Tag Archive | fear

Waiting and wondering on Easter Saturday

Easter Saturday – or Holy Saturday – is that in-between time. The worst has happened. Jesus has been crucified. The hopes of many have been dasheIMG_6347d. The disciples are confused, disappointed and frightened. They retreat behind closed doors and withdraw into their fear, scared to look ahead, afraid to hope.

The two disciples who walked along the road to Emmaus were walking the long way home from Jerusalem to Emmaus, talking about all that had happened in Jerusalem on Good Friday. They were joined on the road by a Stranger, who wanted to know what they were talking about. Surprised that he didn’t know – wasn’t it the talk of the town? – they told him that Jesus had been crucified. They confessed, ‘But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel’.

The One they had put their trust in had disappointed them. They were confused and disappointed and were retreating – going back home. They didn’t understand what had happened. Things hadn’t turned out as they had hoped. Had they been wrong all along? Confusion and disappointment ate at their broken spirits and their hopes were dashed. They must have wondered what was going to happen next. Some of the women had said they had been to Jesus’ tomb but his body wasn’t there. They couldn’t work out what it all meant.

So the Stranger began to talk to them about the Scriptures. He explained their meaning as they walked that long way home. And – I love this part – when they reached their house, the Stranger ‘acted as if he were going farther, but they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, for it is toward evening and the day is now far spent.”’ He wasn’t going to impose – He never does – but always  waits to be invited.

And so it was that, in the breaking and blessing of the bread, they recognised the Stranger. Was it his hands as he broke the bread? Was it his voice as he blessed it? And just as suddenly as he had appeared, he vanished.broken bread

But it was enough. They knew who he was. They knew what he had been talking about. Now it all began to make sense. They said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?” And immediately they set out to return to Jerusalem to share the good news.

We live between the ‘now’ and ‘what is yet to be’. We have put our faith in God but so much of what we read in the Bible belongs to the ‘what is yet to be’. Our lives are often filled with disappointment. Our hopes are dashed. Often we are confused; often we are frightened. Sometimes we don’t dare to look forward. Sometimes we are afraid to hope.

Some of us have hopes that have been dashed. Life hasn’t turned out the way we had hoped it would. We are struggling with broken health or broken relationships or some other loss. Some struggle with the loss of mental health. For them, just to get out of bed in the morning is a huge act of faith – a heroic thing. What they had hoped for hasn’t happened. Can they dare to hope?

Some of us have questions related to our faith that make us afraid to hope. It’s all too good to be true. What if it’s all a lie? Can we really base our lives on it? Does it really work? Does it make sense? Our faith is wavering. Can we dare to hope?

We all live in a broken world, a terribly frightening world. We don’t know what’s going to happen next. It doesn’t make sense. Can we dare to hope?

As we wait and as we wonder, let’s give the Stranger time to draw alongside us. He won’t impose but, if he’s invited, he will come. Things might begin to make some sense. And even if they don’t, the presence of the Stranger will bless us in our brokenness.

From Worry to Worship – Session 1: What is Worry and What Can it Do?

More than 40 million American adults have a full-blown anxiety disorder and women are twice as likely as men to be diagnosed with anxiety disorders, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. Worry is by far the most frequent topic which women come to me needing some help with. And I am a worrier by nature. So I thought that those three reasons were enough for me to choose Worry as my topic when I was invited to speak at a women’s retreat in Munich in October 2015. The theme was actually ‘From Worry to Worship’, for as Christian women we are all on a journey. While many of us worry, we feel guilty that we worry, so we heap guilt on top of the worry. We would like to learn how to cope better with the anxieties of life. piglet anxiety

During the retreat, we looked together at anxiety – or  worry – and its close ally, fear. We began by asking what worry is and what it does; then, in the second session, we looked at the other side of the coin – what it cannot do; in the third session we began to look at the Christian woman’s antidote to worry – prayer and worship; and we concluded with a look at entering into the rest of God in the last session.

If you would rather listen to than read the content of these sessions, you can find them on audio here.

Scripture verse: The cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful – Matthew 13:22

Setting the Scene: The Universality of Fear and Worry

Every single person who ever lived is personally familiar with fear. It is an inescapable feature of earthy life….Fear is natural to us. We don’t have to learn it. We experience fear and anxiety even before there is any logical reason for them.’ Ed Welch, counsellor and Faculty member at CCEF (Christian Counseling & Education Foundation).

We stop experiencing fear when we stop breathing. To stop feeling fear means we’re either dead, well-anaesthetised, in denial, or living with a tremendous layer of insulation. Dr David Hawkins, quoting Susan Jeffers in his book ‘The Power of Emotional Decision Making’.

Fear is common to all age groups. Fear of the dark is what makes a young child unwilling to go to bed – so a parent provides a night light. Fear of being ridiculed can make that same child afraid to go to school – and bullying is becoming an increasingly well known phenomenon in our school playgrounds, to say nothing about online bullying. That same fear can run amok and produce a teenager with an eating disorder, as the young woman becomes a slave to her own perceived body-image.

