Pause for Thought: Fight the Fear
Understanding fears and anxieties
by Brian Radcliffe
Suitable for Whole School (Sec)
To encourage us to examine the roots of our fears and create strategies to deal with them.
Preparation and materials
- You will need some sheets of paper and pens or pencils to distribute to the students at the start of the assembly.
- The Bible story in the ‘Assembly’, Step 2, is found in Matthew 14.22-31.
- Give each student a sheet of paper and ask them to write down three fears that they have. Ask them to be completely honest because nobody will see their list unless they decide to share it.
Pause to allow time for the students to write their lists.
- Explain that you are going to tell the students a story about fear that is found in Matthew 14.22-31.
Jesus’ disciples dropped him off at a quiet location for a time of personal prayer and meditation before they set off to sail across the Lake of Galilee. However, the nature of the mountainous landscape meant that the lake was prone to sudden storms and unfortunately, the disciples soon found themselves caught up in one. The winds were really strong and they could make little headway. The disciples started to fear for their lives.
Suddenly, just visible through the gusty rain, a ghostly figure appeared. It seemed to be walking towards them on the surface of the water. The disciples were scared stiff, believing that they were seeing a ghost. However, it turned out to be Jesus coming to meet them in the boat. He reassured the disciples that it was him but, as you’d expect, some of them (particularly Peter) were doubtful and needed more solid proof. Jesus called Peter to him. Peter stepped over the side of the boat and found that he could walk on the surface of the water too. He began to move towards Jesus, but suddenly realized the peril in which he’d placed himself. The wind still roared, and the waves tumbled. Peter panicked and found himself sinking. It was only Jesus’ intervention that prevented him from drowning.
Time for reflection
Explain that there is a lot of fear in this story. Tell the students that you are going to outline three types of fear and you would like them to check whether the fears that they have recorded fit into any of these categories.
First, there’s the fear that we experience when we find ourselves in unexpectedly risky or dangerous situations, like the storm on the lake. It’s not a situation that we could have anticipated or avoided. It could be a surprise meeting, a threat, a medical diagnosis or a world-shattering event. Suddenly, we’re plunged into a crisis and we fear that we’ll never escape it. Many people felt like this about the Covid-19 pandemic. It seemed life-changing.
The second type of fear is irrational fear, like the disciples believing Jesus to be a ghost. Watching too many horror movies or documentaries about supposedly supernatural events can fuel a vivid imagination. We might have phobias, which seem to others to be irrational fears. Common examples are phobias of spiders, darkness or heights. We don’t know the origins of these phobias, but they induce real fear nonetheless.
Third, there’s the fear that we experience when we’ve deliberately chosen to put ourselves at risk. This is when we get ourselves into a mess of our own making! In the story, Peter chooses to step over the side of the boat. All is well until he realizes where he is, and then fear takes over. For us, this could be attempting an activity and then finding that we can’t do it, or challenging someone stronger than ourselves and then losing. It’s not wrong to give ourselves a challenge, but there will often be an element of fear attached.
So, how do we handle fear?
Open up the discussion, noting contributions that may be added to the following summary.
Let’s try to summarize our ideas and create a strategy.
- Face the fear. Don’t try to avoid it or ignore it. It will only catch up with us in the end.
- Relax. Don’t panic. Like the advice given if you get into trouble in the water: lie back like a starfish, concentrate on floating with the water, control your breathing and summon help.
- Breathing is the key. Take a big breath in, and then slowly exhale. This helps the body out of panic mode.
- With phobias, don’t feed the fear. Avoid films, video clips and situations that include the triggers.
- Talk about your fear. It’s easier to face when others identify with you. Together, you can overcome many fears.
- Add any other student contributions that have not been mentioned.
- Finally, if you have a faith, a quick arrow prayer is quite appropriate. Jesus turned up for the disciples just in the nick of time!
‘Three little birds’ by Bob Marley & The Wailers, available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HNBCVM4KbUM (3.12 minutes long)
- Encourage the students to share their list of fears with another student, if they feel able. Ask them to help each other to develop a strategy to cope with these specific fears.