Fear. Hope. Courage.
Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you lacked one and felt an excess of the other? I have. Numerous times.
Webster’s Dictionary defines fear as follows:
1) to be afraid or apprehensive of
2) to have a reverential awe of (God)
Now, the latter is good for you, but the former is, well…I’d like to dig into that.
We all experience it.
I have both irrational and rational fears. You do too, whether you are fully aware of them or not.
- I fear both failure and success and sometimes, both of those keep me grounded where I’m at, not moving forward or taking steps back.
- I fear fire; of losing something to a raging inferno. I guess you could look at that fear from multiple angles: losing a loved one or valued objects (so petty of me, I know – I’m sometimes a tad bit too sentimental for my own good) to a house fire, being “burned” in a relationship, being burned by fire myself (there are a few interesting stories to go along with that portion of this fear) and more. I used to have nightmares about a never-ending inferno combined with the screams of someone who mattered burning alive and to this day, I can remember the last one I had quite vividly.
- I fear snakes.
- I fear certain situations in life never coming to fruition. I also fear those same things coming to their full potential (i.e. waiting for that metaphorical shoe to drop/what if it doesn’t?).
- I fear any relationship coming to an abrupt end, whether it be because of a difference of opinion or lifestyle, a change in life’s circumstances (i.e. moving away), or the loss of a loved one. I’ve been blessed in the fact that I haven’t lost an immediate family member or a really close friend. Someday though. After all, we’re not guaranteed tomorrow, much the less the next minute.
- I fear not being loved back; of never being someone’s choice; of being alone.
- I fear that the things I enjoy most in this life could be snatched away from me at any given moment. This goes for relationships, a job, volunteering opportunities, people, my church, etc.
These are just a few on a list that seems to grow the more aware I become of my fears as I experience the ins and outs of everyday living.
I had never thought of myself as the anxious type, but in reading a book about insecurity and doing a study on it a year and a half ago changed my perspective on that and made me oh-so-aware of where I fall on that chart.
Is anxiety a disease or an affliction? Perhaps it is something of both. Partly…because you can’t help it, and partly because for some dark reason you choose not to help it, you torment yourself with detailed visions of the worst that can possibly happen. – Frederick Buechner
Yeah, I’ve been there. I’m a worrier. I’m a woman for crying out loud…aren’t we worriers by nature? Ugh! Can I just state that the amount of time I spend worrying over things beyond my control frustrates me to no end? It does. Oh, how it does.
Erwin McManus (a very, very wise man) once said, ” What you fear is what you are subject to. Your fears define the boundaries of your life. When you fear God, you are subject only to Him.”
Chew on that with me for a moment. My fear of fire could confine me to the boundaries of whatever room I’m in if I were to be caught in a structural fire. My fear of success and failure could keep me from exploring the possibility of starting and running my own business. But…when I fear only God, the possibilities are endless. He has no end. He is eternity. And He is all I need to fear. Everything else pales and shrinks in comparison to Him. Always.
I’ve been reading a book by Jerusha Clark through which God, in His amazing love and the truth of His gospel, has been setting me free: Every Thought Captive. Ever wonder whether we can control our wandering thoughts; our worries; our fears? We can. Transformation doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a slow process, this transforming of my mind from the inside out, and I’ve begun to see the evidence of this in my own life.
In chapter 3, Jerusha Clark shares the stories of three women, who, like many of us, worry and/or deal with anxiety. One worries over her grades, relationships and her future. Another worries about the day-to-day mundane tasks and the details of life. And still, another fretted over things that were beyond her control, like what other people thought of her, past mistakes, family, work.
Unfortunately, I’ve been in the shoes of all three to some degree and I’m sure you can relate. Regardless of what you believe, lots of women live fear-filled, anxious or worried lives. We worry about everything from whether or not we left the coffeepot on to whether we’ll ever get married or have children. I worry about where I placed my Bluetooth and if it will be there when I need it. I worry about my car falling apart when it doesn’t sound right. I worry about my mom and her diabetes. I worry about my relationships with my girlfriends when we’re at odds. I worry about being single when I’m ninety. I sometimes worry about the storms that we get overnight (particularly this time of the year) and whether I will be here in the morning. I worry about leaving projects unfinished. I worry about the future of my relationship with this incredible guy God brought into my life. I worry about what I will wear in the morning. I worry about the unknowns. This list goes on. I’m sure I’ve probably worried myself sick at times. We have a tendency to plan and manipulate every detail of our lives, desperately trying to avoid the things we fear. Oh, how true that statement is!
