“Why are you fearful? O you of little faith.”
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
9 thoughts on “Fear. Less.”
Good stuff. You have articulated many things that I have felt. Thank you.
Like you, I’ve gone to church most of my life and can’t recall hearing a sermon advocating “taking heart” or “being of good cheer.”
I share your hesitancy about Lucado, but I am a big fan of book clubs and the like. And I completely relate to the facilitation anxiety.
Sounds like a good group.
John, what really was new for me was this idea that, far and away, the teachings about managing fear were/are the most frequently mentioned theme. That was new to me and has my attention for the first time as potentially the most important teaching. It seems to lead to the ability to even consider the other teachings.
It is a good group. The age range is fantastic. I really like listening to the honesty and wisdom of the older women. Much to learn there.
This is probably my favorite blog entry of yours. Well… one of my faves anyway.
My most prominent and recent memory of fear was being stuck in gridlocked traffic for 9 hours during the “commute from hell.” I’m not quite sure how to bring a religious focus to it… but I’ll share the basics anyway:
A couple weeks ago there was a flash now storm, and because of poor visibility, poor driving skills, and poor city planning, traffic was a total cluster****. My drive home is normally 1 hour and 10 minutes, give or take a few. I take the back roads, because ever since I’ve moved here, I’m scared of driving (more accurately, I’m scared of other people driving, because they are all very aggressive). I left work at 3:30 pm, and didn’t end up getting home until 1:30 am. I’m not normally claustrophobic, but after I’d been sitting in the middle lane with cars all around me in every direction… not moving at all… for 5 hours… I started freaking out. I tried to take deep breaths to calm me down, but I must have taken them too fast because I got dizzy and nauseous… started panicking again… tried to calm myself down but ended up nearly falling asleep from exhaustion.. the cycle began again. Finally I ended up calling my husband, who was also stuck in a different part of the city, and talking to him on speaker phone until I got home. That helped me A LOT!!! (probably saved me from puking, too!) At one point I asked him how he was handling this so well (he’s always so good in pressure situations) and he said “I dunno sweetie, I just see a problem or a puzzle (or something to work through) and I buckle down and get it done.” Just like that. Man is he lucky!! And man, am I lucky to have him, otherwise I’d go spastic over SO MANY things that he’s helped me deal with.
So… the whole incident was a little more involved than that, but that’s about as good of a summary as I can give. Again, I don’t know how to tie that into religion, of the teachings of Jesus, but I know that I love my husband with all my heart, and I know that he helps me work through my fears and stress quite often.
I used to get panic attacks as well. They are awful, because the fear becomes having a panic attack, and the attack almost a secondary event you can’t connect to anything real or rational. UGH.
Having a rock-solid friend by your side helps immensely. It’s great when that friend is reachable by phone, but what if they are not? I think that is part of the spiritual lesson in the Gospel, that we all always have that connection in God. We just don’t trust, and we don’t look, and we don’t have faith. In my experience it takes some practice, but it can be deeply calming and a lifelong resource.
Of course, one can’t be looking for a specific answer I think. The answer is the process. We start from step one that connection with God is the answer. What happens next, one never knows.
Thanks for the kind words on the post. I wanted to smack myself in the face when I saw I had written “God wants us to…” Hell, like I know. But it sure seems that way!
Good point on the always-having-God-right-there-as-your-friend. That hits home and sounds right 🙂
I was having a massive anxiety attack last Friday. I haven’t had one in years, but fear is usually the culprit.
I used to get these attacks as well. For me, it turned out to be that I was NOT addressing various issues and environmental stimuli, and I can to believe my mind fell back on these attacks to get my attention, to force me to be more “present” and deal with some things. Since I got a handle on that dynamic, it has not happened since. (They are terrifying events. I’m really sorry to hear you got grabbed by one.)
If you don’t mind sharing, how do you deal with it when this happens?
Good article. I’m having to face quite a few different fears right now so very relevant. I liked your line “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”
Because for me just admitting that I am afraid has been scary. I want to be the husband who has it all under-control like Heather’s, and be able to tell my also scared wife everything is OK.
Also what happens when your fears are from God? I think that would be a really great topic to go into since it is a church group. What happens when your biggest fear is hell? or heaven without someone you love who the church tells you will be going to hell? Maybe others don’t have the same fear of God that I do, and I’m not saying it’s at all healthy. Maybe that’s where some of our fears of church, “groups”, facilitation etc. come from also.
Wow, Zack, thank you for being so candid. I completely agree, at least in observation, that men seem to have a heavier pressure to not experience and acknowledge fear. Not sure exactly why here in 2011 that is still true, but I clearly see it. It’s a crazy balance, being strong for others who rely on you and being vulnerable and real about your own needs. Maybe the version of that women who are mothers experience is the need to be confident and sure for our children, when inside we are shaken to the core when, for example, they fall off the slide.
Now this thing about fears from God…..I try to separate out what “the church” says from what is in the Gospel (my faith tradition). And I don’t know exactly why this is, but I have never been able to fully believe in “hell.” Not the way most people seem to mean it.
But you give me a great idea for another post. When I was a kid I made a promise to God (which I promptly broke) in which I told him if I ever did XYZ again he could send my soul to hell. Apparently, I didn’t really believe that. But I still think about …..what if I was wrong? Stay tuned! And thanks for the inspiration.