The name for this blog comes from the Hebrew word merchab. Merchab is a masculine noun that appears most often in the Psalms of the Hebrew Scriptures. It means a broad or roomy place, an expansive place, a wide place. Read more...

April 1, 2009

The Fear Response

I received an email today that contained a beautiful line of deep spiritual insight. With the writer's permission, the line and my response are posted below.

"I'm trying to let go of my tight, clutching, fear response to life and adopt a gentle approach."

This is probably the only real lesson there is on the spiritual journey. Everything else is window dressing.

For me the key to getting past the “tight, clutching, fear response to life,” is simply being aware. I need to see the "clutching, fear response" when it comes. I need to recognize it in my body, learning the feel of it and then, not judging it, but going to a different place in my body. I think this is really a physical process before it is a mental process.

We cannot think our way out of the "clutching, fear response." We just need to recognize the tightness and then affirm that there is a place within ourselves that knows better and is stronger and more real. When we can get in touch with that wiser, deeper place in our being, we will respond differently.

For me, finding this deeper place means taking a deep breath, choosing not to disassociate myself from whatever is going on, staying present with whatever is happening, holding my ground where I am, feeling my feet on the floor or the weight of my body in the chair. It means intentionally choosing to relax my shoulders, my hands, the muscles around my face. It means looking out from my eyes with openness and receptivity instead of caution, uncertainty, doubt, and fear.

In our service this morning we read Psalm 46. The whole Psalm evokes this strong, steady, open place so beautifully. The key in the Psalm is that this strength does reside within us. We are not in any real danger. The Psalmist says, “God is in the midst of the city; it shall not be moved.” (46:5) I see myself as “the city,” with God in the depths of my being. Therefore I “shall not be moved.” I do not need to be tossed about, pushed this way and that way by every breeze that blows past. What could possibly hurt me? “The nations are in an uproar, the kingdoms totter; he utters his voice, the earth melts.” (46:6) God in me is my “refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” (46:1) There is nothing to fear!

The external forces that pound against my life, only have power over me to the degree that I give them power. I don’t know why I would spend my life giving power over my life to people, events, or circumstances that occur outside myself. Why would I allow someone’s opinion of me, or their words to me, or the way they look at me cause me to close down and become rigid? This “clutching, fear response,” is simply a learned automatic reaction. I can program into my being a different more life-giving response.

Sitting in silent prayer has so much to do with this. It is such an important discipline. Twice a day for twenty minutes, I choose to let go over and over of all those external forces that in the past I have allowed to control my life. Instead, I intentionally rest in that steady place of strength that is my true nature and is the gift of God’s Spirit dwelling in me.

I think, the more I am in that place in prayer, the easier it is for me to find it in the hurly burly of daily life. Then, when I am confronted with some external force that would normally cause me to tense up and retreat I can stand my ground and flow out from that peaceful place. Then I don't even really have to "adopt a gentle approach." It is just there, because that place is a gentle place. Gentleness becomes our natural response rather than the defensiveness that has been so habitual. The gentleness is not a product of my discipline. It is a fruit of God’s Spirit dwelling within me. Because I have rested in the presence of the peaceful, gentle Spirit, I live more peacefully and gently.


Rob H said...

The fear response is perhaps another way to express how we do not want to worry and wish to place our trust in God. Yet I tend to believe it is our human nature to want to be in control in areas we have not wandered into before.
To control what we do not understand as in venture to a new situation.
Recently I had to have a procedure requiring a needle to grasp material in my kidney for a biopsy. The procedure was needed so the specialist could know what might be causing the problem. All other tests had yielded nothing of concrete information. It was the right test to do and it was new to me especially as I had never been overnight in a hospital before. I gave it to the Lord and felt at peace yet as the day approached I still found myself questioning the steps once I entered the Hospital, at one level worrying about being in control.

I knew I had to give that control back to God and trust in the people placed in my path.
The sleep for the night before was like wanting to ensure you did not miss the planes takeoff time , in my case the drop off time at the Hospital.
Once at the Hospital, I was on my own so to speak but I ensured the deep peace to comfort me was in control and had to trust during each step for my medical procedure.
Confined to a bed and not to move for 24 hours was tough but staff looked after me and yet I was still wondering about body functions. Is this still wanting a bit of control, perhaps or is it more about being forthright in knowing we are human and information helps to the unknown.
I certainly had a peace and knew God and the people he placed around me was in charge.

I guess each day He challenges me and I do need to let his peace work within me so I do go forward COMFORTED.
Hopefully I can toss the next fear and the next aside as I continue to grow.

It is interesting how though we walk though a fear, if it is in Gods grace we are then we actually give peace to those around us who love us and are fearfull of what might happen to us.

Christopher Page said...


Thank you for this lovely comment.

This morning I read a statement that, "In order to experience fearlessness, it is necessary to experience fear. The essence of cowardice is not acknowledging the reality of fear."

This is so helpful to me and I think is similar to what you have said. Fearlessness is not never feeling afraid. Fearlessness is seeing our fear and moving through it in trust and confidence that we are held. Whatever happens we are going to be ok. We are not alone. We have not been abandoned. We still have within us an inner strength and peace that not even the most frightening circumstances can take from us.

And I love your observation that when we walk through a fear with God's grace, we can give peace to those we love.

Last night in our service/study at the church we read a line in Richard Rohr's book Everything Belongs in which he says something like, the greatest gift a parent can give their child is to show the child that deep inner place where they do not need to be afraid. I love that idea. Parents can demonstrate to their children that there is an inner strength, an inner security, an inner place of peace where the world is not terrifying and where we can rest secure and strong.

May we all rest and trust in that place that is God's presence within.