In my psychology class, we are learning that fear is a function of the fight or flight response activated in your sympathetic nervous system. The amygdala, a pea-sized part of your brain responsible for emotion, memory and survival instincts, picks up on threats and stimulates the physiological response of stress. Neurotransmitters send chemical messages to the body from the brain and vice versa, and these interactions are happening while we think and feel. Some neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin are known to excite feelings of euphoria or shield pain, others are responsible for stimulation of the stress response, and they all work in an odd dance, interacting together to form what you perceive as how you feel. This is very useful when we are in danger. But when you are in the middle of a statistics test and you can feel your heartbeat getting faster and faster, the four page test feels like it’s a ticking time bomb.
We all have our own fears. For most people it seems their fears are buried somewhere deep inside themselves. They are stoic, and if they are afraid, they don’t admit it to themselves. They may have had a few significantly scary life experiences, but are generally resilient. I often compare myself to this ideal. Especially on days where it feels like a small breeze would blow me over. A psychiatrist would say my neurotransmitters fire too fast or too slow. My amygdala is a little overactive, maybe a little confused because of my past experiences about what exactly is life-threatening.
I was reading the next chapter of our Psychology book for class today and it coincidentally touched on the concept of nature vs. nurture. Nature vs nurture is the theory that while genetic information plays a part in our observable behavior, life experiences can influence and actually change our brains, resulting in a change in our observable behavior. This theory is mostly used to describe how we develop as we grow to be adults, but it inspired me in a spiritual way.
I have been dealt a hand by God. My genes are my genes for a reason. I have also had life experiences for a reason, and I continue to have them for a reason. God has made it so that I am not a victim of “nature” and my “nurture,” but He has given me the tools to overcome the mountains in front of me, put there specifically for me.The mountain looks huge when I am looking up, standing at the bottom, and there are parts in the middle where I can only look forward. But the journey to the top is how He teaches us how to let go of our fears trust Him more.
A strange thing happened to me when I moved to Indianapolis. I started becoming irrationally afraid of driving. I would experience panic attacks on the highway and have to pull over because I was shaking. It was terrifying and I hated myself for it at times. I didn’t understand why God had put this mountain in my life, why I had to be cursed with this fear, and I prayed for Him to heal me from this fear. Slowly but surely, I have been climbing upward. There were rest stops. And I probably fell back some. But last Thursday, I drove to help a friend on the other side of Indianapolis with no hesitation. Then, I went to class downtown. Then I drove up to Muncie to visit a friend. Progress.
As I rolled the window down, the wind wooshed in my ears and blowed my hair back, and I felt the sweet newness that comes with letting go. I listened to some of my favorite songs (particularly THIS), and I realized a little more about who I really am. I am not a woman that cowers in the face of her fears. There may be mountains ahead of me, but God has set me up for a life beautifully characterized by struggle, hope and redemption.
Nelson Mandela said, “I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.” I am inspired by how God worked in my fears and I know He is the one who helps me conquer them. I know that honoring God would be to live a life without fear, trusting Him with reckless abandon and following my heart, and I pray He give me courage to do so. God does better than let us live complacent, safe lives. He challenges us to trust Him courageously, and builds us up as warriors of love and peace.