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

For my daughter: love well

Love well, little girl.
Life is hard
but it is also sweet.
Learn to turn the other cheek.
Patience makes you ocean-strong
so shake the earth
climb a mountain
break a wall
write a song
cross a sea
tell a story
for words
are
powerful.
Little girl, listen to mine.
Be kind.
I daresay you’ll find that by taking the time,
you’ll stick in their minds.
Love well,
and put others before yourself.
But I know
it takes bravery and brings pain.
You never know quite what to say
and it takes you way beyond what’s safe.
All you want is a break,
an escape.
You’re tired of the chase
and you’re craving a haven.
Little sparrow, keep praying!
Love well,
for he won’t let you go.
He’ll see you through till the end.
Darling, there is no treasure so dear as a friend.
That love is a gift
So take time and enjoy each other
Laugh and cry with each other
Stand by each other
Beside each other
Like iron on iron you’ll set sparks alight
and as they rise in the sky
the night will turn bright
as together you fight the good fight
and fix your eyes on the light.
Little girl, love well.
And someday
when there comes a man who will blow you away,
who’s your anchor in the eye of a hurricane,
not afraid of a little rain–
a man who will stand by you,
laugh and cry with you,
live, love, and die for you
come dark times or bright, who will strive toward what’s right
who takes time and lightens your life,
faith-filled and faithful,
for richer or poorer,
better or worse,
will traverse the adverse, unswerving,
and take honor in serving–
who makes you better than yourself
and then makes you something more:
let no power in hell or on earth,
the hospital or the hearse,
the heights or the depths,
when you’ve got nothing left
when you’re blessed or you’re hurt–
none of these can separate
what God has put together
Remember
Two become one, and it cannot be undone
You have a soul like the sun
So love well
And together you’ll tell
the world
what the Lord has done
In your own little way
you’re a witness of faith
You know the Name
of the one who came:
the mountain-maker
heart-shaper
ground-shaker
stone-breaker
earth-creator.
So take heart,
be brave,
be wise and be kind.
Love well.

For my daughter: be wise

Be wise, little girl.
Life is hard,
but it is also sweet.
Stay curious,
and ask the hard questions.
I know you are restless,
so be relentless.
You are searching,
yearning;
I know you feel lost,
aloft,
exhausted by the endless riposte,
but I hope that you know
you’re not alone.
Little sparrow, I know,
but follow the sun,
and he’ll guide you home.
Do not despond,
for to Christ you belong
and that makes you strong.
so shake the earth,
climb a mountain
break a wall
write a song
cross a sea
tell a story
for words
are
powerful.
Little girl, listen to mine.
The trees are a sign:
stay grounded,
fireproof
entwined with the vine
and rooted in truth.
Be wise.
Remind yourself of the light
and make it a habit to shine.
Take hold of your passion;
unfasten
the weights that you carry
and burn bright–
like a phoenix rising from ash and gray,
colors flashing, unafraid.
But I know,
some days you don’t feel that way.
You feel lost and ashamed
You question your name
You long for what’s safe
Too tired to be brave
Lost in a haze
And you’re slipping away
Caught in the chase
Trapped in the maze
But when you’re ready to break,
pray.
Clear the stage and seek out grace.
Call his name and know you’re safe.
He doesn’t let go–
so you can.
He won’t let you fall,
so follow the call of the wind
to the edge of the limb.
Have faith.
Build your house on the rock,
and answer his knock.
Smile in the face of challenge,
unfazed, unenslaved
unscathed by the blaze.
Embrace the flames that burn the chaff away.
Don’t hide or try to ride the fence
but rather ignite.
You may be a candle or you may be a star
but whatever you do and wherever you are,
Be wise.
Strive toward the light and delight in what’s right.
You have been baptized
in sunrise.
Don’t contrive to be like
what surrounds you.
Remember what grounds you.
You are strong
and brave
and beautiful.
Seek the truth relentlessly,
unpretentiously and honestly.
Stay real.
Don’t be afraid to feel.
Open your eyes
and breathe, just once in a while.
Smile often.
You’d be surprised by the difference it makes
to be kind.
Be wise.
Never lose your wonder.
Live unencumbered,
for this is not your home.
Don’t be so afraid to blunder
that you forget to live.
See the world
as an adventure and exploration
And see its people
as a starlit generation.
Tell their stories
and reflect his glory.
Recognize,
and be wise.
Never stop learning,
and be faithful in the little things.
May you send forth springs
of joy.
Be the everyday kind of brave.
That is what makes a path-maker
culture-shaper
world-shaker
wall-breaker
change-creator.
Be bright
See with different eyes
Be kind, and little sparrow,
you will fly.
Be wise.

