The Portal of Fear

Sep 18 / Hannah Souter
Do you remember the nursery rhyme, We’re Going On A Bear Hunt?

We’re goin’ on a bear hunt,
We’re gonna catch a big one,
I’m not scared
What a beautiful day!
Oh, look! It’s (fill in the blank with your obstacle of choice)
Can’t go over it,
Can’t go under it,
Can’t go around it,
Got to go through it!

I think of this song when facing a difficult experience or emotion. More often than not, for me, that experience or emotion is fear.

In therapy last year, I was asked to create a fear hierarchy list. I pulled up a blank Google sheet and, one by one, began to type the things I’m most afraid of. I then ranked and sorted the items from most scary to least scary. Needless to say, I was sweating bullets just making the list! But then, my therapist and I went through each scary thing and talked about what a challenging but tolerable exposure to that thing might be. Exposing myself to the things that scared me—even just thinking about the scary thing, saying it out loud, or reading an article about it—would begin to give my brain and body muscle memory for engaging with those difficult emotions.

If you are a reasonable human being, you might be thinking: WHY ON EARTH WOULD SHE DO THIS? That’s a very reasonable question.

I am a 6 on the Enneagram, so tending to my relationship with fear has been a real game-changer for me. Left unexplored, fear can limit my ability to engage with my identity, my calling, my hopes, and my dreams. Throughout my life, I have been invited to walk through portal after portal of fear toward the things that matter most to me. Last year, I decided (or rather, life decided) it was time to jump into this fear work with both feet.

When thinking through a potential fear exposure, my therapist would ask me, “What is it you are hoping to learn by doing this?” Facing fear for the sake of the fear itself was never the goal. It was vital to have a clear, deep, value-driven “why” behind the work.

Throughout this experience, I thought of 1 John 4:18—There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. 

The medicine for fear is loving action.

Author Sheryl Paul puts it this way, “We learn to understand that every time we move toward love, fear comes in with a grenade of reasons why we’re making a mistake. We notice and name the fear, bring compassion to it, then make choices based on our values.”

Every day, when I begin to feel fear clamor in my body or hear her turn up the volume in my head, I am invited to turn toward her or push her down. I remember the bear hunt and how we can’t go over it, can’t go under it, and can’t go around it. So, most of the time, I choose to go through it—to name, to feel, to take a deep breath, put my hand on my heart, and speak to fear like a loving parent would guide a worried child. Fear reminds me to get clear on my “why,” and from there, I can find my next steps toward love.

Want to hear more from Hannah? Join her in her upcoming course, Becoming Alive: Body-based Practices for Wholehearted Faith, on Fridays from September 22-October 20 from 11am-12pm PT. In Becoming Alive, participants will be invited to incorporate body-based practices into their spiritual formation. Each week we will focus on a different theme and practice.

From befriending our bodies to learning the language of our bodies, we will seek to know God—not only in our midst, but present to us through our uniquely embodied self. Click the link to learn more!
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Hannah Souter
Hannah Souter is the Assistant Director for the Institute for Pastoral & Congregational Thriving at Portland Seminary, where she also earned a Masters in Ministry Leadership. Hannah served as a pastor in SE Portland and now works at Leadership Center—helping leaders grow in personal and organizational wellness. Hannah is a born and raised Portlander. She and her dog, Teva, like to play outside and have dinner parties with friends.