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3 Tips for Taming Fear 'Bears' with Love

What happens in your body if I ask you to look at this image and close your eyes while imagining the bear chasing you down in an open field?

A brown bear looks intently

If like me, you are finding yourself with clenched fists, hunched shoulders, a narrowed vision, fixated attention of body and mind.

It is being human to self-preserve, to seek life. It is being human to categorize and be able to pull that data instantaneously in assessing threat and harm versus provision and support.

Chronic self-protection from imagined threats? It's crippling.

The Apostle John, the disciple who Jesus loved, one who wrote heavily about love and belovedness, had this to say about chronic fear:

There is no room in love for fear. Well-formed love banishes fear. Since fear is crippling, a fearful life — fear of death, fear of judgment — is one not yet fully formed in love. 1 John 4:18, MSG

Fear here comes from the Greek word, phebomai, which means to be put to flight. It is especially used in the Jewish and Christian Scriptures to refer to a fleeing from relationship, primarily with God but also extended to others or even how we relate to ourselves.

A bear, real or imagined, can send our bodies into fight or flight. Failure to name and tame these fears can lead us toward relating to our surroundings with guardedness, isolation, or disconnection from the rich provision of love around us because all we see are fear-inducing threats.

Now, you might be in real threat, and if that is you, do not stay there. Seek immediate help.

If that is not the case, I think the most important question for us in this very moment is one Jesus often asked: What do you see?

One of the instances where Jesus does this is when healing a man suffering from blindness. It is a multi-step process where Jesus spits on his eyes and covers them with his hands. His vision is still impaired, so Jesus acts again. Then the man sees clearly.

Perception can either aid or suppress our pursuit of healing.

What do you see? What are you perceiving where your body clenches, hunches, or punches?

It might not be a bear. It might be a coworker, someone who threatens you with last-minute asks and unrealistic deadlines.

Maybe it is a neighbor, someone with a political sign that sits on the other end of the aisle than yours.

Maybe it is a brand or flag, icons that represent an ideal at odds with yours.

Maybe it is your toddler or teenager, asking yet again for something you have repeatedly set a boundary up to prevent.

Does your breath catch? Your pulse quicken? Your sense of dread heighten?

What would taming fear with love look like?

My wife and I (Lane) are in a season where cliche is unfortunately not. We're busy.

Margin. It is the dream for my household I am pursuing in our We/ve community coaching. Additionally, we have surrounded us with support in the form of a therapist, with whom we are discovering much of our busyness is tied to responding to perceived threat. In the hustle to maximize, we miss the home before us.

What provisions might you be missing because all you perceive is threat?

If this article has served to provide any temporary pause from the flight you find yourself in, might I offer a few suggestions I myself am exploring?

1. Take stock of what you love.

Aundi Kolber, licensed professional counselor (MA, LPC) and author, recounts a time when her body would have a bodily response of threat when mail was delivered.

But then what I found is that I had patterns that my body would hold that when I would expect the mail, I would notice myself clenching or bearing down a little bit. And so these things, then it’s like my body is anticipating threat. And so part of repowering might be bringing enough of that compassion attention, perhaps it’s also needing safety, so it might need to be in the presence of someone that I trust, or maybe it’s doing an orienting practice, really getting grounded in the present. ... Here’s what’s true today. Here’s what I know. And then to work with that pattern in my body to gently allow myself to perhaps clench my hands and then allow them to release if that feels like a resource to me.

I love this. Perceived threat is like a shadow, drawing form from real pain and trauma in the past or anxiety over what might be in the future. How to be present, to dwell in this space of love, is the counter.

Love is multi-dimensional. It is fractal. There is an ever-expanding formation that overcomes fear from a belief that I am loved, worthy of love, and an agent of love.

This is what the Apostle John is suggesting - a love rooted in God allows me to face fear and name what is actually present. It anchors us to then be present to the resources around us in relationships, in ourselves, and in our environment.

Love rejoices with truth, as the Apostle Paul reminds the church in Corinth. What is true in your life presently that is good and beautiful and kind?

2. Do the hard work of creating safety.

Henri Nouwen in his book, Reaching Out, talks heavily about hospitality as one of our movements in spiritual formation.

Hospitality is not to change people, but to offer them space where change can take place.... The paradox of hospitality is that it wants to create emptiness, not a fearful emptiness, but a friendly emptiness where strangers can enter and discover themselves as created free; free to sing their own songs, speak their own languages, dance their own dances; free also to leave and follow their own vocations. Hospitality is not a subtle invitation to adopt the lifestyle of the host, but the gift of a chance for the guest to find his own. Reaching Out: The Three Movements of the Spiritual Life, page 56

One of the most crippling responses we can give someone experiencing threat is to either dismiss their fear or declare them helpless. I recently was talking to a coworker about parenting and navigating diagnoses like a food allergy or deep feelings. "Atypical" childhood realities, although very real and normal. We both agreed that denying our experience with one's own or confirming all our worst projected outcomes paralyze our ability to parent well.

It is in the safety of honoring your experience while also supporting you to discover the rich resources in your life that your relationships can foster a hospitality of becoming.

Being both curators and committed members of such relational spaces require the hard work of empathy, suspending judgment, and withholding declarations of death over things we have no credibility to claim.

3. Involve community.

Hopefully you can name relationships in your life where you feel safe to be present to threats, to suspend judgments, and to move away from hostility and toward hospitality.

Hospitality requires both the extension and reception of invitation. Identifying community is half of the step; the other is involving community. Invite trusted people into your life, whether that is a spiritual director, a licensed therapist, or a coach who can receive your story with love and rally around you in love toward you finding your own gift.

The gift might even be in what was once a threat. (Which is why I love this picture.)

A white bear waves.

That goes for your coworker, your neighbor, that group or media, your child or spouse. When we actually take the time to be present and gift ourselves the permission to release our fists, we allow our bodies and minds and souls to take stock of what is actually true in not only our lives but in those around us.

At the Resilient Communities Center, our team of facilitators and mentors are passionate about fostering safe spaces for Atlanta and global leaders and community members to discover solutions to the problems they are experiencing, perceived and otherwise.

Consider joining a Cohort online or in-person and experience a space to be and become. Curious about how to foster this hospitality in your community, on your team, or within your home? Fill out an interest form about one of our Coaching packages.


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