[Blog] Facing Up to Fear

blog May 25, 2022



by Allison van Tilborgh

           Bravery is one of the essential keys to successful leadership. Many of history’s great pioneers exhibited bravery, from Gandhi to Rosa Parks to Martin Luther and even Jesus Christ himself. They used this trait to push for change and reform their societies to leave them better than they found them.

            But bravery cannot exist in isolation. It can only be measured in relation to fear. It’s not the absence but the presence of fear that reveals us to the world as brave people. 

            Early on in my career, I was asked to build out the digital infrastructure for an educational program for children’s ministers. There were only six days until it needed to go live for over 450 paying ministers from around the world. No pressure! At the time, I was finishing up my first degree, an associate’s in information technology. I had some background in web development but felt ill-equipped for the task. I had no team, no experience with this work. I was afraid I would not measure up to expectations or meet the deadline. 

            But it was in the presence of that pressure, fear and worry that I learned to lean into what I did know. I had a choice—to embrace this unknown task or run away from it. I chose to embrace it, in spite of my fear. Almost a decade later, I still talk with many of the ministers who went through this program and have developed great relationships with them.  

            Perhaps the greatest example of bravery comes from Gethsemane. There, Jesus cried out to his Father, asking several times for the looming threat of death to be taken away from him. Jesus understood what needed to be done, rationally and spiritually. Of course, it needed to happen--this was his primary purpose in the material world. But that revelation wasn’t enough to curb the fear any human experiences when face-to-face with an impossible sacrifice. We certainly aren’t exempt from this feeling, even when we can “rationalize” the problems in front of us. 

            Jesus knew that the only way to live out his faith was to meet head-on. Only in the direct presence of death could it be defeated. Jesus, literally the Son of God—the “miracle worker, promise keeper, light in the darkness” Jesus—still felt fear. I’m sure he also felt frustrated. Sadness. Hurt. Clarity of one’s purpose does not mean the absence of fear. Sometimes the ability to see well just breeds more questions about what direction to go. 

            God himself was not exempt from the full spectrum of emotions. Even he felt fear in order to express his bravery and subsequent triumph; a model to all of humankind. How can we expect to be any different? Why do we shun fear, when it is only through it that we can become brave in the face of seemingly impossible tasks?

            These seemingly oxymoronic tensions reveal the dualistic nature of the human experience: Sin and salvation, rejection and redemption, fear and bravery.

            We learn bravery through the direct trials of life, through a spirit that calls us to confront and push beyond the fear we possess. To be a living miracle. In our fear, God is with us. In our bravery, God is manifested. 


This article was extracted from Issue 4 of Inspire Magazine (Spring 2022).