You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You must do the thing which you think you cannot do.
– Eleanor Roosevelt
By LaDonna Spivey
Fear is defined as “an unpleasant emotion caused by the belief that someone or something is dangerous, likely to cause pain, or a threat.” It’s ironic that so many things can cause us to feel so many different degrees of this “unpleasant emotion.” It can be something a trivial as a spider or as serious as a gun pointed to our head. It can be unexpected or, it can be ongoing such as a fear of heights or enclosed spaces like elevators.
For me there has always been a certain amount of fear associated with water, or to be more precise – with having my face submerged in water when my feet can’t touch the ground. Some refer to this phenomenon as swimming. I referred to it as splashing wildly while gasping for air.
Even though I took swimming lessons as a child, I was never particularly proficient and never exactly “comfortable” in the water. I could swim for a few feet, my heart pounding in my chest, my muscles tense, then I’d frantically grab for the safety of a flotation device or clutch the side of the pool, wheezing. It was a fear that I never questioned. I thought everyone felt like that in water. I don’t think I even really acknowledged that it was fear.
Then one day I decided to enter a sprint triathlon. Because: I like a challenge. Originally it required an 18 mile bike (later shortened after Hurricane Isaac damaged the beach), 3.1 mile run and… 600 meter (a little over 1/3 of a mile) swim. I knew I wasn’t the best swimmer in the world, but with some lessons I figured everything would be fine.
But it wasn’t until I was literally holding a lane divider for dear life that I realized the truth – I was scared. I wanted to quit, but I didn’t like the idea of something beating me without a fight.
After praying, I found Isaiah 41:10 – “Do not fear, for I am with you; Do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, surely I will help you.”
I vowed to memorize this verse and run it over in my head whenever I was in the pool.
It was a good idea and I wish I could say that the verse alone inspired me. Truth is, most of the time my mind went blank (fear will do that to you). All I could remember was “do not look anxiously around you” as I looked anxiously about.
From my experience fear is something you have to overcome, in small steps, over and over again. And it is not easy. My incredibly supportive husband and I dragged ourselves out of bed three days a week for 5:30 am swim lessons and 6:30am Sunday morning practices in the Gulf before church. Many times I got discouraged and wanted quit. Most of the time I thought, “there is no way I’m going to be able to swim 600 meters in the gulf. I must be crazy.” A few times I did quit. However I always came back. “Just do it one more time,” I’d tell myself.
October 6th I entered my first triathlon. I swam 600 meters in 23 minutes. I wasn’t the fastest, and it wasn’t always pretty, but I finished. Overall my total time placed me 49th out of 55 women in my age group. But you couldn’t tell me I was at the bottom of the heap. I felt like I smoked everyone.
Overcoming fear is not easy, but it is not something you have to do alone. In 2 Timothy 1:7, the apostle Paul encourages Timothy to boldly speak the gospel without fear – “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind,” he said. The spirit God gave us permeates every area of our life. All we have to do is trust Him and live fearlessly.
God gives us so many great opportunities to be a light, what are we scared of?
Isaiah 41:10 – So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. (NIV)