I love the humourous and perceptive personnification of Fear in the recently-released movie, ‘Inside Out’.

As we look outward, we see real dangers: disease, death, war, economic collapse, and a host of other ills…..While ‘fear’ refers to the experience when a car races toward us and we just barely escape, ‘anxiety’ or worry is the lingering sense, after the car has passed, that life is fragile and we are always vulnerable.’ Ed Welch in his book ‘Running Scared’.

Women and Worry

The Anxiety and Depression Association of America recognises that women are more anxious than men, and that anxiety is one reason that we still live longer, healthier, lives – our anxiety protects us from taking dangerous risks. However, there is a downside to our worry. Many of us worry too much; sometimes anxiety paralyses us and prevents us from functioning normally; and of course some women have full-blown anxiety disorders.

Understanding why isn’t easy. In the last two decades, researchers have examined hormonal fluctuations, genetics, environmental stressors and cultural factors. And they’ve concluded there’s no single reason women are more vulnerable to anxiety than men. It’s really the combination of all of these factors.

One psychologist has differentiated between anxiety, fear and panic as follows:

Anxiety – ‘yellow alert’

It’s a bit like being on ‘yellow alert’; anxiety is about looking out for possible danger, and often centres on trying to find certainty in uncertain situations. It’s an attempt to stay safe – a survival tactic – by foreseeing and planning for every conceivable outcome.

This worrying is often about the future, and because it’s too far away, the outcome cannot easily be determined. This leads to many unresolved ‘what ifs’, and a person seems to settle on the most catastrophic outcome, just in case.

This is very well illustrated by Anxious Piglet in this clip of ‘Winnie the Pooh’.

These are the anxieties common to those of us who are real worriers. My mother was one of these – we used to say that if she had nothing to worry about, she would worry. You know this kind of person – the person who is always imagining the worst and asking ‘What if…?’ just like poor Piglet.

Fear – ‘orange alert’

Fear is associated with more precise danger and starts to engage other survival tactics, like the ‘fight or flight’ response. Like stepping up a level to ‘orange alert’; fear is one stage away from panic. A definite threat of danger, or at least something unpleasant, has been sensed. This could be something tangible or something imagined.

The intensity of the fear depends upon several things:

  • The seriousness or unpleasantness of the threat.
  • How far into the future it is. For example, a dental appointment/mammogram that is initially 3 weeks in the future – fear increases as it gets closer.

This state of fear can be experienced for prolonged periods when it’s due to thoughts and not a real situation. That’s why anxiety and fear can be extremely tiring, and it’s not the way it’s supposed to work at all. Fear is intended for short term survival, not long term existence.

Panic – ‘red alert’

This is essentially an extension of fear, but in an extreme form; feeling totally overwhelmed by the physical and mental feelings of it. It happens when faced with sudden life threatening danger at this very moment. The panic response – ‘red alert’ – is vital in this situation because it gets the body instantly into the optimum state for survival; getting ready to fight or flee, or sometimes even freeze.

Panic is more often experienced in the context of a panic attack. In a truly dangerous situation the physical effects of panic are put to good use fighting or fleeing, and the person would be focusing on doing just that; not thinking about how they were feeling. It’s only when panic strikes for no apparent reason, that a person has a chance to become aware of its many physical sensations. 

Understanding anxiety and fear from a biblical point of view

What Worry does

Matthew 13:1-9; 18-23 – anxiety drains our spiritual energy

The good seeds fall on 4 types of ground:

  1. along the path where birds came and devoured them
  2. on rocky ground where they quickly grew but then withered because they had no roots
  3. among thorns where the thorns grew up and choked them
  4. on good soil where they bore fruit

When the disciples fail to understand the meaning of the parable, Jesus interprets it for them:

  1. when we don’t understand the word of God, the evil one snatches it away before it has time to take root
  2. others receive the word immediately but, because they have no root in themselves, they fall away when tribulation or persecution comes
  3. others hear the word but it is soon choked by the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches
  4. others receive the word, allow it to take root and it bears fruit in their lives

It’s striking to see that Jesus actually lists worry as something that can hinder the work God wants to do in our lives.

As women, we are all nurturers which means there are people in our lives whom we care for – whether that is children or parents or friends. In Philippians 2, the apostle Paul talks about being concerned because Epaphroditus was ill. There would be something wrong with us if we were not concerned when a friend is ill or there is something else wrong with a loved one. But it is what we do with our cares that is important.

Jesus explains in Matthew 6 what these worries can do. Like thorns in our gardens, the cares of life can choke the good seed in our lives as it starts to take root and grow. I have a garden and I love to see flowers blooming and growing. But I know the frustration of seeing thorns and other weeds choke the good, healthy plants. The thorns become entwined around the good plants. Unless you deal with them promptly and ruthlessly, they will choke the good plants to death.

