On Fear

I am constantly beset by fears.  When I was 10-years-old, at the height of the early-90s AIDS scare, I once stayed up all night because there was a mosquito in my room, and I was convinced this meant I would get bitten and die from AIDS.

© Copyright John Kerstholt  and licensed for reuse at Wikimedia.

© Copyright John Kerstholt and licensed for reuse at Wikimedia.

Yes, seriously.

My fears are equally unsophisticated today.  They are always irrational, improbable, and completely petrifying.  Occasionally, I can cloak them in some semblance of culturally-acceptable palatability.

Of course mothers worry about their childrens’ well-being. That’s my job. 

Of course I should worry about health problems.  Perfect health is my birthright. 

Of course I should worry about my financial future.  To do otherwise is irresponsible.  After all, it’s the American way.

But whether my fears are tolerable or ridiculous, they all are grounded in one base lie: God is not good.  He is not trustworthy.  He might accidentally permit something horrible.

I need to be vigilant so that the unspeakable doesn’t find me.  He will not really protect me, provide for me, love me.  Sound familiar?  Doubting the goodness of God is the original sin, the core of all our brokenness and woundedness and bentness.  It is our root problem.

Perhaps you are like me.  Perhaps you can toe the line theologically and intellectually.  I believe that God is good.  I know that the incarnation is the supreme evidence of this.  I genuinely confess his goodness and pray for grace to live into it.  I assent to his love and care.  But my soul is in love-less agony. 

What does it mean that God loves you?  How do you receive and feed on that truth? And can it seep into every corner of your soul, thus transforming your life?

Scripture says yes.  The Bible teaches us that nothing can separate us from his love.  In fact, over and over, we are commanded not to fear. The worst we can imagine: death, suffering, pain, loss; it doesn’t matter.  His love is with us.

It flows in and through us.  His love is never content to be held at arm’s length.  It is consuming and inexorable.  The current of his life can wash all the festering wounds and sweep away the toxic disease and sin of our unbelief.  Cleansing, life-giving streams can flood our inner person.  He promises to do this with each of us.

© Copyright Dirk Beyer  and licensed for reuse at Wikimedia.

© Copyright Dirk Beyer and licensed for reuse at Wikimedia.

In my prayer closet, I can receive this.  Many days I wish I could live in my prayer closet.  It’s when I come out that things get hard.  The anxiety creeps back.  My old places of woundedness and fear come knocking at the door of my soul.  My enemy prowls around digging his claws into the sore spots and twisting hard.

When the reality of loss and grief, of sin and injustice, of evil slaps you in the face, how can you regain your breath?  How can you put the first foot forward?

Most days, I don’t know.   I hold tight to the promise that He gives abundant life.  That He delights in our well-being.  That He is love.  And in that place of miniscule belief, I declare, “I believe that you are love.  And anything that comes from your hand, I will accept with gratitude.”

This, for me, is the gate out of fear.  This is tiny faith that stands up and walks around in the love of God.

It’s not a fatalistic agreement that what will be, will be, thank you very much.  Accepting what God alone gives in turn renounces anything that doesn’t come from God’s hand.

It looks to him, who sustains all of creation by the power of his ever-present Word, the Word who knows what it’s like to be us.  Because when God opens his hand to satisfy the desire of every living thing, that’s what he gives us.  Christ himself, the bread of life.  And, in the midst of my fear, I pray for grace to look up and see Jesus himself alone.

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Image Credit: Mepkin Abbey

Losing Our Minds

“If you lose your mind, you lose it into the hands of God.”  – Elizabeth Goudge 

I would have thought this quaint before I had my own mid-life crisis.  I actually like the term “nervous breakdown” better.  That somehow seems more benign than the modern diagnoses with their sterile categories, the ones that somehow suggest diseased thinking can be folded up and put in the appropriate drawer like a mildewed sweater.

© Copyright Leo Gestel  and licensed for reuse at Wikimedia.

© Copyright Leo Gestel and licensed for reuse at Wikimedia.

Panic disorder.  Anxiety disorder.  Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.  Someone even suggested PMS.  If only.  It doesn’t take much.  Just the tiniest slip, the way in which your body betrays you with the sudden rush of adrenaline or your logical thinking jumps out the window at the thought of driving over a bridge.

The trigger itself is irrelevant, but you know that your reasoning doesn’t make sense, and willing  yourself to be braver, or more faith-filled, or just saner leaves you clutching the airplane seat-handle and counting the long breaths.

At first I thought it was uncommon.  That something went wrong.  Thyroid or hormones or vitamin deficiencies or Something, because mental illness isn’t the American way.  It’s impermissible, kind of like aging or imperfect health.

© Copyright naturenet and licensed for reuse at Wikimedia.

© Copyright naturenet and licensed for reuse at Wikimedia.

And then I discovered we all have it.  We call it by different names.  Alcoholism or a struggle with porn or workaholism or yo-yo dieting.  Internet addiction or shopping therapy or hidden rage or cutting.  But really it all stems from the reality that we are defective.  We’re broken.  John Eldridge says something to the effect that we are all born into this world doubting the love of God.  There’s the root of it.

At our deepest level, we operate out of the reality of scarcity and fear and brokenness and sin.  Not just the “sin” of one individual transgression, but the death-bringing, life-defying, stranglehold of separation from our Father.  We are alone and terrified, and there comes a time for each of us when we are stripped bare of our coping mechanisms.  When the novels or movies or food or relationships fail us, and we are left naked and shaken, wondering if we have lost our minds.

I wonder if we ever had them in the first place.

Thing is, it doesn’t matter.  He holds our minds.  He holds our fractured souls, our fragmented lives, our frantic running and striving and avoiding.  He knows we are but dust.  He’s never been fooled by our posing as anything different.

Though he’s promised us he will make us so.  “Don’t be afraid, little flock,” he says.  “It is the Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”  I think about this on the nights when I wonder if things can get better.  Or worry about how they can possibly get any worse.  On nights when I see without question that there is no health in me, and I’m afraid that even the illusion of well-being might be stripped away.  Those are the nights when I cling to the truth of God’s love fleshed out.  Jesus is with me, I pray.  Jesus will take care of me. 

© Copyright jcsalmon and licensed for reuse at Wikimedia.

© Copyright jcsalmon and licensed for reuse at Wikimedia.

I need this truth in a world of sudden breath-taking tragedy.  One full of inexplicable loss and terminal diagnoses and children starving and people being trafficked.  Of news reports that warn me to be more vigilant and less trusting and more careful.  A world beset by an enemy who does indeed steal and kill and destroy.  A world where from the first day we drew breath, we lost our sense of well-being.  Let’s reclaim it.  Jesus is with us.  Jesus will take care of us.