Most people would agree that living in fear isn't a good way to live. Most people probably would say they don't live in fear, but I wonder. As I look around, I see clearly how much of our lives and our reactions are motivated by fear. I only have to look as far as myself.
Years ago I was challenged on this in the context of parenting. Did I parent out of fear? Were my parenting practices geared more toward control than training? That led to some soul searching, reading, praying and long discussions with people from all sides of the issue. My husband and I found we didn't like the way we'd parented, and we slowly made some major changes. Showing real respect for the likes, dislikes and wishes of our children was a good first step. We stopped assuming we knew what was best for them. We started opening our eyes to the fact that too much of our time was spent trying to protect them, and that desire to protect came from fear. We realized that there was only an illusion of control, anyway, so we might as well start living the reality and not buying into the illusion. How many parents are shocked to be the last to find out what their kids are up to? Too many. I learned (well, am learning...not there yet) to listen instead of talk. My "go-to" phrases now are... "Let me think about it." or "Give me a minute." Those phrases keep me from the knee-jerk reaction. Once the almost overpowering impulse to say No is passed, I ask for details and go from there. My kids are patient. They don't yell or press their point. They rarely argue with me. They wait and let me struggle through on my own and believe that reason will usually win. Over the past few years they've learned to trust. When I say No, they may be disappointed, but rarely mad. They know I have good reason.
I still worry way too much about my kids, their futures, their happiness, their grades. ;-) I still fight the urge to protect them- from others, from ideas, from their own mistakes. I spend some hours in quiet agony while they make bad choices I know they'll pay for, telling myself they'll learn valuable lessons from their mistakes. It isn't easy. I hate it, in fact. But I'm seeing benefits.
But fear as a motivator isn't confined to parenting. It drives job choices, clothing choices, housing choices and much, much, more. Fear closes our minds to new people, ideas, and adventures. Fear makes us refuse to question. This is especially true in areas of faith and religion, and it's reinforced by the hierarchy that tells us that to ask questions is a sign of apostasy.
For me, however, I've been much more driven by the fear within myself than the fear of what someone else will say or the fear of being rejected. I've been afraid of losing purpose and meaning in my life if I doubted or feared on faith issues. I've been afraid I'd lose faith, and therefore the thing that has given meaning to my life for 30 years. I'm still scared, but I want to move away from living behind fear to living the questions. Interestingly, since I've dared to ask the questions, I'm less fearful of the very thing that terrified me. I feel stronger, not weaker in my faith. I think that's because faith can't really be "protected." It has to be exercised and exposed in order to be strengthened. So I am, as it were, taking my faith out on walks to expose it to more variety.
BTW- fear of death is still a biggie with me. Anyone else have problems with the thought of their own mortality? I'd love to discuss it more sometime.