"Do the thing you fear
and the death of fear is certain."
Before this moment, I was unaware that starfish existed larger than my face. Of course, this was a day of many firsts. Fifty foot depth in Caribbean waters is a good teacher.
A few weeks earlier I was panicking with full gear strapped on in the bottom of a four foot pool. The basics are the same at any depth, and fear is always your chief enemy. Fear drives up the heart rate and increases breathing. Oxygen floods your lungs and empties from your tank. Buoyancy is destroyed and you rapidly start to rise.
We practiced techniques that served to alleviate panic: lose of the mask, water in the mask, the regulator pulled from the face, a dropped weight belt, and even oxygen failure. It's the same each time... you panic, you can die. If you stay calm, and remember what you've been taught, you can survive most anything.
I found myself on my knees on the ocean floor, completing the exercises for PADI dive certification: removal of the mask, clearing of water, breathing through the regulator with my eyes and nose exposed, clearing the regulator, using a buddies regulator, dropping weight, and practicing signals. These things had all caused me great distress on the bottom of that four foot pool, but here at depth, I'd mastered my calm. Breathe, steady, in and out. Breathe deep.
I'd had to practice this, hoping no-one else noticed me in the corner of the pool with my eyes closed, concentrating only on the draw and push of air from my lungs. I'd force my breathing to calm as my body began to realize it could survive.
Entering open water this was critical. I found myself feeling the grip of panic as the current pulled me away from the boat and I couldn't find my regulator. I snorkeled as I calmed my breathing and heart rate. Then I was able to regain perspective and rationality. Again I felt panic as we swam near the foundation of an ocean beacon. Current pulled me between the beams of the steel structure and into coral. My training kept me calm through the danger.
In my life, I seem to always fear the things that I need to conquer in order to grow as a person. I've feared public speaking, the dark, crowds, talking to people I don't know, driving, heights, cities, and certainly the idea of diving into the ocean. But I've learned that when I can gain perspective within the fear, the fear disappears.
I've learned that when I fear something, it controls me until I face it. I don't think that's unique to me though, I think living is about overcoming fear. We must be willing to bleed, to fail, to fall, and to pull a little water into our lungs on the ocean floor. What I can tell you with certainty is this... the things I've enjoyed doing the most, the things that have helped me to become as a man, and those things that I've feared.
The truth is, I still fear them at some level... but it's an inanimate fear, a dead fear... like a dead virus converted to an inoculation. I remember being afraid of a kid named Chris in high school. We fought one day and became friends thereafter. I think that was one of the first times I learned to face fear, survive it, and realize that I was ok. There's just something assuring about that.
Whenever I face fear, I know that I must calm my emotions. I love the way that a young man learned this... thousands of years ago when his mentor wrote to him, "For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind." His name was Tim and Paul told him this in a letter.
An ocean floor with a rubber tube in your mouth is a good place to be reminded of this simple truth. We must not be influenced by the terrors that surround us. We must remember our training. We must remember the truths that are constant. We must remember our identity.
In those tough days, when the pressure and the threats are just too much... when you feel your resolve shatter and you are near panic... that is the moment when you can witness the death of fear. Don't miss it. That moment is where you grow. Where you realize that you can face the thing that grips you.
And that is the moment where you can begin to appreciate the beauty that surrounds you. The warm current that softly carries you along with schools of vibrant, shiny fish. Corals and starfish of endless varieties that are at your fingertips. You look up and see the rays of the sun flickering down through the depths and you give praise to the One that holds it all.
Whatever fear you face in your life, I offer you this. It is real. It is present. You are correct that it is a danger. So now, consider the threat, and be bold like Peter and John as they faced trial before the religious leaders (Acts 4). Remember who you are. Remember whose you are, and who sends you. Remember what you've learned. Finally, know that He offers you power, love, and a sound mind.
Breathe steady. Breathe deep. Find your calm in Him. He has created you to do great things. Far greater than you can imagine. Don't let fear hold you back. There is beauty at the bottom where the light shines through.