Regaining a Sense of Safety
Defeating False Evidence Appearing Real
I suffer from various fears, and always have. Most of us do in this obviously-fallen world, at least to some extent. Yet one thing I’ve come to realize is that all fear has, as its source, a single foundation:
A threat to safety.
My sense of safety has been destroyed. The reasons for this would be too long to describe, and they hardly matter. It’s the resulting emotion—fear—that’s the important point.
I have no safety, no place I can truly feel at ease or at home, and this creates a tremendous amount of inner turmoil and anxiety.
I have no safe place any longer—or do I?
The word “fear” is often cited as an acronym for False Evidence Appearing Real. This is a great description for toxic fear, the type that damages the spirit rather than keeping it safe. In the Summa Theologiae, St. Thomas Aquinas points out that “all fear arises from love … thus the covetous man fears the loss of money, the intemperate man the loss of pleasure, and so on. But the greatest fear of all is that which has the danger of death for its object.”
He makes an excellent point. We may fear losing our job, but most often it’s not the job itself we’re truly afraid of losing but the income it generates. We’re afraid of losing our income because we’re afraid we won’t be able to pay our bills. If we can’t pay our bills, we could lose our home and not have enough money for food. If we can’t shelter ourselves from the weather or nourish our bodies, we’ll suffer and perhaps eventually die of exposure or starvation.
Yet who defeated death?
Fear has a tendency to eliminate joy, replacing it with restlessness and dismay. It’s also, I’ve come to realize, part of original sin.
When we think about the story of Adam, Eve, and the crafty serpent, the sin that’s most often discussed is that of pride. Adam and Eve wanted to be like God instead of obeying Him, so they ate the forbidden fruit.
That’s pride, right?
Yes, but … What was behind the pride?
You guessed it—fear.
Fear of inadequacy. Fear of not having enough knowledge. Fear of being less-than. And later, after the original sin, the action that compounded our first parents’ situation was that of being afraid of God’s judgment, which caused them to foolishly try to hide from their loving Creator.
And, as we know, the result of their sin was death.
As well as the introduction of fear into God’s Paradise.
Fear is a lack of trust in God. If I completely trusted Him, and trusted He’ll take care of me—always and everywhere—what would I have to fear? “Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?” (Matt. 6:26)
This all leads back to one topic I write about often: surrender to God. Complete and total submission. Just let Him be (Ps. 46:10). Get out of the way and allow Him to take over. That’s actually a powerful breathing prayer I often use during times of high anxiety. To soothe my nervous system—and to help me return to a Christ-centered mindset—I slowly and deeply inhale while internally praying, “Jesus.” On the long, slow exhale the phrases I most often use are “You handle this,” “You take over,” or “You’ve got this.”
It only takes a few prayer-breaths before peace takes root inside my body, obliterating anxiety—at least for the time being. I simply repeat the prayer as often as I need, as often as I fall into the same fear trap. Mercifully, Jesus is quite patient with us fallen humans.
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.”
And now I’ve come full-circle, back again to a sense of safety. What is permanent safety in this world? Where is that safe place, the one place I can truly feel at ease?
If I can’t feel at ease within myself, I can’t feel at ease anywhere in the world. And the only way to feel at ease within myself is not to cling to an earthly place, as if somewhere or even someone will protect me indefinitely.
Lasting safety only comes when I lay myself in the palm of God’s hand (Isa. 49:16)
St. Thomas Aquinas also points out that “hope is of good that is obtainable.” God, who is Hope (and Faith, and Love) is mercifully obtainable—to the degree that we allow Him to enter into our lives and our souls, healing and nourishing and keeping us safe in His embrace. “On the other hand,” St. Thomas continues, “fear is of an evil that does not lie in our own power: and consequently the evil which is feared is always from an extrinsic cause.”
I can’t coerce safety into existing in a corruptible world; I can’t change the universe or eradicate the results of original sin. If I rely on fear, I’m relying on something other than hope. In other words, I’m relying on something other than God.
In order to readjust our thoughts and emotions, in order to truly heal, we must lean into God. And really, in this life, that’s all we need to do.
His left arm is under my head, His right embraces me.
(Song of Songs 2:6)
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