For my daughter: be kind

Be kind, little girl.
Life is hard
but it is also sweet.
Learn to see
past categories.
I know how you feel–
you feel insignificant, small
and fearful to fall,
and like maybe it’s not making any difference at all,
but, little girl, stand tall,
for it takes many bricks to build up a wall.
Be resilient and fond
of quirkiness.
You don’t have to belong
and that makes you strong,
so shake the earth
climb a mountain
break a wall
write a song
cross a sea
tell a story
for words
are
powerful.
Little girl, listen to mine.
Don’t be afraid to lay it all on the line,
for your mind outshines
the stars.
You were designed for the light;
don’t be defined by what is behind.
Let go, and fill your lungs with Everest air;
taste the dewdrops, play with bears.
Never let love fall into disrepair.
Don’t stop and wait for a trumpet fanfare
when all it takes is climbing stairs.
Always give thanks for simple fare,
and hold fast to the promises.
Be honest, astonished
at the mighty and the small.
Stand tall,
and be kind.
See the people,
listen well.
Each of them has a story to tell;
You’ll be surprised how you change yourself.
Look for needs
and introduce yourself to strangers.
But I know–
It’s not safe,
You have habits to break
And time it will take
And there’s things in the way
Your path’s never been straight
And besides, you’re not brave
You’ll just make mistakes
And all you want is escape
from the maze
and the chase and the haze,
and the days
only feel longer
and the darkness gets stronger
You feel outnumbered, surrounded
but stay grounded
cause girl, you are a songbird
so sing your song from the tops of trees
Embrace grace, and fly free.
He sees every sparrow,
so feel the air flow
underneath your eagles’ wings
as you’re raised on the wind
and the mountains ring.
Be kind.
Learn to see
and to be
faithful in the mundane, everyday.
Don’t complain, but be grateful and humble.
Though the earth rumbles,
if you stumble, he will catch you.
Delight in his Word
and make a habit of right.
Practice love and dwell in the light.
Keep his face in sight.
There is no mountain that’s too tall to climb.
Seek to find, use your mind,
and be kind.
For you’d be surprised
how the little things might make a difference
beyond just this instance.
So be persistent,
go the distance,
for you were born to be a path-maker
culture-shaper
world-shaker
wall-breaker
change-creator.
Be faithful and playful
Live life with a grateful mind
and always be brave, bold
and kind.

On joy

16982653Joy is literally my middle name.

How ironic.

Some days, it seems all I do is grumble or complain. I quarrel and I snap back at the slightest provocation and I can’t control my tone of voice. Quick to anger, quick to speak, but slow to listen.

Sound familiar?

I’ll never forget how one of my friends laughed when someone asked her why she was so happy all the time. “Because I have Jesus in my heart!” she exclaimed, eyes shining. You could see it, too.

But I have Jesus in my heart, too, and last time I checked, “happy all the time” was not a part of my daily experience.It wasn’t until later in my life that I began to see the difference between happiness and joy. It’s a lesson I’m still learning, in fact.

Because “happy” isn’t something you can be all the time–but joy is. Happy is something you feel; joy is something you choose. Happiness is an emotion; joy is an attitude. Happiness is an experience; joy is an outlook. Happiness depends on circumstances; joy exists regardless and in spite of them. Happiness is earth-bound; joy is heaven-found. A lot of lives have taken a turn for the worse because of confusion between the two.

Righto, but that still doesn’t answer the main question: how can I get me some?

As I’ve been writing this, a number of old children’s songs have been running through my head:

“I’ve got that joy, joy, joy, joy, down in my heart! Where? Down in my heart! Where? Down in my heart! I’ve got that joy, joy, joy, joy, down in my heart! Where? Down in my heart to stay!

Or, how about this one?

Joy to the world, the Lord has come!

And then, there’s this one:

The fruit of the Spirit is love-joy-peace, patience-kindness-goodness-faithfulness, gentleness and self conro-o-ol! Love-joy-peace, patience-kindness-goodness-faithfulness, gentleness and self control!

Oh wait, that’s a Bible verse too, isn’t it? “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Against such things there is no law.”

Joy is the fruit of the Spirit. It is the product of having Jesus dwelling inside you.

*Raises hand* “But wait, Miss Bre, didn’t you just go in a circle? Didn’t you just say that even though you have Jesus in your heart, you don’t always feel joyful?”

*Pats head fondly* Why yes, that’s true, young child. But what I mean is…oh wait. that’s a good point.

Look, here’s the thing. Living life God’s way isn’t easy–otherwise everyone would be doing it, and my friend Amanda who is happy joyful all the time wouldn’t have sparked any comment, ’cause we’d all be walking around turning the other cheek until we were literally spinning in circles. But the product of choosing the narrow gate instead of the broad is this: joy. Love. Peace. Patience. Kindness. Joy.

You ever feel conflicted? Like you want to do what’s right, but you just can’t help yourself? Well, you’re in good company; so did Paul. Romans 7 says, “I do not understand what I do. For I do not do what I want to do, but I do the thing I hate….Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” 

(Oh look, I’ve found something in common between me and the greatest missionary of the New Testament! This is a good sign!)

There’s a reason for this. It’s that there’s actually two natures dwelling inside you. A sin nature, born at the Fall, and, if you believe in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, the actual Spirit of the living God. And believe it or not, every Christian has exactly the same measure of this Spirit as another. There’s enough to go around. You have it just as much as me or Paul or Corrie ten Boom or the person sitting in the pew beside you. The only difference is how much you choose to listen.

Many people are familiar with the old Native American story about the two wolves in a fight, and the famous saying: “The one who wins is the one you feed.” If we all have the Spirit of God living inside us (something not Abraham nor Moses nor Elijah nor any of the other heroes of the O.T. had access to, by the way) then the determinant of our joy is this: how much we feed it, and how much we choose to listen.

“The thief comes to steal and kill and destroy, but I have come that they may have life, and have it to the fullest (John 10:10).” The thief wants to steal, kill, and destroy your joy. Your peace. Your patience. I’m ashamed to say that he often succeeds. He lies and tricks us into chasing happiness instead of joy, and we build up treasures on earth rather than recognizing that this is not our home; we’re only passing through.

So the source of joy? I guess we’re back at the original answer: Jesus. But it doesn’t come from a passive, one-time decision; it comes from a lifestyle where you’re feeding your soul with truth and grace, and choosing to focus on the real thing instead of chasing shadows.

May you be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger. May you learn kindness, and patience, and joy.

Blessings!
Bre