Note: The word essay really means "an attempt". Here is an attempt on my part to understand the dynamic that fear and trust have played in my life. These ideas are by no means scientific or definitive. So I welcome your comments to help me further clarify my thoughts.
I have been thinking a lot lately about the difference between acting out of fear and acting out of trust. It started with parenting. I know that for the most part, my first response when it comes to my children was fear, fear for their safety, for their physical and spiritual well-being. When they were little I was worried about them getting sick or lost in a crowd. I spent many years afraid that they were not getting the best education possible. In their teenage years I worried about what they did when they weren’t with me, afraid of what choices they would make. Now that they are all young adults, I worry about who they will marry, will they be happy, will they be good parents, will they be financially secure. A few years back I started trying to replace the fear with trust. Trust that their father and I have done our best to instill a love of knowledge and learning in them so no matter what school they go to or who their teachers are, they will always learn something. Trust that we have built a home on the foundations of faith in God and His guidance, so they know the difference between right and wrong. Trust that they will make mistakes and be tested, but that God will guide them and protect them. I wish I had learned this approach sooner! Parenting out of trust is not any easier; it’s just more joyful, more liberating, less claustrophobic (both for the parent and the child). Fear spreads a fog over everyday life. It smothers happiness. It suffocates self-knowledge. Acting out of fear is like walking across an abyss on a rope bridge. Living with trust feels more like walking on solid ground, in the sunshine, with a strong hand on your back, holding you steady.
Even though I may have parented a lot out of fear, I know I taught out of trust. I started teaching when my last child was in kindergarten. So I had had about fifteen years of experience raising children. So I came to the classroom trusting that ALL children would love a good story, that ALL children would want to solve problems and get in touch with their mathematical intuition. I knew that ALL children were naturally curious and would love learning about their world. That’s why my years in the classroom were definitely joyful and I want to think that my students felt safe and therefore learned better.
Living with trust is not about being naive or delusional. It’s about examining my assumptions. It’s about assuming the best, until proven otherwise. It’s about believing that there is more to this life than self-preservation. We can’t completely dissociate ourselves from fear. It’s a part of our nature and it’s there for a reason. But it’s the instrument of the lower animal nature. Trust comes from a higher place, from that part of us that can hope, pray and have faith.
So I instead of fearing the unknown, I am trusting in the growth that comes from stretching myself in new directions. Instead of fearing differences, I trust that God in His wisdom created these differences for a purpose, for us to learn to see His image in all the diverse hues of our skins, the varied rhythms of our tongues and the multiple expressions of our souls.