On fear

Fear is going around. It’s a lot like the flu, or strep, or bronchitis, because it’s pretty contagious, and all you can do is take precautions and  wash your hands. But it’s also not really like any of those things, because it’s a lot more subtle, and a lot more dangerous.

Some fears are circumstantial. Fear of a major upcoming decision, an interview or audition or tournament. Fear of having a particular conversation with a particular person. Fear for someone else or fear simply of flying or falling or the dark.

But I think most of these circumstantial, temporary fears that surface according to impending events and then fade from memory are not so intrinsic to themselves as we’d like to think they are. In reality, they are reflections of larger, more innate fears, fears that are not so temporal or transient–the fear of the future, the unknown, fear of failure, fear of not being the one in control.

I think a lot of us, without realizing it, are living a lifestyle of fear. Biologists would call it an evolutionary advantage: fear of dying is what makes you run when a saber-toothed tiger jumps at you. And some fears are healthy–you should have pepper spray in your hand when walking alone in a dark parking lot (better safe than sorry). But maybe we’ve let this go too far. I think we’ve let it go too far when it’s become so ingrained that we don’t even realize it’s there.

Fear is at the root of a lot of human behaviors beyond the saber-toothed tiger and dark parking lot. Fear is what keeps us from saying hi to strangers, from trying something new, from breaking societal norms. But a lot of times, fear is not so much what keeps us from doing things as it is the root cause of why we do do things. Fear is the reason for our anger at the mere mention of an alternate political ideology. Fear is the cause of our desire to hold on tightly to our possessions and keep our finances in reserve. Fear is the source of our intense drive to succeed. Fear is behind our dishonesty, our pride in reputation, our obsession with planning. Fear of being wrong, fear of loss, fear of failure. Fear of vulnerability, fear of being rejected, fear of not being the one in control.

Most people consider fear to be a negative emotion. The recognition of fear’s negative impact is already present. But the danger is that most people don’t realize quite how present it is in their lives. It’s like the disease that spreads without any symptoms until it’s far too late. And I would argue that fear is not an emotion, it is a habit. It is a habit ingrained into us since birth, by our parents (“Don’t touch that hot stove!”), by our peers (“You’re seriously going to wear that?”), and by society (“Buy this or face the consequences!”). But it is a habit that can be broken.

Maybe not completely, because this world is fallen. And maybe it shouldn’t be. The Bible talks about the “fear of the Lord,” a healthy reverence. And it’s probably smart to not touch that hot stove. But the little ingratiating ones, the ones we pass off as merely innate human desires and emotions, such as anger, pride, and ambition? Those can be broken.

It’s not like breaking a stick or a piece of glass. It’s more like chipping away at a rock. It happens slowly, but every strike weakens it. So how do we chip away at fear? Here’s what John has to say on the matter:

“There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out all fear.”

Not courage or bravery or boldness or just “sticking it out,” but love. Love casts out fear because, as John says, “fear has to do with punishment,” but “he first loved us,” long before we did anything to deserve it. That’s the kind of love that makes everything else not matter, because we don’t have to fear not being alone. We don’t have to fear not being in control, because he is. We don’t have to fear being rejected, because we are chosen. We don’t have to fear our loss of reputation, because we no longer move with the current. Our feet are planted on solid Rock.

When we fully realize who God is, all of our fears are overcome.

“Take heart, for I have overcome the world.” If our God is for us, who can stand against us? His love overcomes our fears, but more than that, it enables us to overcome the fears of others. By loving boldly, we move past our fear, and preempt the fears of those who receive our love.

And this is a choice. As much as fear is a habit, love is an action. And it can be just as addictive.

Blessings,
Bre

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Fear is optional

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said my pastor this morning. “For God did not give us a Spirit of fear, but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind (2 Timothy 1:7).”

Don’t you think our world could use a little less fear, and a little more power and love and sound-mindedness?*

Uncertainty is unavoidable, but fear is optional.

Do you know why? It’s because of the God we serve. We serve a God who parts the waves and shakes the solid ground, the God who at a word would stop the sun or send down chariots from heaven. We serve a God who holds a host of angels at his command and formed the earth with his breath, the God who makes water spring from rocks in the desert and lets bread fall like rain from heaven.

