Chaplain Norris Burkes (copy)

Chaplain Norris Burkes

With trick-or-treaters donning their scariest costumes in just a handful of days, I propose we play a version of the game "20 Questions."

I introduce these questions under the heading, “What is it that really frightens you?”

For instance, are you afraid of the dark? Are you terrified of miniature goblins and monsters? Or are you just hoping to keep your home safe from these tricksters?

Hopefully, you’ve outgrown such fears, but maybe you still have some phobias of the everyday nature. For instance, do you dread the upcoming holidays with the in-laws? Or do you share with me the universal fear of public speaking?

If those things don’t bother you, maybe you’re ready to address your deeper fears.

Are you afraid of losing someone you love? Or does the possibility of your own demise frighten you to death?

When I feel afraid or anxious about something, I use a two-point checklist to uncover my pressing issues.

First, I ask myself, “What is the most terrifying part of my fear?”

Much of the time, my response reveals a deeper sense of helplessness.

It’s the same feeling I hear expressed by hospital patients who confess that waiting is the scariest part of their illness. They say they’d cope better if they knew their future and could prepare for it. The fear they are voicing is “powerlessness.”

I address the fear of being powerless with the first two steps from the 12-step groups.

Step one: “Admit you are powerless.”

Step two: “Believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us.”

But the most important question I ask myself is, “What would I do if I were not afraid?”

Many of my readers will recognize this question from the book “Who Moved My Cheese?” by Dr. Spencer Johnson.

I like the question because I believe that deep down we know what we would do if we weren’t so afraid. We know what we want.

Maybe we want something relatively simple, like self-improvement. We ask ourselves if fear wasn’t such a showstopper, could I go back to school? Could I take just one step toward fitness? I did both of these things in 2012. I earned a Masters of Fine Arts in nonfiction writing, and I took up golf and running, eventually finishing two marathons.

But these are surface fears. To grow, we must ask harder questions.

Are we afraid to confront the bullies in our lives?

Perhaps we are dealing with an abusive spouse. Or maybe we struggle with an adult child who’s boomeranged yet again. Is this the moment we’ll choose to face our fears and evict him or her?

Or possibly, will you muster the strength to confront your foul boss? If you weren’t so afraid you’d lose your job, would you, could you, speak up for yourself?

Still, the scariest thing you could possibly list has got to be forgiveness.

What would happen if you used Halloween as an occasion to forgive someone?

As a chaplain, I’ve visited many terminal patients. They never told me they were “afraid” they hadn’t spent enough time in the office or made more money.

No, they wished they hadn’t been too scared to express love. They wished they hadn’t been so hard on people and had chosen forgiveness over hate instead.

Mahatma Gandhi said: “The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.”

I suspect he is right.

The Apostle Paul completes that sentiment in 2 Timothy 1:7. “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.”

Reach Norris Burkes by email at comment@thechaplain.net; on Facebook at chaplainnorris; by phone at 843-608-9715; or via mail at P.O. Box 247 Elk Grove, CA 95624.