F.E.A.R.: Fantasized Experience Appearing Real

The story is told that on one occasion, a traveler asked a farmer who was seated in the doorway of his humble cabin, “How’s the cotton crop going to be this year?”

The farmer replied, “There won’t be any. I didn’t bother to plant it because I was afraid of the boll weevil.”

Upon hearing this, the traveler asked further, “Well, are you going to harvest a big corn crop?”

“It’s the same,” came the response. “I was afraid we wouldn’t get enough rain for the kernels to mature.”

The traveler pursued, “At least you will have a good potato harvest!”

“Nope. Not any; I didn’t dare plant them because I was afraid of insects.”

With frustration, and somewhat impatiently, the traveler then asked, “Well, what is it that you have planted?”

“Nothing, my good man,” came the answer. “I’d rather be safe than sorry.”

(as told by Angel Abrea)

The recent calamities and atrocities occurring across the world appear to have left many people paralyzed with fear. This fear consumes their energy and saps their motivation to move forward. They fear for their families, especially for their children. They fear to travel. They even fear to speak up about what they believe to be right. Cowering in their homes behind locked doors, they construct around themselves a false sense of security and safety.

This makes me sad for a couple of reasons. First, shutting yourself off from the rest of the world doesn’t actually keep you any safer. It’s all in your head. Second, in deciding to become stagnant in response to fear, you miss out on all the rich experiences that make life worth living. Because rewards in life only come after we take some risk, the greatest risk in life is to take no risks. Third (and this will have to wait for another blog post), remaining in the energy of fear for an extended time actually causes negativity to manifest in the physical world, since our outer physical reality is really a reflection of what goes on inside of us.

So how do we conquer the fear plaguing our hearts and our world? Through faith, because it is the opposite of fear. Author John Pontius has written, “It is fear that keeps us from manifesting what faith we have,” because, while faith leads to action, fear leads to inaction. I’ve observed in my own life that I can’t experience faith and fear simultaneously, but beyond that, I wasn’t quite sure how faith and fear are true opposites. But recently I read somewhere that fear is actually inverted faith. It is just “having faith” in something that is negative. We usually use the world “faith” to describe trust or belief in something positive without having physical proof. But how often do we dread something horrible happening to us, without any proof that it will actually turn out that way? Or even little things, like our fears of being embarrassed, inconvenienced, judged, or uncomfortable? All these fears are really just “faith” in something negative.

Each of the following statements, or thoughts, reflect fears that we’ve probably all had:

  • “I could lose my job!”
  • “If I speak up it will make things worse.”
  • “I don’t want to hurt their feelings.”
  • “I don’t know how they will respond.”
  • “I’m afraid that they won’t like me.” (a common one for people under age 30)

With each of these thoughts, we are imagining something negative resulting from our actions. The F.E.A.R. acronym–Fantasized Experience Appearing Real–is illuminating. We have absolutely no proof of the things we fantasize in our minds, but when we focus on something with intensity and repetition, it really starts feel like reality. We can get to the point that we see it as so real that it debilitates us and causes us to fail to take constructive action.

Some would argue that because in the past, something bad really had happened when they had taken a certain action, they now have “proof” to justify their present inaction. However, that was in the past and cannot be taken as evidence that it will happen that way again in the future. It is nothing more than their inverted faith working against them. Or some may argue that bad things really are happening in the world, so things like that will continue to happen, and get worse and worse. Yes, there is plenty of hard evidence that terrible things are happening in the world. Yet that is still not evidence for what may happen to you/ your family/ your country/ the world at a future time.

The important distinction is this: Bad things may happen in reality, but fear is always a choice. That said, faith is also always a choice. Instead of fantasizing a negative experience, make the small shift to visualizing a positive outcome instead. Do this with intensity and repetition, and your fear will disappear. Not only that, but positive outcomes will begin to replace the negative outcomes you actually experience in your life.

C.S. Lewis captured a fundamental human reality in the following quote. To make it applicable to our day, just switch out the references to the atomic bomb with ISIS (or cancer, or natural disasters, or terrorists, or zombies, or teenagers, or whatever it is that scares you into sleeplessness).

“We think a great deal too much of the atomic bomb. ‘How are we to live in an atomic age?’ I am tempted to reply: ‘Why, as you would have lived in the sixteenth century when the plague visited London every year, or as you would have lived in a Viking age when raiders from Scandinavia might land and cut your throat any night… In other words, do not let us begin by exaggerating the novelty of our situation. Believe me, dear sir or madam, you and all whom you love were already sentenced to death before the atomic bomb was invented…It is perfectly ridiculous to go about whimpering and drawing long faces because the scientists have added one more chance of painful and premature death to a world which already bristled with such chances and in which death itself was not a chance at all, but a certainty. If we are all going to be destroyed by an atomic bomb, let that bomb when it comes find us doing sensible and human things—praying, working, teaching, reading, listening to music, bathing the children, playing tennis, chatting to our friends…not huddled together like frightened sheep and thinking about bombs.”

Life is too precious to be frittered away in the smallness of fear. So let’s live our lives to the fullest, no matter the threats to our peace or peace of mind. Let’s put our faith in the positive instead of in the negative. Let’s stop giving our power away to other people and forces beyond our control. Let’s focus instead on what we can control, such as how many times a day we laugh, how often we gladden the heart of a child, and the level of gratitude we feel for our wonderful lives and beautiful world.