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Faithful Resilience
Faithful Resilience

Meeting Fear with Rest

Friday, January 26, 2024

When fear rushed in, I learned how to hear my heart racing, but refused to allow my feelings to sway me. That resilience came from my family. It flowed through our bloodline. —Coretta Scott King, My Life, My Love, My Legacy 

Author Cole Arthur Riley describes how she has faced a lifetime of fear, ultimately praying to God for restful steadiness.

More than most things, I’m afraid. When I say this, people always seem to want to assure me that it isn’t the case. But we know. Since I was little, I would always find a way to imagine the worst possible versions of the future. Maybe on some level I’ve grown to believe if I prepare for it, it will hurt less when it comes. But it makes for an agitated body and mind. When you always expect a demon around every corner, your most mundane moments still feel like a risk…. 

What do we do when our fears are in fact rational? When fear and wisdom are enmeshed? When we would be foolish not to fear? More often than we realize, fear is a protective intuition. It is what stops you from driving with no headlights on, from touching your hand to flame, from going outside to meet the coyotes. We don’t have to demonize our fear to survive it. For this reason, I have an aversion to language of “conquering” our fears. We are not at war with ourselves; it is better to listen with compassion. 

As a child, maybe you were told there is nothing to be afraid of. As adults, when we’re most honest, I think we know we have everything to be afraid of. This world, which has been so unsafe to so many of us, cannot be trusted not to harm us again. This isn’t pessimism, it’s confession.

Still, to live in a constant state of fear will keep you from the rest you were meant for. They are near opposites, fear and rest. It is not likely that you’ll relax those shoulders if somewhere within you feel the house is on fire. I want us to honor our fears without being tormented by them. Sacred intuition without restlessness.

This quote from James L. Farmer is at the front of my journal: “Courage, after all, is not being unafraid, but doing what needs to be done in spite of fear.” [1] The implication, of course, is that if you’re not scared, it’s not courage. If there is any bravery in me, it is in my refusal to let fear eclipse my imagination for anything other than pain. To maintain imagination for both the beautiful and the terrible is to marry prudence and hope.

Arthur Riley offers this breath practice:

INHALE: I will not be silenced by fear.

EXHALE: A quivering voice is still sacred.

INHALE: God, my soul trembles.

EXHALE: Steady me in your arms.

INHALE: I will meet this fear with rest.

EXHALE: God, steady me in your arms.

[1] James Farmer, Lay Bare the Heart: An Autobiography of the Civil Rights Movement (New York: Arbor House, 1985), 3.

Cole Arthur Riley, Black Liturgies: Prayers, Poems, and Meditations for Staying Human (New York: Convergent, 2024), 96–97, 97–98, 104.

Image credit and inspiration:  Thays Orrico, Untitled (detail), Brazil, 2020, photograph, public domain. Click here to enlarge image.

We keep the candles lit together throughout the joys and pains of human life.

Story from Our Community:  

Resiliency started for me in 1980. I was in a tragic accident which almost resulted in losing my life and my left leg above the knee. I was only 16. Many years later … I scheduled myself for an elective above knee amputation due to severe pain, inability to walk and other complications from that awful accident. In July 2023, I fell learning how to run using a brand new running prosthetic. My knee on my good right leg sustained a complete ruptured patella tendon requiring surgery. Through this recent injury I suffered greatly until I finally surrendered, let go and trusted that everything will be okay.… On my recovery journey there were some dark, tear-filled days. I realized that God is there with me and in me. I’m now walking with one crutch and amazed and grateful as I reflect on my resiliency journey. —Theresa Y.

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