Look at the girl in this picture with her 'butcher's wife arms', strong legs and love of accessories. She's probably wearing one of the summer dresses her grandmother made her. 22-inches all the way down. (See my last post for an explanation!) Little has changed in the 40-odd years since––I'm still sporting those shapely arms and legs, and swinging my necklaces. Many MANY years ago, this little girl took herself off to study for a degree in Human Psychology. Given my fairly tenuous hold on reality, this may or may not have been a good decision, but I did learn a few useful things whilst I was there!
One of the things I studied was fear. One of the things I experienced... was fear.
I learned that fear is an emotional reaction to a perceived threat that results in changes in brain and organ function, as well as behaviour. It is well known by scientists as well as us more 'ordinary people' that emotions aren't just 'feelings'. Fear might cause us to hide, run away, ('fight-or-flight') or stop dead in our tracks. It might occur as a result of a conflict, as a result of avoiding a threat, or as a result of a discovery.
No one who has lived a life lives without being wounded, and in order to keep moving forward––to keep living––we all make concessions. For example, we may avoid particularly tricky situations, be circumspect in our relationships, use drugs, alcohol or food as a medication to cope, or cling to a sense of control. Whilst these compromises can work, at some point they may stop being effective, or we realise they just aren't worth what they cost.
This grainy, 1970s photograph shows a five-year-old me on the secondhand swing my dad had recently cleaned up and painted, and installed in our back garden. I loved that swing and I loved that garden. We all know that feeling of freedom we can experience when on a swing. Launching back, lurching forward, cutting through the air as you thrust out your legs, the wind whipping through your hair as you glide higher than the trees.
Euphoria and fear combined.
The garden in the photograph was situated at the back of the house where we lived for some of the time my dad was a policeman. The house was a police house; properties were specifically built in the 1930s and 1940s to house the village bobby or community police officer. Ours was typical for its time, standing on a corner plot in a housing estate, and conveniently near a primary school, my first school. I still remember fondly the dog rose and flowering redcurrant bush at the front of the house.
It's fair to say that we moved house a lot when I was younger, so my specific reminiscences about each home are a little muddled. But this garden I really loved. It was a long, wild garden, with only the area closest to the house mown so that we could sit in chairs or paddle in the inflatable paddling pool. Or use the swing. Down at the bottom of the garden the grass was left long and, in places, it was taller than me. I loved to sit in the grass as it towered above me, hidden (or so I thought) and safe. I remember that hot summer of '77––fortunately not as scorching as the hot summer of '76 when the UK endured a heatwave and drought, and was struck by a plague of ladybirds. Does anyone else remember that? (Coincidentally, that was also the summer during which my brother was born. Sympathy extended to any woman who laboured in that heat!) No, this was '77, (when my mother was pregnant with her third baby) and still hundreds and hundreds of seven-spotted ladybirds landed on the shrubs in our garden. I loved ladybirds! I'd let them run all over my tanned hands and arms, picking them up between my stubby, grubby, nail-bitten fingers, and letting them run again. I can still smell the distinctive scent of ladybird. I always thought it was because I squashed them, but I've since learned that they do something called 'reflex bleed' where they excrete a yellow chemical from their knees (yes, their knees) known as Isopropyl Methoxy Pyrazine, which is toxic to other insects and some animals. And they probably weren't biting me since the hot weather had also caused a surge in aphids for the ladybirds to feed on, but my son tells me that a ladybird bite, especially from the very brightly-coloured ones, is actually poisonous although only mildly irritating to humans. Thankfully. Otherwise I'd be dead.
In that space, in that hot garden with its wild jungle grass and 'dangerous' swarming predators, I was free. There was no fear. No worry. No schemes. No urgency. Nothing weighing me down. Just stillness and rest. Through those snapshot memories, all I see is a little girl with skinned knees and a tan, hiding in the cooler grass with her ladybirds. To me, that epitomises bliss. It might actually be the last time I ever remember feeling completely free. There have been many times in my life since when I've wished I could go back to that time in that garden with its long grass. Simpler times. Fearless times.
Those were the days when I could sing 'The Sun Has Got His Hat On' and believe it. It was a song my dad would sing as he skipped along with me slung around his shoulders, and I remember I would sing it in the school playground whenever the sun peeped through those English clouds. And it's from those days that I have my most striking revelations of freedom.
Imagine a beautiful English spring day. It was such a day when my dad picked me up from school on his motorbike. My favourite memory plays out in slow motion as he carefully popped me on the seat in front of him, I stretched my arms to reach the handlebars, and we rode slowly (albeit very fast in my memory) homeward. There was a breeze as we travelled down the road, and the pink cherry blossoms tumbled down like confetti as we passed by, getting caught in my hair and swirling in the air around the bike. Freedom. The wind in my hair and the sun on my face. Just a little girl. Such fun.
Was I afraid on that motorbike ride home? Perhaps a little, but I had my dad wrapped round me so that I wouldn't fall off. And the fear gave way to exhilarated freedom. All my life I've longed for a motorbike. These cronky hips wouldn't make it over the seat these days, I'm sure, but still the dream lives on.
Face The Fears
Every time we decide it’s worth it to face our fears, we allow our lives to expand. And with that expansion comes freedom––the freedom to live lives that we value, to share love with others close to us, to face life with all its beauty and uncertainty.
We can decide as often as we need to that freedom is worth more than our fears.
Ambrose Redmoon is credited with saying:
'Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear.'
Freedom is more important than the fear, and stepping out despite the fear ushers in that freedom.
In our shower room at home, I have a framed typographical picture with a definition of the word 'brave'. I see it every time I enter that room, and I need it as a constant reminder. Also at home, we continually remind one another that to be brave you must admit you're afraid and then do it anyway. The 'it' is the thing that you're afraid of, of course. It's like thumbing your nose to the fear. Put another way, to be courageous you must be willing to confront whatever is causing you pain. You can still be brave AND afraid. Courage doesn't negate the fear, but rather it provides a means to combat it. Defeating it with itself, if you will.
To be completely fearless requires acceptance that you can't do it on your own. Recognising the you're afraid confirms you're a normal human being! When you acknowledge the fear, you welcome in an undeniable sense of control over the situation. Perseverance in the face of adversity. And it all begins with acceptance. As a Christian, I believe that true freedom can only be found in Jesus. Jesus and fear can't coexist, they're from opposing sources, and therefore where Jesus is there is no fear. Does that mean that I no longer feel fear? Heck, no. But when I acknowledge the fear, I welcome in an amazing victory. As the Apostle Paul wrote:
'Now, the 'Lord' I’m referring to is the Holy Spirit, and wherever he is Lord, there is freedom. 2 Corinthians 3:17 (TPT)
I believe, because of Jesus, the fear I feel can no longer control me. I may experience the emotion, but I can choose to hand that fear to Him and no longer carry it.
'At last we have freedom, for Christ has set us free! We must always cherish this truth (or 'stand strong') and firmly refuse to go back into the bondage of our past. Galatians 5:1
The antidote to fear is freedom.
Earlier I wrote this: 'Whilst these compromises can work (self-medicating with alcohol, drugs, food, whatever), at some point they may stop being effective, or we realise they just aren't worth what they cost.' The cost is the damage we do to ourselves by not facing our fears at the root. Just as my dad held me securely on that motorbike ride, I have a Father who fights the one who throws fear in my face. I pray you know Him too.
Remember: You are braver than you know. And you are not alone.