There is an old Bible verse that resonates with me…
I am not a religious person. In fact, I am of Jewish descent, so it might strike you as odd that I would turn to biblical quotes in my venture to seek out peace. In turn, I have located a great verse that represents all of humankind. From Philippians 2:12: “Wherefore, my beloved, for ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” Why is this relevant in counseling? Well, for one, it speaks of times when we feel we are lost, confused, or complacent.
The message that is delivered with this quote can be manifested even in those who do not believe in spirituality. It speaks of times when God is not around, i.e. when in his absence, and it says exactly what we need to do when in a situation where we feel abandoned or without cause: to work out our own salvation. In other words, when we feel we are not being looked out for, it is our duty as human beings to fight through the hardships; to battle ourselves in an effort to reach a higher calling; and to realize that when God (or any higher power) is not there, we are supposed to traverse through fear to reach our end goal.
Fear & Trembling
When lost, confused, or abandoned by the spiritual world, we have a duty as people to realize that sometimes asking for forgiveness means forgiving ourselves; that when times are troubling, we have to succumb to the notion that we are alone, and that is not a bad thing. It is in those moments that we find our salvation through “fear and trembling.” It seems to me that now more than ever, we are in a world where it is hard enough to find resources to help us, and I feel most would agree.
Thus, we have to realize that when not within the reach of help or assistance, we must fight our way through desolation and embrace fear as a mechanism for survival. From a psychological perspective, the amygdala is a tiny part of the brain that represents the reptilian part of us (it is located in the hindbrain, where basic instinct remains below higher cognition). I honestly feel that this Bible verse represents just that: basic instinct. The fight-or-flight mechanism activates when we are at our worst, and to be able to embrace it when times call for self-induced battle is essential in life.
That part of the brain has two responses to fear: stand your ground, or run away. I have always asked clients: “If you heard a scream in the middle of the night, would you run toward the scream, or away from it?” This is a great example of the fight-or-flight mechanism because it allows us to see what kind of person we are. If walking down a lonely street one night – no protection except the very darkness that surrounds you – and you heard someone screaming in the forested area to your left, what would you do? Would you run for help, which may mean you are too late? Or would you rush the danger in a silhouette, fire and fury, in an effort to help? I have found that while most say they would run toward the scream, most would also call the cops!
This is not always the right way to look at things. What if you do not have a phone? What if the cops arrive too late? Would you risk your own safety to save another? Would you embrace fear and trembling and use it to your advantage, or would you allow it to encompass you, causing you to freeze up in a paralytic moment of fear? I often refer to clients as either rabbits or tortoises, for the rabbit runs while the tortoise hides in its shell. Think about that quote:
“Fear and trembling…
” What would you do?
If this was in context of you and you alone, how far would you go to tremble in fear simply to protect your own life? And more so, would you stand and fight for what is yours, or would you cower in fear? Just like the quote says, when there is no one around to protect you, or someone you love, or maybe even a complete stranger, you have to decide: are you willing to work out your own salvation with fear and trembling…?