One of the first lessons I learned at a young age in this sport of wrestling was to face each opponent with courage and without fear. The coaches frequently motivated and gave speeches to remind us that when we face opponents there is no room to show fear even if there is hidden inside. They said wrestlers should avoid any thoughts or feelings of fear and rather focus on bravery, courage, boldness and heroism.
We were taught to cope with fear as we face each wrestling match by avoiding those negative feelings and thoughts and focusing on the positive thoughts and feelings. But what happens when thinking or being positive is not sufficient when dealing with fear? What happens when you try to get away from fear and it still follows you? What if fear can be as natural as breathing? What kind of fear are we talking?
Elite or Olympic athletes can easily create a worldview of themselves being someone selected, superior, or above the average person. There is some truth to the previous statement because those athletes are set apart from the rest when it comes to physical qualities and endurance. However, when it comes to facing the various challenges that life throws at you and the emotional stresses, we are in the same boat as everyone else.
For quite some time, I thought I was immune to fear, but I realized that “Superman” also had his kryptonite. The confident warrior mentality was not exempt to the fears brought by the challenges on and outside of the wrestling mat. And I was not alone in this struggle because the world is full of people with fear.
Learning that fear was more common than I thought helped me analyze my own fears. For example, I remember sometime ago I injured my abductor and I was out for several months rehabbing it. After a time of slow progress, I was ready to come back to the wrestling mat, at least I thought. To my shock, however, the first day of training I found myself using lots of caution despite being completely healed.
Somehow the memory of how I injured myself activated the pain sensor of the brain sending a pain signal via the nerve cells that communicated, “Caution, yield, attention, you’ve been here before and you know what happened.”
In an abnormal circumstance, I could have argued that this is a malfunctioning of the nerve sending signals to the muscle, but it was simply my thoughts, my feelings, my new perception on this injury. Why would I perceive this injury in this way if I had other injuries in the past and moved on?
I think once I peeled off all the layers and got down to the root, I learned that I had the fear of the future, the fear of not being able to control an outcome like I was used to. I thought it was silly that my mind would be seriously preoccupied with the pain that I would feel despite being healthy. Yet avoiding it never really made it go away, and you can become easily paralyzed by your own thoughts.
I am not sure how other people deal with fear. Maybe they try the different self-help books out there, a mentor, or even professional help. But in my situation I did some research on fear, and then had to remind myself of the unchanging reference point to which I anchor my life.
In my research I found that while there are several thousands of fears and phobias, we are born with only two innate fears: the fear of falling and the fear of loud noise. As Mark Batterson mentions “every other fear is learned, which means that every other fear can be unlearned. The fact is that most fear is not based on fact.” Much of what we fear is based on a feeling and this was important to know in order to choose my battles.
I also learned that the opposite of fear is not courage like I thought originally. I would argue that the opposite of fear is love, and gratitude can remind us of the complete picture of our problem. What kind of love are we talking about? We are talking about the kind of love that is perfect, God’s love. There is a Scripture that says “perfect love casts out all fear,” and if this is true then a revelation of God’s perfect love has the potential to radically change the way we battle fear. Thus if I keep growing in God’s love, all that will be left is the fear of God.
Fear tries to make us look at all our problems at once: those from yesterday, today, and tomorrow. As a byproduct, your thoughts can be very negative, untrue, and very ungrateful. During the abductor injury, I was thinking in those ways, but I pondered and pondered and asked, “What if I combat this thought or feeling with being grateful?”
I started to say “Thank you God, because even though one leg is injured the other parts of the body have no problems. Thank you for the opportunity to wrestle for Puerto Rico. Thank you because I get to wrestle as a job for this season of life. Thank you God because the things I cannot control are in your hands.”
When somehow we are able to find things to be grateful for in the midst of difficulty or fear, we are forced to look at our situation from a posture of humility and that may shift our perspective despite the feeling we have. Therefore, this will lead us to a more accurate picture of our reality, of our situation, of how to view fear.