Fear of the Irreparable

As I’ve meditated on what I’m really afraid of versus what I just tend to get anxious about sometimes, I think I am getting closer to some inner layers.  I am trying to increasingly think about what issues are real spiritual growth blocks, not just worries.  The idea of “the irreparable” is coming together for me as a major wall between me and God.

By the irreparable I mean a relationship or a situation that is so far damaged that it will never be the same.  I have a fairly good record of being able to “fix” things I want fixed.  I have also known situations that, even when I wanted to fix them, I could not.  Where this dials into my deepest fears is where I feel I have done something by choice that has forever severed the repair I may seek.  Something being unfixable.  Permanently broken.  All options gone.

Often I hear my perfectionist friends agonizing over making mistakes.  This fear of the irreparable is beyond that.  I make mistakes all the time.  It’s actually part of my personal philosophy that it’s straight up crazy to be neurotic about making mistakes.  We are human, it’s our nature, it’s not realistic or reasonable to truly expect that we won’t make mistakes.  My fear is about being responsible for doing something that takes away any possibility of healing or repair to a situation.

What if in carelessness I say or do the one thing my spouse can never forgive?  What if a friend is counting on me to remember something important that I completely forget about?  What if I drop the ball and colleagues don’t feel they can count on me again?

As I look at that list, however, I notice that each item hinges on someone else’s response to an event.  Yes, I did or didn’t do something, but how others respond to that is my fear.

My faith tradition tells me that God’s response to me will be consistent and reliable.  Nothing is irreparable.  Nothing when my heart and mind are focused on seeking redemption for mistakes I make.

And ay, there’s the rub……

I know myself to get quite weary with the forgiveness process.  I’m all about it until I’m not.  Sometimes it just wears me out.  I want to say I don’t care anymore, I’m tired of struggling through complex issues of right and wrong, I just don’t care.  Leave me alone, Universe.  If you don’t like what I did, tough.  I did it.  I may do it again.  Get off my case.  I’m putting my chips on the bet that I’m not alone in this.

I think we have to be willing to get back in there.  We have to do it with our human dynamics if we want peace in our lives, and we have to do it in our spiritual development for the same reason.  I almost think knowing I am forgiven by a higher power makes it harder sometimes, because there is nothing to fight about, no argument to “win” and no real opportunity to say “I’m tired of you not wanting to work on this” because the only one putting up that B.S. is me. I truly believe the choice of finding peace and forgiveness and a clean slate is right in my own hands.

And that’s what I’m afraid of.

Image credit: Indian-Designers

Fear of Losing Connection

Several years ago, a friend shared the experience of attending a one-woman show in which the performer created various expressions of her “self.”  The performer was known for her comedic edge, and the show did not disappoint when it came to laughs.

The performer appeared as a housewife, a burlesque dancer, a mother, a mother-in-law, a professional executive type, a teacher, a child, and on and on.  While there were serious elements to each self, each one also generated many laughs; those laughs seemed to come from each member of the audience having some moment of recognition of the character on stage.  It was fun to understand — via art — that we all have diverse elements of our “selves” and yet we are each a whole person because of those elements.

It was fun until the last incarnation appeared.

The last version of the “self” the woman portrayed was homeless.  She was what we called growing up (shamefully, I now realize) a “bag lady.”  She sat on stage in dirty and ragged clothing, surrounded essentially by bags of garbage, muttering to herself and occasionally trying to catch the eye of the imaginary people on stage with her.

The other selves had been alone on stage as well, but there was always a sense with those that the character existed to others.  This character, though also alone, presented the powerful experience of living in an existential vortex into which no one else could — or more accurately wanted to — reach.

It was as if no one in the theater could even breathe.  The show closed in silence.

I remember this story, because it demonstrates a common and rarely spoken or even internally acknowledged fear.  I wrote about it at the end of last year when a homeless man died in my community and his body was not discovered for days (click here for that post).  I think this fear goes beyond being hungry, or homeless, or struggling to find clean clothes or employment.

