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Aug 22, 2008

Choosing Fear

Several months ago, we did an "Into the Wild" show on the subject, "Fear." Since that time, I have received a flurry of emails and comments about a specific statement I made during the show. There were several people who were offended by my remarks. Most of those who wrote were very polite and considerate, and just wanted clarification as to exactly what I meant. That's what I love about the people in the Free Believers Network; everyone is so loving and relational. I honestly believe that this group of people is the best on the net!

In the podcast and in my teaching series on the subject of fear, I made the statement, "Fear is faith in evil." What caused several people to become upset was when I said, "Fear is a choice." I could see how anyone struggling with fear might not like hearing that because it seems to imply that they brought it on themselves or they deserve it. That is not my intention at all.

First of all, I'd like to say that I am a person who has encountered "panic attacks." I know what it's like to feel like your toes are hanging over the edge of insanity and the world is closing in on you. I've been there. I've locked myself in the bathroom with the lights out and hidden behind the toilet, while shaking uncontrollably. When I speak on this subject, I do so from that perspective. I am literally recounting the steps I took to walk out of that pattern of panic and remain free of it for over three years.

I say all that to inform you that I'm not merely sitting on the sidelines of life, giving blind opinions or making religious judgments on people who struggle with fear. I speak from experience and, for whatever it's worth, what I'm telling you has not only worked for me, but it has worked wonderfully in the lives of hundreds of others. The problem is that some of the truths surrounding the subject of fear are simultaneously hard to hear and downright confrontational. Many people shut down and choose another path because they can't accept some very basic truths about the fabric of this topic.

When I say that fear is a choice, I am amazed that people who are struggling with fear almost immediately see me as their enemy. It amazes me because if I were to say it wasn't a choice, I would be permanently nailing the door of their coffin. If it's not a choice, then there is literally no way out. It's over. Don't waste money on counseling or self-help books because nothing you do will make it any better. I refuse to go there, because it takes away any and all hope for recovery.

Secondly, if I were to say that fear is not a choice, I would be taking away your dignity as a child of God. The thing that separates us from the animal kingdom and makes us in God's image is the fact that we have choice. Elephants don't have choice. You don't see them building apartment buildings and driving around in BMWs. Elephants are the same today as they were 10,000 years ago. Choice is what gives us dignity. When someone commits a terrible crime, we put them in a cage like an animal and we take away choice. We literally reduce that person to an animalistic state for the duration of their stay. Saying that fear is not a choice is directly taking away your dignity. It would be heartless to do such a thing. The very idea of it is degrading.

At any point in life where we reject choice, we degrade ourselves and seal our own coffin. Amazingly, we humans almost always try to declare our lack of choice in just about every sinful thing we do. Alcoholics hide behind the notion that alcoholism is in the DNA of a person (and it's not), rather than embrace choice and take personal responsibility. People in the homosexual lifestyle do the same by declaring that they were "born that way." It's a dismissal of choice. We all do it, to some extent. It becomes more difficult to understand when the very thing we are participating in seems, by all intents and purposes, to be something we despise.

After all, who would choose fear? Who would willingly want to be afraid? The insinuation is offensive because no one in their right mind would do such a thing. No one would willingly call an anxiety attack upon themselves. It's such a horrible experience that you would have to be insane to choose it.

I challenge you to walk into a "Blockbuster" video store and count the number of fear- based movies. Go to an amusement park and find the scariest ride and see how long the line is. Check out the sales numbers of Steven King books or the "Left Behind" collection at Barnes and Noble. We truly are a generation of fear-lovers. We market it because it's one of the bestsellers in the world.

There is a rush that is provided by fear to which we humans have become addicted, and the side-effects destroy our very lives. I have found that in every situation where a person is in fear, it began due to a personal choice made by that same person. I know it sounds heartless and hard to believe, but bear with me.

Many people struggle with the fear of "What if." They imagine the most horrible situations happening in their life and they follow it through to levels of downright absurdity. What if my husband dies in a car crash and I am left alone trying to raise these children with little or no income? What if we can't make our house payment and we lose everything and end up homeless? What if I get cancer and wither away before my children are grown? What if one of my children gets abducted by a wicked person? Any one of these "what ifs" carries enough punch to knock the wind out of the most fearless person on the planet. Anytime we go down the road of "What if," we will inevitably become filled with fear.

I remember as a child I lived in a huge house in Kansas City. We had a fully-finished basement where we spent most of our family time. At night, my parents would ask me to go down into the basement and make sure everything was cleaned up for the next day. I remember looking down the stairwell that lead to the basement and seeing the stairs disappear into total darkness. The picture of that alone is enough to terrify just about anyone. I would sit at the top of those stairs and think to myself, "What's down there waiting for me at the bottom? Could it be a monster? Maybe an escaped criminal is waiting to attack me. Could there be a ghost down there? What's down there?"

