We have watched in horror and sadness the unfolding of what happened in the small town of Steubenville, Ohio. Just in case you’ve not been watching the news, two high school football players were found guilty this past week of sexually assaulting a young woman who was too intoxicated to know what was happening to her or give her consent for sexual contact. While this was happening to her, countless other teenagers watched, tweeted and photographed the debauchery.

We’d like to blame what happened on teenage foolishness, adolescent recklessness, the inability of teenagers to understand the consequences of their behavior and the problem of absentee parents. But I wonder how different the evening might have turned out for both the two convicted young men as well as the victim if just one of their friends would have had the courage to speak up and say, “Stop?”

How might the young woman have felt the next morning if she woke up at one of her friend’s homes instead of naked in a stranger’s house? If her friend said “You were too drunk last night to make good decisions for yourself, and I wouldn’t let you get into the car with those two boys. How might those two football players felt the next morning when they realized that they were a hairs breath away from committing a serious crime except for their good friend who stopped them?

Why were these adolescents so willing to turn a blind eye to the evil right before them? Were all of these teens too drunk to know right from wrong? Or was there something more universal at work?

I don’t think their reluctance stemmed from drunkenness, but rather from the fear of man. They were too afraid to stand up against what was happening because they feared the disapproval and censure of the group if they did.

Lest we judge these teens too harshly, I find we aren’t much different even as adults. Let me share two examples in my own life where I have bowed to the fear of man with deep regrets.

Early in my marriage, I attended a women’s retreat where the speaker spoke on submission. To illustrate her point, she shared a story of a pregnant woman whose husband wanted her to have an abortion. Despite the woman’s misgivings, she submitted to her husband. The speaker happily reported that on the way to the procedure, the woman had a spontaneous miscarriage. “See”, the speaker said, “God was faithful.” I wanted to stand up and shout, “Don’t believe such simplistic teaching about submission” but I stayed glued to my seat. Why? I feared the censure of the group. I feared the other women would think I was a feminist, a liberal Christian.

In another example, my husband and I went to dinner with a couple we enjoyed socially. Since the restaurant was about an hour away, the man said he’d drive. However, during dinner, the man consumed at least three cocktails. My husband and I looked at one another and whispered, what are we going to do? We don’t want to offend our friends, but we didn’t want to risk orphaning our two children who were back home with a babysitter. But neither one of us said a word as we sat stone faced and terrified in the back seat while he drove home. Thankfully we arrived safely, but what if we hadn’t? What if someone had gotten hurt or killed because we were more worried about what our friend would think than everyone’s safety.

In each of these incidents, I lacked the courage to speak up and do what was right and I wasn’t drunk or an adolescent.

The Bible warns us that the fear of man lays a snare (Proverbs 29:25). When we are controlled by fear, we can’t love well. Therefore, let me share with you three things you can do to begin to conquer your fear of man. I want you to live for God’s approval rather than man’s and, perhaps in the process, save a friend from having to live with life-long negative consequences.

  1.  Anchor yourself in God’s love first rather than people’s love. The Bible tells us that perfect love casts out fear (1 John 4:18). When we bend into other people, we are controlled by their opinions and their approval rather than God’s. This not only hurts us, it may very well hurt them. When we are confident of God’s love for us, it empowers us to love others well without being held captive by our fear of their disapproval.
  2. Learn to tolerate another person’s disapproval, disagreement, and differences. If we are unable to tolerate these emotions, we will always go along with the group. In addition, we won’t grow into the person God has created us to be. No one likes people to be upset or angry with him or her, but there are times where we need to do what God tells us rather than cave to the approval or pressure of the group.
  3. Ask God for the courage to do the right thing, to stand apart from the group when necessary. That doesn’t mean you won’t feel fearful. Courage isn’t the absence of fear, rather it’s the power to be present to your fear and still say and do the right thing.

Let us learn a lesson from Steubenville. Dietrich Bonheoffer, a young Lutheran pastor who was martyred during Hitler’s regime said, “Silence in the face of evil is evil itself. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”

I hope you will stand with me and determine you are unwilling to be a silent bystander when you see someone potentially hurting themselves or hurting someone else even if it means disapproval from the group.