This fear is about losing something many of us take for granted: A connection to other people that serves as a safety net upon which we all rely.

Some people can articulate that they don’t like “being alone” and that it is even a fear-inducing state for them.  Me?  I love being alone.  Being alone is really the only time I feel inner peace.  My world is quiet and calm.  My energy is high.  Life is free of conflict and it’s easier to hear the voice of God as I understand it.

But being alone is not the same thing as being disconnected.  Disconnection is one of the scariest experiences I’ve ever had, and I think I may have to mark it as a major fear in my heart.  I have never been fully disconnected from society or everyone I know, but I’ve had my toe in the water of what it’s like to start to disappear, and it’s terror-inducing.

The experience I’ll share was in a medical environment.  I’ve had others, but this is a good example.  It was also the first.

During a miscarriage many years ago, I was convinced my pregnancy could be saved with proper medical intervention.  It became clear to me very quickly that I was not a unique individual, nor was my fetus, in the OB-GYN practice where I was seen.  I was young enough that the docs weren’t worried that I could get pregnant again and have a successful outcome.  They had seen pregnancies like mine collapse before, and had a protocol for letting them go.  I felt like a Who from Horton Hears a Who……….. “We are here!  We are here!  We are here!”  But the faces around me said we don’t really care that you think you’re here; we don’t think you are.

Call us in a few weeks.  Here’s your paper work.  Next…..

With time I accepted what happened and why, but I will never forget that feeling.  It was the first time in my life that I remember not being able to convince someone I was special, that they should listen to me, that if we just worked together we could figure this thing out. It was an important lesson, humbling, and also a glimpse into something we all have to learn how to manage eventually.

It leads me back to the concept that a spiritual life and a relationship with God as we understand him/her to be is so important.  Sooner or later we look around and other people are not there for us as we’ve always thought they would be.  Doctors are not interested in pursuing treatment.  Spouses are not interested in continuing marriages.  Children grow up and move away.  The banker won’t give us a loan, the teacher won’t let us retake the test, there’s no room at the inn.

One of my biggest genuine fears is becoming someone no one is interested in being involved with or helping in any way.  It’ll just be me and God.

I have to run.  I’ve got some relationship building to do.

Images credits: Letting Go – Recovery in the Sunlight, Teik It Easy

Fear of Chaos

Image ◊ Good Letters: The IMAGE Blog ◊ Varieties of Hoarding.

Going with the theme right now, this is well-written self reflection by Sara Zarr on how past experiences and fears of their repetition can creep into our everyday behaviors.  The full post is an excellent read when you have time.  The conclusion is heartbreaking, but an opportunity to better understand a complex response to fear.

An excerpt:

Though the home I grew up in never came even close to looking like the homes of the hoarders, and though the particular pathology of hoarding did not touch our family, when I looked at the chaos on my TV screen I got the same feeling that I had growing up in an alcoholic home; a sense of being overwhelmed, everything out of control. Not knowing what to do or where to start.

There was a claustrophobia to my childhood. Physically, we had plenty of room, yet there was no real space or freedom to live, to feel at home and at peace. It was the opposite of sanctuary.

My husband has never understood what seem like out of proportion reactions, on my part, to little bits of what I guess is normal clutter—the shoes, the mail, a few dirty dishes on the counter. It’s not that I’m what anyone could call a “neat freak,” but when things aren’t in their places, I get anxious. I have that same feeling I had in childhood of things being, or threatening to be, out of my control, and I hate it.

The comments section under the full post are revealing as well.  You can find out more about the author of this post at www.sarazarr.com.

Fear. Less.

“Why are you fearful? O you of little faith.”
Matthew 8:26

Sooooo…….I just joined a Presbyterian women’s book study.  Group.

I have a hard time getting out the word “group” because I am not a good joiner.  I tend to like to do things on my own, and my facilitation background makes me antsy when I’m in a group setting and facilitating is not my job.  But my friend sent me an email out of the blue inviting me to the group, and something told me I should do it.