While I don’t feel that it rules my entire day as I am slowly learning that I have a choice in how I spend the majority of my time (when not focused on work or a conversation at hand), I choose to converse with God. Nine times out of ten, I probably look insane…that girl, talking to herself. But, I do struggle with this.
I’ve been dealing with my suffering, troubled and distracted mind for quite some time now, and the sick part is that I get some sort of dark, twisted enjoyment out of the whole thing…on some level at least. Dave Ramsey once compared a person’s debt to a toddler’s poopy diaper and the need to change. The toddler sceams: No! It’s warm and it’s mine. Gross, right? Yeah, that’s what I thought when I first heard him say that. Thing is, it’s true when it comes to the things we worry about/fret over (and many other things in life). We think that these concerns are ours and should be handled in our way and on our time table and we don’t need the help of anyone else. It’s our junk. Thing is, the warmth fades and all you’re left with is this rotten, raunchy, rancid odor that can reek into every other part of your life. Who wants that?
Worry causes us to regret the past and fear the future…Worry robs the present of our presence, for we are ever living behind or ahead of ourselves. Joylessness and discouragement usually follow. –Jerusha Clark
Satan likes to see me down and is determined to keep me there. Just when I think I’ve gotten a grip on being content in any situation I find myself in (not to mention finding joy there), he does all he can to disrupt that steady stream of peace that can only come from my Savior, Jesus Christ. I often find myself standing in awe (the good kind of fear mentioned earlier) at how many times Jesus has lifted me from that pit and I start asking how many more times will there be? Thing is, I’m human…a sinner turned saint, yes…but I’m human and the things that try to tie me down in this life are the results of a fallen world (see Genesis 3). Why do I keep crawling back into that hole? Partly, because I think I deserve it and partly because I don’t truly believe, with all my heart, that God could love me enough to keep me out of it; that He sees me as righteous and clean; as His.
To make this a little bit clearer, I’d like to paint a picture for you. I recently read up on a bank robber who robbed 29 Wells Fargo stage coaches between 1875 and 1883: Black Bart. The man managed to strike fear into the hearts of his victims. He used his evil demeanor to ignite fear in anyone unfortunate to be on or around a Wells Fargo stagecoach during a robbery. He used fear to get his victims eyes on their current circumstance. He knew distracting them from what was true was his only hope for a successful robbery and get away. The truth about Black Bart was in the 29 robberies history documents; he never once fired his gun or took a hostage. I wonder if the victims in his later robberies would have been as afraid if they had just set their mind on that truth. And like Black Bart, the Evil One uses fear as a tool to distract us from what is true.
Satan’s understanding of who we are in Christ is evidenced by his repeated attempts to get us to submit to fear. When we are fully aware of the truth of who we are in Jesus; in the truth that He overcame everything, we will not be afraid. The only thing Satan can do is distract us from this truth. He does so by attempting to re-direct our focus from our riches in Christ onto our seemingly fearful circumstances. Satan knows he can’t rob us of those riches, so he has no choice but to encourage us to lose sight of all we have and all we are in Christ.
He speaks lies into our minds that we find ourselves believing. Jerusha Clark debunks a few of those in her book and I’d like to share those incredible, God-given insights with you for a brief moment:
Lie #1: If only… You know the saying: “Hindsight is 20/20.” Like Jerusha, I’ve often found myself despairing about my past, wondering whether making a different decision would have radically changed the course of my life. And when I think about those things, my imagined response or action is almost always better than what I said or did. But…when these thoughts come at me, I have to keep one truth in mind:
Truth #1: I can trust God with my past, my present and my future…
“Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.” Isaiah 43.18-19 NRSV
What truth there is behind those words! While we may not “forget” former things, we need to see the good in the moment. God, in His amazing grace, will make a way…even when I make a complete mess out a situation or make the worst possible decision. God. Will. Make. A. Way. He always does.
Beth Moore, in her study on Esther, writes, “You cannot amputate your history from your destiny, because it is redemption.” Think about that for a moment. I cannot black out my past because it defines Christ’s redemption in me. It’s also a tool in reaching others for their redemption. The Bible is the story of redemption…His children’s past, present and future.
The point here is not so much “whether or not I made the ‘right’ decision but whether I choose to see God’s presence in every choice.” Words to the wise, huh?
Lie #2: What if…? This one is my downfall…major downfall. My personal list of “what if” questions and scenarios is endless. Satan uses those thoughts against me, lying to me by saying that God doesn’t care about me enough or that He isn’t good enough or strong enough to get me from point A to point B. Most of the fears I listed above fall into this category: What if I fail? What if I succeed? What if this relationship is taken away? What if I’ve let it become an idol? What if…? The question rings on. I’ve discovered that either because of past sin or general insecurity, many women, including myself, “fear that what they enjoy will be snatched” from them by a “pernicious, exacting, ‘you reap what you sow’ God.”