Before I knew it, I would become paralyzed with fear. I couldn't even walk down those stairs because I had worked myself up so much. I had imagined every possible scenario and none of them looked good. The thought of going down there and possibly finding Jason from "Friday the Thirteenth" waiting to meet me with a chainsaw in his hand and a hockey mask over his face was enough to petrify me for life. I would stand at the top of the stairs and grip the handrail with both hands, shaking with the terror of "What if."

Then one day I realized that "I" was the one writing the story. "I" was the one filling in the blanks and deciding what was at the bottom of the stairs. The "what ifs" were being written by me and me alone. All I had to do was change the ending. Instead of a murderer being down there, why couldn't I imagine it was a clown riding a unicycle, juggling bowling pins? Instead of Jason with a hockey mask and a chainsaw, why couldn't it be a midget doing cartwheels or a giant butterfly? I found that once I purposefully changed the end of the story, the fear would go away. I basically found that it was my fault. I was the one terrifying myself. The point that I want to make is that WE are the writers of the "What-if story." There's a little Steven King in every one of us. The end of the "What-if" story doesn't happen by accident; it's a choice that we make.

The other point I want to make concerning the subject of fear is one that will perhaps be even more upsetting and offensive than the first. The Bible says that perfect love drives out fear. Perfect love is self-LESS-ness. Fear is selfishness. Love drives out fear because the two cannot coexist. They have nothing to do with one another. I have found that the root of fear is SELF PROTECTION or an over-intensive focus on oneself.

Think about this for a moment. I challenge you to look at your biggest fears and ask yourself if they all pertain to what you might look like in a certain situation, or what hardship might come upon you if this or that happened. The moment we become overly-focused on ourselves, one of two things usually occur: we become fearful or we become depressed.

I understand that many people believe that fear can be a good thing, but I couldn't disagree more. All fear as we know it is BAD. The popular argument I hear from people is, "What about fear of a poisonous snake or of fire; isn't that a healthy fear?" That's not fear, that's wisdom. I don't refrain from jumping into the campfire because I'm afraid; I don't do it because I have half a brain cell. It's common sense. It has nothing to do with fear. If I were afraid of the campfire, I wouldn't even get close to it and that's not the case. I don't put my bare face in front of a rattlesnake because I'm afraid of what might happen. I don't do it because I know what will happen. Wisdom and fear are two totally different things and the moment we connect the two together, we are not only inviting fear into our lives, but are rewarding ourselves for having it. We do this with love, as well. When mother sits in fear all night, terrified that you might get into a car accident, she blames it on her intense love for you. She connects love to fear. Once we think like that, there is no escape from fear because we've beautified it, justified it and religified it.

Because of these exchanges of terms, I believe that our modern-day understanding has become watered down. We no longer see it for what it is. We don't comprehend the seriousness or the terribleness of it. In fact, in many cases, we coddle and nurture it. We find ourselves feeling sorry for people who are in fear rather than insisting they take a stand and choose another path. We no longer see fear as sin, but we see it as something that comes upon us and overpowers us. We refuse to accept any personal responsibility in the matter. We see ourselves as victims of fear rather than perpetrators.

And so the problem continues to grow and the results intensify year after year, until we find ourselves in our present state. It's a sad time when everyone in our society has intimate knowledge of all the latest names of pharmaceutical drugs used to treat anxiety. Never before has this been the case in America. Our fear level is at an all-time high. The Bible says that the day will come when men's hearts fail them because of fear. I truly believe that day is now!

In our recent podcast, my wife and I talked about how we don't allow our children to be afraid. We actually "get after them" when they go into fear. As you can imagine, that sparked some controversy among some of our listeners. It sounds absolutely heartless if you hold to the newly-created understanding of what fear is. If you see it in the light of truth, however, it's not heartless at all. We treat fear like we would treat any other sinful behavior in our children. We take it seriously.

When the Israelites were about to enter the Promised Land, and fear broke out inside the camp, we didn't see God running to them and holding them while stroking their hair and telling them it's okay to be afraid. We didn't see God installing a nightlight in each tent to comfort them when they got the jitters. What we see is astounding. He lead over three million people back out into the wilderness and waited patiently for every one of them to die so He could later bring their children into the land He promised their fathers. Once the Israelites put their faith in evil (which is what fear is), they literally tied God's hands. There was nothing more that God could do for them. It's that serious! It's important to understand that the wilderness experience was NOT God's way of punishing the Israelites for being fear. That's not the point. The point is that fear puts us in the wilderness; not God.

