My deepest fear


There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear . . .

What are you afraid of—snakes, spiders, heights? Is there something that really gets your skin crawling or your knees knocking? Your instant reaction is to freeze or jump away, adrenaline shooting through your veins. I don’t much like spiders, especially after a rather large white-tail crawled out of my English folder at high school. 

These fears are instinctive—fears of a symbol or situation. We tend to avoid these fears or distastefully face them. Even though I don’t like spiders, I will take a huntsman outside where it belongs.

But these are surface level fears. Inside all of us lurk deeper fears; dark fears of a subversive nature that hide in our subconscious and whisper threats or taunts into the rational side of our brain. These are fears like being put in unpredictable situations, experiencing rejection, fear of commitment to something or being out of control of my life. 

Fear can be a good thing (fear of consequences, fear of danger)—it pushes or protects us. But it can also hold us back and we use all sorts of techniques to repress, reprogram or compensate for our fears. And fear does grow back if we hide it in a dark, moist corner of our mind.  

Author, pastor and speaker John Ortberg talks about a leader’s deepest fear. He focusses on their “shadow mission”. This is the thing that influences us—our lives and decisions. It can push us to great heights but it can also be a flaw in our character, something we chase that distracts us from our true mission. Its tentacles reach into every corner of our lives. Our behaviours and personality traits are often just symptoms of this shadow mission. In examining myself and talking with others, it seems that most shadow missions are rooted in fear in some way. 

My shadow mission is my fear of inadequacy—of not being good enough, not measuring up. This pushes me to put a lot of pressure on myself because I want to be good enough. It also cripples me with procrastination—I won’t start a project because I want it to be perfect and I fear my work, my life, my decisions, will be a reflection of me. Deadlines drive me because if there is one thing I’m more afraid of than doing an imperfect job, it’s failing to do anything and disappointing people. I’m bad at making decisions. I feel isolated. And so, there is a perpetual war within me. 

The danger of this is summed up in Christian preacher Charles Stanley’s quote: 

“Fear stifles our thinking and actions. It creates indecisiveness that results in stagnation. I have known talented people who procrastinate indefinitely rather than risk failure. Lost opportunities cause erosion of confidence, and the downward spiral begins.”

Out of these fears hate is allowed to flourish. English writer Cyril Connolly said, “Hate is the consequence of fear; we fear something before we hate it; a child who fears noises becomes a man who hates noise.”

And so we begin to fear those who are different, those who make us uncomfortable. And we hate the things we fear.

I need to ask myself: As a Christian do I want to be driven by hate? 

It’s liberating to identify your shadow mission, as you can take steps to work against it. Ortberg suggests the best way to overcome it is by finding your actual mission—a calling, a way to use your gifts for good and for God. Most people, once they’ve thought about it, can identify their shadow mission. A calling is much harder to identify. 

But the strongest force in overcoming fear is love. How does love conquer fear? The Bible tells us. 

“God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgement: In this world we are like Jesus. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love” (1 John 4:16-18, NIV).

We will be made complete with love. God can come in and take up residence in our hearts, and that fear that we have will be cast out. 

A man is rightly afraid of fire but will run into a burning building to save his child. He’s still afraid of the flames but love is now his driving motivation, his propulsion, the strongest emotion in his world. So what are you afraid of?

Jarrod Stackelroth is acting editor of Adventist Record