“Life is an overwhelming force. Relationships are an overwhelming force. Even God is an overwhelming force.” And all too often, I’ve bought into the lie that I can control my life to some degree. I try to make plans for how I would deal with the outcome of certain trials (i.e. my next conversation with a friend, not seeing another for x number of days, a baptism ceremony gone wrong). Even when a bad thing I’ve anticipated actually does happen, the situation definitely never unfolds the way I expect it to. “Life, people, and an infinite number of potentialities make it impossible to discern what might happen.” I cannot discern my own future any more than my friend, pastor or accountability partner can. Only God can see what’s around that next river bend.
I’d like to echo Jerusha’s comment here: “Great. Thanks. Now what?”
Truth #2: Jeremiah 29.11 If you don’t know that one, look it up. Even though we are vulnerable and life spins out of control on a regular basis, we are not powerless. Quite the opposite actually: we have the greatest power conceivable within us – the Holy Spirit of a very living and breathing God. However, this power is not ours to wield. We are called to submit to His movement in our lives – His work is out of our control. We are called to trust that He knows what is best for us even when we cannot see it ourselves. Trusting Him in this does not mean that everything will be grand all of the time. In this world, we will have trouble. But…He has overcome the world.
The worst that life could throw at you – your worst nightmares becoming reality – will not “take His steadfast love, compassion, or peace from you. Our minds need to be just as active, alive and conscious to worry as they are to exercise faith. Why don’t we start the rewarding journey toward using our vivid imaginations to hope and to have faith in the Anchor of our souls?”
Lie #3: If I don’t control my circumstances, no one will. I often feel that if I just simply let go, everything I’ve held on to will spin out of control and there will be nothing left but ashes when all it’s said and done. How false is that?
I often find myself using excuses (much like Moses did prior to leading the people out of Egypt) like “Sure, I trust God…but I’ve disobeyed so long, I need to get myself right first before I let Him have control of my life again.” We tend to make loopholes, or excuses, in God’s promises. In doing so, we undermine His character in destructive ways.
Everyone questions God at some point in their lives. I have and there’s a good chance I’ll do so again. I question His ability to calm me in the midst of any storm I might face. I don’t like not feeling safe. I fear it, actually. Being out of control equates not feeling safe to me. And since that doesn’t feel safe, I try to control my little world in order to avoid being hurt. Thing is, when I fall for Satan’s lie about God’s control and try to do it on my own, how much hurt would I save myself if I just let go? Good question.
Truth #3: Only God has the power to bring all things under His control. Philippians 3.21 states that God (Yahweh) has “power that…enables Him to make all things subject to Himself.” How can I not even consider that the Creator of the universe, of all things seen, can’t control my own little world?
In the last few years, I’ve discovered that God has a tendency to show His love for me through my battles with anxiety and worry. I’ve learned to love Him more; that I fall more in love with Him in those moments. I’m learning from my fears what I really value and, what I may be investing too much concern in. I’m learning to let go.
Remember the other definition for “fear” mentioned at the start of this entry? That fear, that awe that we are to have for God drives out the worries that harass us. In His presence, our worries and fears shrink.
Lie #4: If I don’t worry about someone or something, I must not care enough. Doesn’t that statement just evoke the feeling of carrying the entire world on your shoulders? It does for me and yet I’ve bought into that lie more times than I care to remember. Webster’s dictionary defines worry as this: to torment oneself with disturbing thoughts (among others…). Sounds lovely, doesn’t it? When I worry, it’s usually more about me than it is about the other person…I don’t like admitting that, but it’s true. With each situation that I worry over, the afterthought always seems to twirl around What’s in it for me?
“Anxiety torments the worrier because it is really about the worrier. Fear seizes us by the throat and mangles us. Worry harasses, repeatedly bites, and disturbs us because, again, we don’t want to face our own pain or the pain of others.” – Jerusha Clark
Truth #4: God cares for my loved ones and my life more than I can. Read the following from 1 Peter 5.7 (multiple translations):
Let Him have all your worries and cares, for He is always thinking about you and watching everything that concerns you. TLB
Give all your worries and cares to God, for He cares about what happens to you. NLT
Live carefree before God; He is most careful with you. MSG
Truth in its finest form.
However, let me make a note on this – along with Jerusha Clark: a woman cannot simply “cast all [her] cares” on the Lord in one glorious moment. I’ve tried. There are days when I attempt to do this in the morning only to receive a bill that I don’t have the funds for that afternoon…worrywart all over again.