12 Responses to "How to break free from the fear of man"

  • Michelle says:

    May I please ask how this would apply to verbally abusive marriages. If someone in your family has shared that they are being verbally abused, and you are related to the abuser, do you have a moral responsibility to say something to the abuser? And, the reason why you wouldn’t want to confront the abuser is because you don’t want to have them be mad at you. I am in this situation, and I am wondering if I am expecting too much of family members,who know what is going on, to help me.

    Thank you.

    1. Leslie says:

      If someone has shared that they’re being verbally abused, ask her what she’d like you to do with that information. Perhaps she is not ready for him to be confronted, or to do so would result in greater abuse towards her. But what you can do is validate that she does not deserve to be treated with abuse and that she should get the help she needs to learn how to stick up for herself. She can find a lot of free information on dealing with an abusive/destructive spouse on my blog at http://www.leslievernick.com as well as free resources at the same site.

  • Jenny says:

    I agree with everything you are teaching n its amazing that you stand up for what others don’t we are so blind to so many things in life n don’t realize how it effects us in the long run I’m about to be a new mother I’m nine months n will soon have to worry about my baby boy no I’m not married but I made the decision to have my baby the Lord gave me the name Malachi I can not wait to share my stories with him n the stories of the bible its hard being young because we all make decisions that will effect us <3 thanks so much for standing up and speaking

    1. Leslie says:

      Congratulations on being a new mom. It’s the most difficult and wonderful thing I’ve ever had to do – to raise children. But God will give you the wisdom you need to do the job he calls you to. But in line with the thrust of this blog, teach your children boys or girls, not to be the bystander when someone is getting hurt or bullied, but to speak up and help.

  • Linda says:

    So grateful to have read this! Earlier today my husband reprimanded me for sharing a Christian resource for self-injury (cutters) with a young man 18yo high schooler whom I found out has been cutting himself when severely stressed. My husband said that his parents are going to find out I shared this resource to help this teen and that his parents would be angry with me. I started second guessing but after reading this article on breaking free from fear of man, I’m grateful to have followed through on what I believed to have been the Holy Spirit’s guidance to reach out to this young man. If I have something that may help someone else, why shouldn’t I share it?

    1. Leslie says:

      I agree Linda. Sometimes we get so worried about offending someone we don’t step in where God has given us an opportunity to. Obviously we want to be sensitive to these situations and not overstep our boundaries but I think you did the right thing.

  • Haley says:

    Sarah, I urge you to check out Leslie’s blog at http://www.leslievernick.com. She has been so blessed by wisdom and common sense, and she has the tremendous gift of being able to draw sensible advice from the Bible regarding relationships and our lives as Christians. Leslie’s writings are some of the best resources I have found during my family’s journey. She illuminates so many practical, helpful and relatable passages in scripture that are often twisted and misused among people in congregations. God is so much bigger and greater than the people who sometimes claim to wear His name.

    1. Leslie says:

      Thanks Haley for your encouragment. Sometimes writing is lonely work and so it always blesses me to hear from someone who actually reads my blogs.

  • As I speak to parents about protecting their kids from sexual abuse, I often encounter questions like, “What do we do about sleepovers?”or “There is a person who gives me the creeps, yet my child is often invited over to this person’s house to play with his daughter?” These questions end with, “How do I handle this without hurting others feelings?” Yes, we all struggle with the fear of man, even when it comes to protecting our kids. Wise words, Leslie. I will share the link to this post as needed. Thank you!

    1. Leslie says:

      Carolyn,

      I struggled with the same dilemma when my daughter was younger. Thankfully she had good “gut” sense of who she felt comfortable with. There were times I thought it was fine for her to go but she didn’t feel quite right. It’s important for us to teach our kids to honor that still small voice that’s jumping around inside their tummy that says “somethings wrong.”

  • Sarah says:

    Leslie,

    I have come away from the church a number of years ago. I disagree with many of the teachings, seeing traces of hate and ignorance in them. This is the first thing I have read in a long time that is founded in religion and is enlightening. Thank you for writing and sharing this. This helped me open up my eyes a bit more and see how I have wrongly and ashamedly categorized religion and religious peoples as being ignorant.

    Sarah

    1. Leslie says:

      Sarah,

      I’m so glad my words gave you hope that God may have real answers to real problems all of us face. Too often we’ve been reckless or glib with our easy answers to everyone’s problems and unknowingly hurt others in the process.

      I hope you continue to listen to Christian radio and please feel free to stop by my other blog where I tackle a troublesome relationship issue each week.

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