Understand that up until this time, the Israelites grumbled against God and Moses, made a golden calf and worshiped it, indulged themselves in revelry and sin, and maintained a constant disposition of faithlessness and ungratefulness towards God. After all of this, God was still leading them to the Promised Land. The moment they all became afraid, however, it was over. Fear was the one thing that kept that entire generation from possessing what God had for them. Make no mistake about it. Fear is a terrible sin and it destroys everything in its path!

I understand that many people have been raised in a home of fear. They were abused and tormented and fear was used to get results. Please understand that this article is NOT written for the purpose of heartlessly telling you to buck up and get your act together. Don't take it that way! The purpose of this article is to give the power back to you. You have the ability to choose to walk out of fear. It may take a long time to do so, but it's important for you to know that it's within your ability to do it. The problem is that many of us who have been raised in a world of fear, believe that we are victims and we have no control. Not true!

We take it very seriously in our home and we simply will not tolerate it with our children. As a result, our children rarely become afraid of anything. It's almost comical when they have friends over to spend the night, because their friends are begging us for a nightlight and my kids can't understand why. I have found that fear is a lot like confidence. No amount of coddling or baby-talk encouragement will make a lick of difference because it's entirely a person's choice. They choose to be afraid or they choose not to be afraid. Our faith is a very precious and powerful thing and it matters where we choose to place it.

Children choose to play nicely and get along with others or they choose not to. In our house when they choose not to, we make certain there are consequences to that choice. We put them in "time out," because they are choosing not to get along with others. The same is true for fear. If they choose it, we confront it like any other sin.

We talk sternly to them about it so that they immediately get the sense that what they are doing is wrong and it carries with it serious consequences. We do NOT snuggle them and tell them, "It's okay to be afraid." That's rewarding fear. We don't let them climb into bed with mommy and daddy or place a nightlight in their room because they're afraid of the dark. Responding in that way is openly justifying their fears. You are, in effect, telling them that they have a good reason to be afraid of the dark and they need a light. When parents let their children hop in bed with them, they're communicating that whatever it was they were afraid of was something worthy of fear and sleeping with mommy and daddy is the answer. It's just not a good idea.

Are there exceptions to how we deal with this? Of course there are. If we are in a strange place and there's a fierce lightning-and-thunderstorm all around, we'll let our kids sleep in our room, but we still tell them "You're not allowed to be afraid." Some things you just have to understand, and we're careful to do just that. Also it's important that you understand, once again, the difference between fear and wisdom. If my child is nervous about riding a skateboard down a steep hill, that's wisdom, not fear. What we are passionate about is confronting irrational fears with our children.

The other dangerous aspect of today's misunderstanding on fear is when religious people say that we are supposed to be afraid of God. When the Bible talks about the fear of the Lord, it's not in any way saying that we should be afraid of God. I have another post already up that deals with this subject, so I'll just refer you to that one if you'd like to hear more. The point is that rather than take personal responsibility and exude self- control, people religiousize their fear of God and pat themselves on the back. This is a bad thing. It makes intimacy with the Father not only unlikely, but impossible.

As much as my heart desires to reinstate the true meaning and power of words like love, grace, believe and Church, I also have a deep desire to expose the true nature of other watered-down subjects, such as fear. I believe that this generation has a view of fear that is totally watered down. People fail to see the seriousness of being in fear. We no longer have an authentic understanding of its power to destroy and, worse yet, many have lost sight of our personal power to overcome and destroy it. My heart's desire is to put that power back into the hands of the people and let them know that they are in control. This isn't happening to them. It's their choice.

It's one of many ways in which The Free Believers Networks is seeking to restore dignity and hope to a generation of people who have been influenced by institutionalism.

Darin Hufford

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    Eric Coleman

    This is eye opening. Thanks. I'll pass it along.

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    I like how you begin by 1st explaining you've personally struggled w/ fear. I actually did a blog on Fear too, called "Overcoming Fear" on 8/12/08. Feel free to check it out! As you know, I LIVED in fear in my past. So I wrote/spoke it from personal experience. I love your stmnt: "The 'what ifs' were being written by me and me alone. All I had to do was change the ending. I found that once I purposefully changed the end of the story, the fear would go away. I basically found that it was my fault. I was the one terrifying myself." Doing "what-ifs" is living in the future & can actually create a negative future. Life is living in the present. God's security is in the here & now. Dead-on that fear is selfish. TRUSTING in God's love casts out fear.

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    Karen (So Cal)

    Awesome post Darin! I couldn't agree more. It is our choice. Unfortunately we are blind to realise we have a choice. I always thought whatever feelings I felt just came along and I had no control over them. We are in control. God wants us to be in control, to be self-controlled. He wants us to put our faith in what is true and the truest thing there is is LOVE. His unconditonal love and acceptantce of us that is not dependent on our behavior, that even in the midst of our selfishness and self-focusedness and fear, is right there for will always set us free. His love is so much stronger than our fears. Our fears are just our own illusions, like you said, of faith in evil.