We serve the God who holds the world in his hands yet catches the sparrow before it falls, the God who reversed places to take the curse we deserved. We serve the God who conquered death, who went through hell and back for me and crushed the darkness beneath his heel like an insect.

This is why, while uncertainty is certain in this broken world of ours, we do not have to be afraid, because this God is on our side. Our sovereign Lord has become our friend.

I am reminded of the old hymn:

Be still, my soul; the Lord is on thy side;
Bear patiently the cross of grief or pain;
Leave to thy God to order and provide;
In every change He faithful will remain.
Be still, my soul; thy best, thy heavenly, Friend
Through thorny ways leads to a joyful end.

Be still, my soul; thy God doth undertake
To guide the future as He has the past.
Thy hope, thy confidence, let nothing shake;
All now mysterious shall be bright at last.
Be still, my soul; the waves and winds still know
His voice who ruled them while He dwelt below.

That’s power, isn’t it? To know that that God is the one who is with me. Acts 1:8 says, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you…” How little do we take advantage of that power!

When I was a little girl, I often fantasized about what it would be like in heaven to meet Moses, and Abraham, and Peter, and Paul, and to ask them, “What was it likeWhat was it like, to have the literal voice of God ringing in your ears, to hear his voice and commands and to carry out his work directly?”

Someone I said this to once responded: “I think maybe they’ll say, ‘No, you tell me what it was like, to have the literal spirit of God dwelling inside you?”

How quickly we forget! How quickly we take it for granted! How often do we let the power of God blow our minds? How often do we let his love ravish us, sweep us away on his tide of grace? His love and faithfulness, to never give up on us, never let us go, to see us through to the end as we “run with endurance the race that is set before us (Hebrews 12:1).”

Uncertainty is unavoidable, but fear is optional. He takes our fear, and fills us with his spirit–with love, and power, and a sound mind. May you never lose your wonder at his grace.

Blessings,
–Bre


*Spell-check isn’t underlining it, so I’m going to assume it’s a word.

“Who are you, that you fear mortal man?”

This poem comes from Isaiah 51:12-16.

Who are you, that you fear mortal man?
That you lose sight of the Lord’s mighty hand,
That you get lost in the bland finances and advances
Disenchanted
Seeking canned, secondhand romances
With the things of the land.
You swim with the school, having forgot how to stand.
Though your days are as sand,
You ignore every chance,
Fearing to be looked at askance.
So focused on man
That you forget the Lord your Maker,
Creator,
Invader of the hearts of the clay-born,
Who stretched out the heavens and laid the foundations of the earth,
Who quenches every thirst
And deserves to be first
He’s a sunburst
You serve a God who reversed
Places, took the curse on himself,
Defeated the worst hell had to offer
And yet you live in constant fear because of the wrath of the oppressor,
Aggressor,
Assessor,
Fearing displeasure,
Impossible to measure up,
Despite your endeavors.
Feel compressed,
Under pressure
But where is the wrath of the oppressor?
I feel a tremor–
The cowering prisoners will soon be set free
Indeed.
No more fatigue or defeat;
His promise complete
Taste and see,
The sweet freedom for which he bleeds.
Triumphant,
They will not die in their dungeon,
Nor will they lack bread.
No fear or dread,
No longer dead or beset by impossible debt
But instead a seedbed, a witness of what he has said.
For I AM is the LORD your God,
Who churns up the sea so that the waves roar,
Who transforms and adorns,
Raises you to soar–
The LORD ALMIGHTY is his name!
Who covers us in grace and sets our souls aflame,
Who reigns awesome over an endless domain,
Whose faithfulness always remains,
Who lights the way,
Who’s never swayed,
Who rules the day
Yet knows my pain–
The LORD ALMIGHTY is his name!
For, says the LORD,
“I have put my words in your mouth,”
To shout,
Arouse the silent houses,
Impossible to douse or to doubt,
Louder than thunderclouds,
The water in the drought.
He vows,
“I have covered you in the shadow of my hand,”
Able to withstand any demand or attempt to disband
For all the earth is under his command,
Establishing the heavens and laying the foundations of the earth.
I no longer thirst
But headfirst am submersed
In the unreserved light of your glory that burst
From the sky, raining down on the earth.
He says unto Zion, “You are my people,”
My cathedrals,
I will lift you up on wings as eagles.
I will guard you from evil,
And my grace will sustain.
Through the joy and the pain,
Through the loss and the gain,
I will show you the way
If you only have faith.
My truth will remain;
It cannot be restrained.
I’ll give you a new name
In my arms you are safe.