However, I’ve discovered (and am still learning at times) that a “moment-by-moment exchange of my misconceptions for truth is the only solution to the problem of anxiety” and worry. When stuff starts to crop up, I need to choose in that moment to let God have that concern. We’ve been given an “amazing opportunity to toss all our troubles upon Him who will care for and love – more than we ever could – everything and everyone who concerns us.” We have to choose to trust that.
(Every Thought Captive. Clark, Jerusha. Pg. 53-61)
Now, you may be asking: What can I do when worry/fear rears its ugly head?
First, keep your eyes on Jesus. Fear and faith cannot reign together. Where fear reigns, faith fades. Where faith reigns, fear has no place. It’s when we choose to look at our circumstances and take our eyes off Jesus for a split second, we sink.
Second, admit that worry accomplishes nothing. It only wastes emotions better used elsewhere and wears out the soul, robbing you of today. Personally, I’ve never fixed a situation by fretting over it. Worry does not need to be the force that motivates you. If I focus on that, I miss out on God’s hand moving in my life and in the lives of those around me, orchestrating the Divine Romance He began at creation. I also miss out on learning how to love genuinely and am instead driven to make my own way in an attempt to protect myself. I don’t want to miss out on that or waste my time trying to add a single hour to my life by worrying.
Third, make the choice to show up in God’s presence. When you draw near to Him, He will draw near to you…God promises that in His Word. If needed, ask the question: Who is bigger – God or your problem?
Fourth, learn to lean on others. We, as the body of Christ and family of God, are called to carry one another’s burdens. I’ve all too often discovered that when I hit those pits, I want to run and hide and simply be alone. No more. I’m learning to let my sisters in Christ know when I’m struggling and when I’m down. In turn, God uses them to lift me up via words of encouragement, a piece of scripture (usually Psalms) read in prayer, a hug or simply just being there in the silence. It doesn’t take long for me to realize how deeply I need someone else’s input; someone who has an unbiased opinion on any situation I may be fretting over; someone whose compass is better than my emotional one to guide me back to the arms of Christ.
And finally, do not be discouraged when fears reassert themselves. Reoccurring fears are part of our human condition and a fact in this fallen world. When fear knocks, don’t hesitate to run to God. The consuming fire of His love will banish those thoughts (or at least shrink them) in that moment. God is more than capable of (and will keep) reminding us of His truth (John 14.26-27).
Remember my mentioning how Satan tends to mess with our thoughts?
He made one such attempt on my own thought life this morning, at 3 A.M. of all times; at a moment when my mind was at its most vulnerable. The “if only” and “what if” questions started to swirl in my mind after I had gotten up to get some water. I remember mindlessly attempting to make my way back to my bedroom and the next thing I know, I’m on the floor in a fit of tears and “what ifs” raging through my mind. My overactive, idealistic imagination kicked in (Me? Have an overactive imagination? No! Never!) and my mind jumped from one scenario, one conclusion to the next. Some brought tears, some frustration and anger, and others, a hopeful smile. It’s the former two that tend to lead me down a dark road I’d rather not take and this morning’s episode was no different.
However, I found that I could control my wayward thoughts by fixing my eyes on Jesus, just as Peter did in Matthew 14. I turned the bedside lamp on and poured over scripture (particularly Joshua 1:9, Romans 8:37 and a few of the other 365 times Scripture references “Do not fear”/”Do not be afraid”) and prayed. Success! In less than 30 minutes (these tirades can last half the night and sometimes into the day…even days on end), I was at peace and was soon able to fall back to sleep…tears of joy and all. It was in choosing…I repeat: choosing…to fix my eyes on Him that I was able to confidently rise above those lies and fears and trust in Him; to trust in His perfect timing; to trust that He knows what He is doing with and in my life. I simply have to choose to trust Him…to pick up that cross and follow Him, daily.
Now, don’t get me wrong…today has been a struggle thus far. I’m exhausted, but happy; emotional (just a tidge) in a good way; and spiritually drained. I’m also very aware of my surroundings, which has made work very difficult. But, in this, God is still good and I’m choosing to trust Him with today. I don’t have the energy to deal with what may come my way. He does.
This hope is for you, too. We can overcome anything in this life if we’d only make the choice to keep our eyes on Jesus, the only One who saves. He already overcame this world. Through Him, we are more than conquerors.
**On a side note, I recommend purchasing this book. I recommend reading it and making your own notes in the margins. I’ve discovered that when I lend out a book with so much insight (especially when it comes to the spiritual lives of us women), I may never get it back. So…if it was worth me marking up the margins in mine, I can only guarantee you’ll mark the margins in yours. Every Thought Captive can be purchased at any Christian book store (if in stock) or here, at CBD.com.