Why Fear Is a Big Bad Liar

Be Strong And CourageousI jolted up from bed, soaked in sweat. The clock read 6:30 a.m. and I was to put on my first multi-session event in a few hours. The life-long dream event had arrived, and with it, twenty of its nightmarish cousins.

You know the kind of nightmares I’m talking about: I lost my talk notes, people hated the presentation. In one version, I couldn’t even get IN to the presentation hall (the doors were glued shut). In another, the people all got up and walked out at once and I spilled coffee all over my outfit and had to speak the whole day looking like a goober.

You get the picture. Fear.

That day, I did what I do when I’m scared:

  • Recall real life, and what’s happened in situations like the one I feared that day.
  • Speak pertinent Scripture promises—out loud—into the nervous space around me.
  • Crank up my favorite music and sing at the top of my lungs. Dancing as a bonus.

Then something amazing happened. I got to the event, spoke without losing my voice, my notes or my sanity (mostly), and afterward, went home to my family where life was bouncing around as usual.

Isn’t it amazing how things are never as bad as we fear? And that even if they’re exactly as we feared, we’re somehow able to get through it anyway?

Malcolm Gladwell, in his book, David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants, affirms this truth and shares a bit more about why this is. He writes,

“The prediction we make about how we are going to feel in some future situation is called ‘affective forecasting,’ and all of the evidence suggests that we are terrible affective forecasters.”

One of Gladwell’s main theses in the book is that courage isn’t innate, it’s learned. Or, rather, it’s earned through fire—through the experience of “near misses” and “remote misses.” The two terms refer to moments when we aren’t directly effected by trauma, but are close enough that when we emerge unscathed, we can begin to feel almost invincible.

In one chapter, Gladwell shares how psychologist Stanley J. Rachman researched the difference between people’s phobias at the thought of their trigger (snakes, small spaces, heights) versus their actual fear when faced with the thing itself.

“What [the psychologist found] is that the actual experience of the thing that was feared is a lot less scary than the person imagined.”

Or, as I said to my husband from my fear-soaked waking moments last Saturday: “Thank GOD! At least I know it will never be as bad as that!”

And it won’t, friend. We stink at forecasting how we’ll do in the face of scary possibilities. Maybe that’s why God constantly reminded his people to not fear what was next, who was in front of them, where they were to go. Why verses like Deuteronomy 31:6 fill the stories of old:

“Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.”

Because we are miserable affective forecasters! And the only way we can get past our own fears is to pin all that nervous energy on the ONE person who can get us through anything: the LORD our God, who goes with us. . . always, in every circumstance or nightmarish scenario.

What if, the next time we get anxious about some possible situation, we reminded ourselves of the truth that it will never be as bad as we think because life will never be in our power alone to handle? {tweet this}

What surprising courage might emerge then?

Your friend in being scared, and saddling up anyway,


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  1. Karen V says

    You are my hero. Thank you for being the real you. Blessings to and for you. Hugs