COLUMBUS, Ga. — After facing death on several foreign battlefields, Jeff Struecker has overcome the fear of his own demise, not to mention less pressing concerns like financial difficulties or the childhood nightmares that followed his parents’ divorce.
Still, he battles uncertainties, and at the top of the list is the possibility of a seventh trip to the war-torn Middle East. Struecker dreads the possibility that his wife, Dawn, could be left alone to raise their five children, ages 4 to 12.
The former Army Ranger and central figure in the hit book and movie “Black Hawk Down” is OK with admitting that fear.
“This is sad if you think about it, but there’s an overwhelming philosophy in [U.S.] culture that you just don’t show fear,” said Struecker, author a new book called “The Road to Unafraid.”
“I think that’s a mistake. People in other cultures readily display their fears, but they go on with life anyway,” he said. “In our culture we tend to repress the fact that we are afraid.”
Now a chaplain at Fort Benning, Ga., Struecker hopes his book will help readers – especially Christians – learn how to overcome the fears that he says are a part of everyone’s life.
Whether in military or civilian life, Struecker, a member of Fairview Baptist Church in Columbus, Ga., said people are generally afraid of the unknown. Ultimately, that revolves around fear of what might happen in the future, whether with personal relationships, career decisions or finances, he said. Such trepidations, and the unwillingness to admit their existence, propelled the writing of "The Road to Unafraid."
Although he and his wife started writing it prior to his 1998 enrollment at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., after 100 pages it sat on the shelf for more than eight years.
But when a division of Thomas Nelson Publishers approached him about writing a book that would use his experiences to help people overcome fear, he felt inspired to resume.
“[Co-author Dean Merrill] and I felt like the whole book was earning the right to say what we said in the last chapter,” said Struecker, who culminates his tales of life-threatening combat experiences with an in-depth look at the topic of fear.
“The last chapter takes a very different tone and in some cases takes a hard right turn. It went through many different edits before it was approved,” he said. “We smashed through the rest of the book but we both firmly believed we wanted the last chapter to be very pastoral.”
Men are the worst when it comes to admitting fear, Struecker said, and that may stem from their upbringing and the cultural messages that showing fear equals weakness.
He argues it is the opposite, pointing to Paul’s request that God remove his thorn in the flesh. When the Lord refused, He said, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my strength is made perfect in weakness,” (2 Corinthians 12), Struecker noted.
“Fear is healthy for us, just like pain is healthy,” Struecker said. “Pain tells you, ‘This is not a good situation.’ Fear also tells us, ‘This is not a good situation’ and to repress it is unhealthy.”
Struecker accepted Christ at age 13, and it was a decision that helped end his youthful nightmares. His faith was the first step to overcoming fear. Another step was confessing it to a chaplain during a 1993 deployment to Somalia, when Struecker thought he would die.
In a scene from chapter 1 of his book, when a soldier tells him he doesn’t want to return to a dangerous area to rescue stranded soldiers, Struecker replies, “The difference between being a coward and a hero is not whether you’re scared or not. It’s what you do while you’re scared.”
That confession helped him the next day, when he would look soldiers in the eye and say, “I’m afraid just like you are, but I’m going to do my job,” Struecker recalled.
The first way he suggests overcoming fears is casting them on the Lord, which Struecker relates to trusting in God’s sovereignty. Whether in combat with bullets whizzing overhead, potential financial crises, or a medical emergency with their oldest child, Struecker said it helped to remember he wasn’t in control of any of those situations.
“I also believe God is good and He has my best in mind,” Struecker said. “He is still good and He is using these circumstances to grow me, to mold me and to make me into the man He wants me to be.”
Confessing such fears is best done in a small group where people can share problems or misgivings and enlist prayer support, he said.
“I don’t know anybody who has reached a level of spiritual maturity they are comfortable with who hasn’t been involved in a small group or mentored along the way,” Struecker said. “In my opinion, anyone who just shows up [for church] on Sunday morning and leaves is not as spiritually mature as they should be or could be.”
He said the sad thing about refusing to admit fear or failing to confront it is the natural consequence of failing to achieve worthwhile goals, whether on a personal level or church level.
A person facing a challenge on his or her job can chose to either meet it or play it safe, which usually leads to being paralyzed by fear and failing to take any action, Streucker said. The same thing can happen to churches.
“This is what I see as the difference between mediocre churches and great churches,” said Struecker, who was ordained by Fairview Baptist during a previous tour at Fort Benning. “Great churches take risks and do great things for God. Mediocre churches play it safe. I think they do because of the fear, ‘What happens if this backfires?’ It could backfire. But [they have] to be willing to take the risk and see what happens next.”
© 2006 Southern Baptist Convention, Baptist Press. All rights reserved. Used with permission.