“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