The book we are reading is called “Fearless” by Max Lucado.  I’m approaching my new friend Max with caution, as he seems a little too successful by commercial standards to pass my theological smell test.  I don’t mean for a minute that he’s not a good and decent man; by all accounts he seems like a good guy with kind intentions.  My sensors go off, however, when it’s all too neat and tidy – complete with glossy workbooks and DVD lectures.

All of my skepticism locked on go, my defenses were lowered considerably in the opening chapter:

His most common command emerges from the “fear not” genre. The gospels list some 125 Christ-issued imperatives. Of these, twenty-one urge us to “not be afraid” or to “not fear” or to “have courage,” “take heart,” or “be of good cheer.” The second most common command appears on eight occasions. If quantity is any indicator, Jesus takes our fears seriously. The one statement he said more than any other was this:

Don’t be afraid.

I’ve been hanging with the church for my entire life, and I have never heard this before.  In my experience, the emphasis on the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth has been love and forgiveness; yet here is statistical evidence that, at least as recorded and known to us today, the most frequent lesson was about managing fear.

I’m completely hooked now.

I’m a bit like Anne LaMott.  She says she is a Christian because God came after her and gave her no choice, and some days she’s downright pissed about it (paraphrasing here).  I can’t always give a neat and clean explanation for my faith, which may be why I am suspicious of those who seem to make it so hospital-cornered.  I accept the teachings of love and forgiveness because I have never seen any other way work.  It’s a straight-up results issue for me; but without knowing it consciously before I’ve always felt like something was missing in the practical application, at least as far as it was presented to me.

Now it’s all coming together.

Fear is an impediment to many things, not the least of which are love, healing, and wholeness.  I can draw a bright line from my own fears directly to my failures.  It makes perfect sense that if we are filled with dread and anxiety we are unable to connect and serve in a whole way.  We cannot connect to God or other people, and we cannot give our best to any situation because we are clamped down on it inside.  You don’t teach someone how to swim who won’t get in the water.  The learning to swim is what’s important, life-saving even, but you can’t get there until you get the person in the water.

God wants us in the water.  At least that’s what I’m hearing, and it makes a lot of sense to me.

The women in my group are incredible people.  Multigenerational and diverse, they have come together to trust one another as well as themselves as we dig into the issue of fear and how it affects our spiritual lives, and consequently our lives in total.  One of our discussions centered on separating apprehension from real fear.  When you’ve been punched in the gut by real fear, you know the difference.  I think sometimes we hide behind apprehension as our definition of fear.

(Side Bar: It will be interesting to see if the fear of other people knowing what we are really afraid of gets in the way of figuring out what fear is doing to us.  Oy vey!)

I will never discuss here anyone’s personal stories in our group.  I hope, though, that readers of this blog will be willing to read some of my musings on personal fear and maybe even help me understand this issue of fear better.  I don’t think one needs to be a professing Christian to learn from and analyze the words of a renowned teacher in Jesus of Nazareth; I’m confident everyone has some level of fear, so whatever your source of understanding, feel free to bring it here and share it.

Welcome, all fellow human travellers.  We all know fear, some more intimately than others.  Maybe we can help each other along.

Image credit: 30 Before 30 List

Wabi-Sabi: “To My Fellow Swimmers”

Wabi-Sabi: Wisdom from the Elders of the Hopi Nation.

Sunday is a day many people spend in reflection.  I am grateful to my friend Jim McKay for the opportunity to read this Prophecy delivered by the Elders of the Hopi Nation on June 8, 2000, at Oraibi Arizona.  I plan to re-read it many times.  This week I’ll be writing about fear, and I found the words of Jim’s post flow well into my own thinking about that issue.

I started to write that “Jim is a tireless advocate for children,” but truth be told it is tiring work for anyone.  I admire his passion, his tenacity, and his ability to always reach back with a strong hand to help others find the resolve to do the right thing.

Thank you, Jim.  For everything.