He is King, and he reigns;
To the world I proclaim–
The LORD ALMIGHTY is his name!

mt

She shall not be moved – Psalm 46:5

psalm 46-5

One of my favorite Psalms. If you’re looking for Scripture to memorize, this is a great place to start. The entire thing goes:

.  God is our refuge and strength,
.          a very present help in trouble.
,  Therefore we will not fear,
.          though the earth give way,
.          though the mountains be moved
.          into the heart of the sea
.  Though its waters roar and foam,
.          though the mountains tremble at its swelling.
.  There is a river
.          whose streams make glad the city of God,
.          the holy habitation of the Most High.
.  God is in the midst of her;
.          she shall not be moved.
.          God will help her when the morning dawns.
.  The nations rage, the kingdoms waver–
.          He utters his voice, and the earth melts.
.  The Lord of Hosts is with us;
.          the God of Jacob is our fortress.
.  Come, behold the works of the Lord,
.          how he has brought desolations on the earth.
.  He makes wars cease to the ends of the earth;
.          He breaks the bow and shatters the spear.
.          He burns the chariots with fire.
.   Be still and know that I Am God;
.          I will be exalted in the nations,
.          I will be exalted in the earth!
.  The Lord of Hosts is with us;
.          The God of Jacob is our fortress!

Cleansing

I need this, as I embark today into uncertainty. I take comfort in knowing that God has a plan, but I guess I still need to…let go.

Letting go is hard. I don’t like it. Because I want control. I need it. I crave it. My humanity seems to starve without it.

But He demands it.

All I want is a little piece. I can try to hide it from him, my little corner of my life that I refuse to give over to him. The area that I continue to hold onto with clenched fists and white knuckles for fear that my grip will slip. But that’s the thing–God doesn’t want just a part of me. God wants my all.

I guess that’s why it’s so hard.

And I mean, I’ve been down that road before. I know that a lot of times, it’s a struggle. It will be hard. I know that a lot of times, following God means the road might feel broken and twisted and thorny–but I also know what it feels like to bask in the light, what it feels like as he chisels away to be made new. And, well, that’s the one thing I want more than control.

It’s beautiful, really. For those of you still searching, take it from me: it is worth it. It is so worth it. And he will come through. That’s the glorious thing about God: God doesn’t depend on how I feel, but on who he is. And he is faithful, and he is in control.

But surrender, it does have to be intentional. These feelings of closedness, these walls around my heart–I have to lower them on purpose. Sometimes I hold onto my own pain just because I want to feel something, not wanting to risk letting him in even though I know that he brings something so much greater. Something holy. Something powerful. Something that will make me whole.

Sometimes I call it love.

But these are the same feelings I was having a month ago when I wrote this poem. It’s not much of a poem, really; it doesn’t rhyme or anything. But I need this, as I embark into my mission this summer, sharing God with kids all season–I need a cleansing. I need to know my heart is whole and wholly his. I need his refining fire to make me pure. So I let go, and call down the Name of God in this place today. Change me.

Take all of your guilt;
hold your shame in your hands–
and squeeze.
Draw out your fears,
and condense all your grief.
Take hold of despair
and crumple your worry,
hidden in your clenched fists,
like a ball of newspaper.
Throw your sin on the pile too.
Hold them.
Gather them and cup them in your open palms and shape them into a leaden ball.
Heavy.
Dense.
Compact.
But at least, at last outside of you.
Feel it’s weight–
and like a lantern, let it fly.
Release it all into the sky.
Relax your tight and desperate grip.
I know you’re afraid to lose it,
for it feels like all you have.
You thought it was a part of you,
and, yes, it was:
it’s made you stronger.
But now it’s started crippling you.
And it’s time
to let go.
Release.
Light it up and watch it disappear
like a blue balloon.
And now,
breathe.
Unfold, and let your colors loose upon the world.

Blessings,
Bre

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Opposites – 1 John 4:18

Hate is not the opposite of love, and neither bravery nor courage is the opposite of fear. For courage is doing something in spite of fear; love is brave. Hate acknowledges a relationship with someone; fear refuses to give them a chance. That’s why fear and love are such perfect opposites: they prevent each other. They can’t both be in the same place.

But I know which is stronger.