Our Greatest Fear

One of my favorite questions to ask people is, “What is your biggest fear?”

Maybe it’s a strange lead in question, but I think it says a lot about someone. It tells you what they care about, what they value, and even who they are.

At one point, one of my answers to that question was, “Getting a divorce.” Beneath that sentence is fear of failure.

While that fear is still there, my main answer to that question now would likely be, “Losing my children.” I fear losing them to a number of things. Death. Addiction. Even a toxic relationship they may choose in the future. Tucked into that fear is the devastation in even the thought of losing my children. The one thing that creates the greatest joy and sense of fulfillment in my life.

Underneath what we show and verbalize to the world lies an ocean of truth. Our hopes. Our dreams. Our insecurities. Our emotions.

I spent a lot of years running from my emotions. All of them.

I no longer run from all my feelings, but some of them still make me feel uneasy. It’s why I write them all out. Truth is, emotions are scary.

Emotions, at their very core, express our heart. They bare our soul. Showing and feeling all of that exposes us to a very raw vulnerability. And vulnerable is not a place we feel comfortable. So we run. Or at a bare minimum, we stay focused on the easier things.

We talk about stress, how tired we are, and how we’re going to get everything done. We talk about the cool thing we got to do recently and that we feel “good” or “grateful” today. We say meaningful things, but we travel in the shallower end of our emotions.

Very rarely do you find someone who willingly goes deep. At least not regularly. We don’t take each other into the center of our hearts very often because we rarely allow even ourselves to go there. I think sometimes we can’t allow ourselves to dive that deep because we’re afraid we may never come back out. That we might get completely lost down there.

I firmly believe that some of the most tormented souls are the ones capable of feeling everything. They’re also the most brave.

It’s obvious that we sometimes fear diving deep into our pain. That we cover it up with easier things like busyness and striving. But the emotion I think we are most afraid of; the thing we run the fastest from and that gives us the greatest sense of fear and insecurity, is joy.

That’s right. Joy.

Big, scary, all-consuming joy.

We can’t handle it.

Though it’s hard to feel and talk about it, pain is familiar. Its comfortable, like an old, dingy, worn in sweatshirt. Pain wraps itself around us and even though it hurts we say, “Yeah. This makes sense.”

Either we caused it, we deserved it, or we saw it coming. Sometimes, we dive right into it, because we are so unbelievably uncomfortable sitting with its counterpart.

We are afraid even of other people’s joy. In fact, people who are happy all the time are labeled irritating. “Too happy.” We think something is wrong with them or they’re fake. Surely they’re hiding something.

Have you ever had a friend experience something completely amazing? Like getting engaged? Getting a job promotion? Finding out they’re going to have a baby? The birth of a child?

Our first emotion is typically joy. But then, we usually experience a fear or insecurity. The fear is first for them, and then it shifts to us and what we are dealing with in our own life that their experience reflects.

What if I made a mistake? What if I fail? What if something goes wrong? What if I lose everything?

Sometimes, we not only suffocate our own joy, but we kill other people’s too.

The thing is, our fears are usually birthed in reality. The things that could go wrong and the things we worry about are there because they are usually a real possibility. So it’s not irrational that we have these thoughts and fearful feelings.

But why is it so hard to stay in those moments of joy? Why do we sabotage ourselves when things are going well? Why do we so easily accept fear and pain but so harshly reject true joy?

I have found that when I am most healthy, making the most progress, and generally succeeding in my life, I find something to level that victory. Sometimes life hands it to me, and sometimes I go find it. I hold onto at least one thing that destroys me. One thing that wrecks me to my core.

Because I, like so many of us, am so unbelievably afraid of what would happen if I just sat in the joy. If I truly just opened my arms and allowed it to soak into my bones.

Ultimately, I don’t feel worthy of that level of happiness.

It’s why when I watch my boys play and my heart fills with so much love and so much joy that I feel like I might explode, I have to pull myself back. It’s actively painful feeling that much love. That much bliss. Because what if I lose it? What if I allow myself to experience all this love and all this joy, and I invite it all in, and then I lose it? The pain of that loss would be more than I could bear.

And so we stay buried. We stay stressed and busy and tired. We hold back. We stay caged behind our own glass walls, allowing ourselves to watch and see, but never getting too close where we really feel it all. Because if we did, we might not make it back out. That much emotion might actually devour us.

So we stay on the edge of it. We feel it, but not for long. The pain of both our deep joy and our deep suffering is too much for our hearts. And the fear of losing everything keeps us from truly having it.

But what if we tried it? What if when things were going well, we soaked it in? What if we felt things? Especially the good things?

What if when the wave comes, rather than running from it, we dove right into it? What if you dove as deep into your beauty as you do into your pain? What if you actually allowed yourself to sit in the joy?

The waves will come anyway. But all running from them guarantees is that eventually, they will swallow you whole. If you dive into it, you just might experience the fullness of all the ocean has to offer.

So what is your greatest fear? What are you really running from? And what if you stopped?

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people will not feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It is not just in some of us; it is in everyone and as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give others permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” Marianne Williamson

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