Fear is a great enemy of spiritual growth. It undermines our trust in God, good. It tempts us to break the First Commandment through the belief that there is another power besides God and that this power can harm or threaten us.
The theme of overcoming fear runs through the Bible like a golden thread. Many Old Testament prophets and leaders were encouraged by God not to fear, or encouraged their own followers not to fear, including such towering figures as Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Joshua, Gideon, Elijah, Elisha, Isaiah, David, Nehemiah, and Daniel. And in the New Testament, we see Jesus frequently counselling his disciples, as well as those who came to him for healing, not to be afraid (see, for example, Mark 5:36 and John 6:19, 20).
It’s not surprising that handling fear is an important part of Christian Science practice. Mary Baker Eddy says on page 410 of Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures: “Christian scientific practice begins with Christ’s keynote of harmony, ‘Be not afraid!’ ” Elsewhere in this textbook of healing she points out the strong connection between fear and disease—for example, on page 392: “Fear, which is an element of all disease, must be cast out to readjust the balance for God.” There are a great many similar statements throughout her writings.
I’ve noticed I sometimes have a tendency to be in denial about fear, probably because I don’t want to feel like a wimp. Sometimes I catch myself saying or thinking, “I’m not really afraid—just a bit concerned” (or “anxious,” or “worried,” or some similar term). But the truth is, these terms are just euphemisms or synonyms for fear or for being afraid. There’s certainly no shortage of such synonyms. When I checked in a thesaurus recently, I found dozens of them, including some which at first glance were a little surprising—for example, tense, stressed, demoralized, disquieted, timid, and discouraged. Seeing so many similar words brought to mind another passage from Science and Health: “The soil of disease is mortal mind, and you have an abundant or scanty crop of disease, according to the seedlings of fear” (p. 188).
What an evocative phrase—“the seedlings of fear”! A seedling starts out small, but if left alone it can grow to be very large, and from the start, its essential nature is the same as that of the full-grown plant it will eventually become. So if we find ourselves using “seedling” terms to describe our feelings—concerned, worried, anxious, stressed, and the like—it’s time to stop kidding ourselves. What we’re feeling is fear, and the sooner we stand up to it the better.
Some years ago, I found myself struggling with a painful and debilitating physical problem related to the digestion and elimination of food. It didn’t feel life threatening because between attacks I felt fine, so I didn’t think of myself as being afraid. But whenever these attacks occurred, which was roughly once or twice a week, they were so painful that for several hours I wasn’t able to do any work of any kind, physical or mental. Though I prayed diligently, the problem persisted for weeks until my life seemed to revolve around the attacks and the anticipation of them.
One day, when a colleague was planning to come to my home for a meeting, I felt an attack about to begin. I tried to reach the colleague by phone but failed, meaning he would be at the door within the hour. The discomfort began to increase in an all-too-familiar pattern and I felt anxious, and worried, and ... let’s face it, afraid.
Then, suddenly, something in my thought rebelled. I finally admitted to myself how fearful I’d become about these attacks, and I decided I just didn’t want to live that way anymore. In that moment I honestly felt I would rather live in pain but without fear, than live without pain but in constant fear. Although I’d been praying about the physical condition, it occurred to me that I could tackle the fear itself head-on, through prayer. So I prayed.
What I had been thinking of as a "physical condition" was in fact no more physical than the fear.
I began with the wonderful Bible passage found in First John: “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love” (4:18). Since God Himself is Love, it was obvious that He could never make or even tolerate fear; that He couldn’t create anyone, including me, capable of experiencing fear; and, finally, that He couldn’t make or permit any condition or circumstance, physical or otherwise, which would justify or provoke fear. Therefore fear (including all its “seedlings”) could have no claim on me and no place in my thinking; it was a lie, an illusion, and I had the right to expel it from my consciousness. I prayed vigorously along these lines, gradually feeling more confident, until after about half an hour, I found, with a great sense of relief and gratitude, that the fear was almost completely gone.
And for the most part, I suddenly realized, so was the pain.
What I’d been thinking of as a “physical condition” was in fact no more physical than the fear, which I recognized as mental. So when the fear was gone, the so-called physical condition no longer had a foothold in my thought and it, too, disappeared.
When my colleague arrived, I told him I was feeling much better and that he should ignore my phone message when he got it. What little remained of the discomfort continued to diminish even as we completed our meeting. The condition tried to make a comeback a few times over the next couple of weeks, but it never got very far because I simply was no longer afraid of it. Before long it was completely gone, and it has never returned.
Ultimately, since God is all-powerful, fear, including all its “seedlings,” must be an illusion, and like any illusion, it can only affect us if we accept it as real. Recognizing and acknowledging the omnipotence of God, good, destroys fear in all its forms, and very often this not only brings the healing—it is the healing.
Bob Cochran lives in Monterey, California.
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