What are You Really Afraid of?

What are You Really Afraid of?

“Courage and cowardice are antithetical. Courage is an inner resolution to go forward in spite of obstacles and frightening situations; cowardice is a submissive surrender to circumstance. Courage breeds creative self-affirmation; cowardice produces destructive self-abnegation. Courage faces fear and thereby masters it; cowardice represses fear and is thereby mastered by it. Courageous men never lose the zest for living even though their life situation is zestless; cowardly men, overwhelmed by the uncertainties of life, lose the will to live.” – Martin Luther King, Jr. Strength to Love.

Monotony suffocates. For those who struggle with depression, the day-in day-out drudgery of performing the same mundane tasks is more than wearisome, it’s unbearable. Those who have not experienced the tentacles of despair are fortunate. They do not know the slow and gasping breaths that accompany hopelessness.

So I had to stop and pause when I read the news of Chris Cornell’s death yesterday. I needed to process not only his sad and untimely passing, but his life. I considered his family and friends, some of whom might be learning of life without him from the cold and unfriendly pages of the internet. The vast unfairness of it took my breath away.

When someone takes their own life, their final choice ripples across the waters of their personal community, but when a person of status or renown commits suicide, we all respond. Depression sympathizers will emerge to philosophize on the kindnesses of ending our unbearable suffering. Doctors will promote the use of newer and better medications to ease said suffering. Laymen will lament and mourn, and maybe even justify the act. They can detachedly grieve an art form, an idea. But the people close to that individual bear the brunt of that pain, the never ending throb for a heart that no longer beats.

I was stuck in traffic on my way home Monday night when it occurred to me how much I detest foolishness. It seemed to me that the careless set themselves behind the steering wheel of vehicles and then propagate their idiocy on hapless victims. The result is the ineffable car accident and the enigmatic traffic jam. As I passed the damaged vehicle and emergency personnel—all of which were in the right hand lane and not obstructing the direct flow of traffic—I wondered why everyone was slowing down to look and to watch. Is foolishness contagious? Couldn’t people see their nosey behavior was slogging up the highway? I wanted to holler out of the window, “Yes, there is a banged up car on the side of the road. Move along! There’s nothing to see here!” Alas, I bit my lip and pushed on the gas pedal.

It happened again on Tuesday night. Same highway. Different accident. Same traffic response. I was seriously considering buying a bullhorn to direct traffic myself, all the while I echoing Charlie Brown, “Good grief!”

So when it happened on Wednesday night too, I was livid. I had just about had it up to here with sitting in a hot car trying not to fall asleep on a drive that was taking exponentially longer than it should have. For the love of all that is holy, what in the world is wrong with people?!

Ahem!

But I do realize human beings are by nature curious. They want to know and understand, but not necessarily because they sincerely care about the injured parties. Their curiosity stems from a deeper desire to better understand themselves because of what they have seen. For those who have experienced car accidents, they begin to process their own pain once again. For example, my mother cannot bear to see an accident on the side of the road because her mother was killed in an accident. I grew up under the stigma of that and have the same reaction to a point. It seems that we are all processing the events around us in correlation to ourselves. And that is why a depressed person pauses when they see that another seemingly depressed person has taken their life. They silently wonder, what would happen if I did that?

Those questions can lead to very dark places but are nevertheless important because we must face our fears in order to find the courage to overcome them.

I have been reading a very good book by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. called Strength to Love. In it he discusses the disciplines required to love our neighbors well. Today at lunch I encountered the chapter titled, “Antidotes for Fear.” And for the first time I came to understand just how afraid I really am of so many things. At various points in my life I have fantasized about committing suicide. How would people respond? For the people I loved I wondered, would they miss me? For the people who hurt me, would they be sorry? But I never actually processed the fact that the reason I had so little regard for my own life is because I was afraid.

The reasons for my fear are deep and wide and I won’t digress this time. But needless to say, Dr. King did give me an antidote to my despair. He showed me that when I am afraid I can be courageous. I can face my fears with love.

He uses a bible verse to backup this statement,

    “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” I John 4:18

Many people fear religion because of their bad experiences with hypocrites—people who claim to follow Jesus but disobey his commands and treat their fellow humans poorly. Hatred is born out of this fear. But the God of the Bible I read is a God of love. He continually pours out his love to people who repeatedly reject him. If a wife repeatedly cheated on her husband, he would eventually grow tired of her infidelities and divorce her. But God loved us so much he sent an invitation in the form of his son. God then heaped all of our sin on him and punished him instead so we would not have to fear him any longer for rejecting him. We no longer have to be afraid; we can simply accept God’s love by embracing the free gift of His grace—which was purchased at a terribly high price.

This kind of love gives me courage. So when I think about Chris Cornell and the darkness he faced a few nights ago, it is not without tears. I have faced that darkness and it is brutal. The difference between myself and him is that he lost hope. He caved in to his fears. How I wish he could have read the words of the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. “Hatred and bitterness can never cure the disease of fear; only love can do that. Hatred paralyses life; love releases it. Hatred confuses life; love harmonizes it. Hatred darkens life; love illumines it.”

If you are reading this, you still have an opportunity to counteract your fear with courage. You are able to look into the void and know a light can shine there. You can cry out for love, and banish fear and the ensuing hatred that grows out of it. All is not lost. As you pass by the car accident on the side of the road and consider how best to respond, pause and ask yourself the hard questions, “What are you really afraid of?” And then apply the antidote: you are loved!

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