. Perversely we also become afraid to share it. Alone and immobilized by unseen and possibly actual demons, all that we might be is locked away and hidden even from ourselves.
Fear has a nasty habit of growing beyond its proper boundaries. There are real dangers to us, but often we magnify them. One weapon in the fight against fear is reason. Evaluate the real danger. I know people who should be working for the DHS. They are experts at imagining the worst possible scenario for any given situation. It’s good to be aware, but apply some perspective to the situation. How likely is it to actually happen? Some risks are worth taking. If it does happen, how bad is it really? Chances are highly in your favor that the worst won’t happen, and that what does happen is quite survivable. If you fall, you may hurt yourself, but you’ll probably live. You might need help getting up, but there’s no shame in that. None of us gets through life without help from time to time.
If I cross the street, I might get hit, but I can minimize the chances of that by paying attention to my surroundings and obeying the traffic signals. It would be a pretty limited life if I refused to ever cross a street because I might not see an oncoming vehicle. I did get tapped once. It didn’t even knock me down. There have been other close calls, but I refuse to be bound by fear.
If I go to a new place, I might get lost. So what! As my wife is fond of saying, the world is round. I’ll get there eventually. I’ve been lost before. I consider it an opportunity for my own little adventure. There’s a sense of accomplishment that comes with finding my way again. And yes, if I must, I’ll ask for directions.
I don’t mean to say that I have conquered fear. There are risks that logically I know I must take to move forward that I am not yet willing to take. Sometimes we do get hurt, and fear of repeating the experience can be more devastating than the direct cause of the pain. Sometimes it is difficult to separate reasonable fears from the unreasonable. Most of us prefer the safer path.
If you are struggling with fear, there are practical strategies for overcoming it that you can turn up with a little research. There is no shame in asking for the help you need. I want to help you find the best weapons for winning the fight. They are available at any time, any place, and at no monetary cost. They come from one source, and there is none other so worthy of your trust.
That source is Jesus. If you don’t believe in Him, you may be tempted to stop here. You thought you might get some real insight and now I want to talk religion! I hope you’ll be willing to stick with me a little longer. I know that what I’m saying is the truth. I can’t in good conscience leave Him out. There is nothing else I can give you that can compare. The rest of what I have to say comes from a Christian perspective. It’s the only one I know. Can one succeed without it? The answer depends on your measure of success. I challenge you to examine the principles by which true success is achieved and to look beyond the temporal to the eternal. I won’t walk you through a ritual here, but I’d be delighted to talk to you if you want to know more about having a relationship with the God of the universe. It’s an awesome thing that He makes a way for us to do that!
So begins the exploration of faith. That word will mean different things depending on who you ask. The skeptic associates it with a belief in things which cannot be proven and possibly are not true. They may treat it as synonymous with religion or subdivision thereof. Faith in this form may or may not exist at all for them. The skeptic believes or thinks he believes only what can be proven. I confess that in many aspects of life I am among the skeptics. I don’t consider my faith all that strong. Now I’m using the word more specifically, I’ll come to that next. My faith in God comes as much from the faithfulness I have already seen from Him as it does from that which I have not seen.
Even among Christians you will find some radically different views on the meaning of faith. Some treat it as if it were some magical power. Obtain for yourself enough of it and you can rearrange the geography of the planet! Jesus did say that a very little faith is powerful enough to move mountains (Matthew 17:20,) but to understand that statement properly we need to consider everything else He said. That’s another topic, but I want to dispense with that view of faith so that we can consider it in a more personal and practical light.
That is, the trust that it implies. Some have called faith the opposite of fear. I disagree with that for reasons that will become apparent, but it is easy to come to that conclusion. One could do worse. When we trust someone, we are not afraid when we are with them. We believe that they will protect us and not harm us. When we trust in human beings, we will inevitably be let down at some point, but when we trust in God, we can be assured that even though we may not understand why He allowed something to happen, He means to bring out the best for us from it. That kind of trust is not easy to attain because of our limited perspective. Why suffering occurs in the first place is another topic for another day, but when we trust the creator of all things, we need not fear anything that may come our way. If we know him, the worst possible outcome still ends in eternal life with Him.
That is the hope that we have. It is a real hope, not a mere wish, which is what we often reduce the word to in modern language. We know the God of our salvation. What is there to fear? Calamity may befall us, but it cannot destroy us. We can take risks, because our reward is assured. We can dare to love, because His love never fails.
That is why I say that love is fear’s true opposite. In the Bible, John the disciple of Jesus puts it this way.
There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love. (John 4:18 NKJV)
We will do things for love that we will not do for any other reason. Love overwhelms fear because it demands action. Love inspires trust, because we do not fear the ones whom we know to truly love us. When that one is The One, what or who would we fear?
1Yahweh is my light and my salvation;
whom shall I fear?
Yahweh is the refuge of my life;
of whom shall I be afraid? (Psalm 27:1 LEB)
Jesus tells us that we do not need to be afraid. This is a message spoken to His disciples just before he would be arrested and crucified. He speaks of the coming Holy Spirit, who lives in all who call Him Lord.
“Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful.” (John 14:27 NASB)
Because He loves us, we can trust Him. Because He loves us, we can love Him. In that trust and love we can find the courage to conquer fear and be all that He meant for us to be.