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    Karen (So Cal)

    On balance I would also say that those of us who have struggled with fear have also not understood who we truly are and what the Father's heart is towards us, so we are in selfprotection mode and have trust issues. We have to know that we are safe and secure to fully be who we are in Love. thanks again Darin for speaking truth.....karen

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    I will never forget a few years ago when I read in Romans "Whatever is not from faith is sin"...God illuminated my mind and my spirit in that moment. Needless to say, I completely agree.

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    Katherine Gunn

    Hmm... I understand what you are saying and I agree with it as far as it goes. But there are other things in childhood that can birth fear besides imagination. Some children's reality is enough to cause fear in he stoutest of hearts. I would be interested to hear your thoughts on the subject when abuse is a factor.

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    I agree Katherine. That was my thought exactly. All that read this are not healthy due to abuse. They have been a student of fear there whole life and even if it wasn't meant to be, it would be taken as condemning.

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    I think Darin went out of his way not to sound condemning. Although I agree this is not something everyone will be ready to hear. I'm struggling with absorbing it myself. I went through an abusive childhood where fear was set up like a giant totem pole in the middle of the house. I could write a book on being conditioned to fear and I still struggle to get free of it. Which is why I need straight-shooting words like this. Darin you're right - if we don't have a choice then it's the nail in our own coffin.

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    I also wanted to add that taking these words is much easier from someone who loves the people he ministers to the way you do, Darin. I've been subjected to many condemning teachings on sins by teachers who I sensed no love from at all. They didn't help one bit, they just made me feel worse.

  10. Gravatar

    This message was right on time for me. There have been times when I wake in the middle of the night in a panic because of what-ifs. My husband named it when he called it voicemail from hell. Once the fear is disarmed and replaced with trust it no longer controls. It may take a few battles but in the end, the love of God wins.

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    Isaac Horton

    This brought up a lot of conversation between my wife and I in regard to our own children (ages 4 & 1). Yesterday, I read a chapter called "The God We Love to Fear" from Wayne Jacobsen's book, which dovetails perfectly with that.
    Now we can enjoy even more sweet freedom!
    It's a pretty hard concept to grasp though when you've been raised with fear, but as parent I think when we realized that teaching children that fear and relationship go hand in hand we are setting them up for a life time of bad choices.

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    Darin, thanks so much for posting this. I was trying to tell my friends and family about our phone conversation, but I couldn't remember everything. Now I'll just forward this to them.
    What you shared has been the impetus to the chains falling off. I feel like I'm coming back to life. Thank you!!

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    Queen Ester

    Thanks Daren for this post.I too have known real fear since early childhood, because my grandparent would tell us horrible folktales at bedtime, that was her way of carryong on "oral tradition"I would be so petrified ,that I couldn't even walk to the bathroom at nights, it was horrible.It was not until I was grown and really reached out to the Lord, that I was finally set free.But I was taught that fear is a spirit,now I know that it's a choice.

  14. Gravatar
    Darin Hufford

    thanks Tina. You made an impression on me as well. Call me anytime. I'd love to talk again soon.

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    I think what kept me in 30 years of abusive and sick relationships with people was my deep fear of abandonment. What freed me from that was when I decided that what was good and right was more important than my fear of being alone and unloved. It was at that moment I started becoming free and felt empowered in life once again. I still have that fear inside of me. I still feel the pains of being alone and rejected by those I have dearly loved. But I also feel a sense of power and control back in my life. And I refuse to go back and cater to my fear once again. I may feel afraid and alone, but at least I know I am alive, if not for the first time. Thank you for that truth that hurts so good, Darin.

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    Thanks Darin. I agree with all you said here. I am the queen of the 'what ifs'. It has become a habit that I must undo.

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    Good stuff. Hard to do when a lot of bad stuff has happened in your life and the light at the end of the tunnel is always another train to run you over. But somehow God's love has to take the fear out of it even when bad stuff does happen.

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    Megan green

    Thanks! This is great! I know God is showing me my fear and I'm starting to realise that living with fear means a life of mediocrity. Living life with God driven passion means not being afraid to lose your life, not living to protect your life, but living an impactful life. The world is a better place because of people who have lived like this! I want to be this type of person! Thank you for your encouragement.
    Luv Megan

  19. Gravatar
    Patti Caya

    this is excellent. Expound on it and write a book. The Misunderstood God book changed my perspective on many things. This reminds me of it. Thanks Darin

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