So it is with our worries – we need to learn to deal with them promptly and ruthlessly and we are going to be sharing together about how to do that.

Psalm 56:3 says, “When I am afraid, I put my trust in you”. Notice: it does not say, “I never struggle with fear.” Fear strikes and the battle begins. So the Bible does not assume that true believers will have no anxieties. Instead the Bible tells us how to fight when they strike.

And 1 Peter 5:7 says, “Cast all your anxieties on him, for he cares about you.” It does NOT say, you will never feel any anxieties to cast onto God. It says, when the mud splatters your windshield and you lose temporary sight of the road and start to swerve in anxiety, turn on your wipers and squirt your windshield washer. Deal with sin ruthlessly.               

So we need to learn to deal with the cares of life. Although common to all mankind, although in many senses a legitimate part of what it means to be human – we must not allow them to choke the word of God in our lives. They will take over from the good plants, draining our energy and distracting our focus.

2. Luke 10:38-42 – anxiety distracts us from our spiritual focus

This passage is the well-known story of Mary and Martha, the two sisters who lived in Bethany with their brother Lazarus, whom Jesus raised from the dead.

The passage begins with the words ‘Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village’. He was on a journey and his time was limited. He wanted Martha to recognise that and act accordingly by choosing the priority of enjoying his company above other legitimate concerns. Notice that it is Martha who welcomes Jesus into their house. But she becomes ‘distracted’ with all the serving (not surprising if Jesus was there with his 12 disciples!) and not a little bothered to see her sister Mary sitting at the feet of Jesus instead of helping her.

Kenneth Bailey, author and lecturer in Middle Eastern NT studies, helps us to understand that in the Middle Eastern cultural context, this would have been understood like this: Martha was upset over the fact that her little sister was seated with the men and had become a disciple of Rabbi Jesus. What would people think?

When Martha asks Jesus to tell Mary to help her, his reply is: ‘Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her’.

The word translated here as ‘anxious’ (about many things) has the same root as the word that was translated ‘choked’ (by the cares and riches and pleasures of life) in the parable of the sower.

So once again, it is a picture of the cares of life choking or distracting us from the impact of the word of God. In the parable of the sower, the cares of life choked the word; here the cares of life distract from the focus which is the most important for any disciple of Jesus.

Kenneth Bailey explains that Jesus’ answer to Martha meant: Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things. I understand the entire list. One thing is needed. What is missing is not one more plate of food but rather for you to understand that I am providing the meal and that your sister has already chosen the good portion. I will not allow you to take it away from her. A good student is more important to me than a good meal.’

Jesus had no problem giving a place to women who wanted to sit at his feet and study the Scriptures – he had no time for the chauvinism which might have said that that was no place for a woman. Rather, he welcomed Mary and affirmed that she had chosen wisely.

Henri Nouwen says: `Oh, if we could sit for just one half hour a day doing nothing except taking a simple word from the gospel and putting it in front of us—say, “The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want.” Say it three times, and we know it’s not true, because we want many things. That’s exactly why we’re so nervous. But if we keep saying the truth, the real truth—”The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want”—and let that truth descend from our mind into our heart, gradually those words are written on the walls of our inner holy place. That becomes the space in which we can receive our colleagues and our work, our family and our friends, and the people whom we will meet during the day.’

Perhaps Jesus would say to us today: ‘Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary’. Maybe we need to come back to that one thing – to fellowship with Jesus – and let go of the rest. Fear of others and fear of everything else can only be treated with fear of the Lord – but in the fear of the Lord we will find true rest.

Ed Welch calls the battle against fear a ‘blessed struggle’ because in that struggle we have the beautiful promises of God to be with us. 

 

Do you ever look at someone and wonder, what is going on inside their head?

If you do, you’re like Joy, one of the five emotions in Riley’s head in the movie ‘Inside Out’. When the 11-year old Riley is uprooted from her Midwest life and moved to San Francisco, her emotions – Joy, Fear, Anger, Disgust and Sadness – conflict on how best to navigate the move. The storyline is based on a common experience but the movie is filled with brilliant insights into how our emotions work.Inside Out characters

Riley’s emotions, led by Joy most of the time, are in charge of creating glowing little memory balls which are stored in the control suite each day and then, when Riley goes to sleep, dispatched off to be stored with all the other long-term memories. This infinite memory-ball library is situated in a huge landscape, which includes vast identity islands symbolising various aspects of her personality: honesty, love of family, etc. There is a feelgood factor in how the movie portrays the values of honesty and of family life.

When Riley moves house and starts experiencing all of the emotions which go along with that, Joy struggles to maintain control. Indeed, Joy and Sadness both find themselves locked out of the command centre for a while – Riley suffers from depression. Fear, Disgust and Anger are in control and Riley is miserable. As Joy and Sadness make their way back, through a roller coaster of events which involve trying to catch the train of thought, it becomes clear that Joy and Sadness are both necessary to Riley’s wellbeing. Sadness cannot be confined to the circle which Joy had made for her; she is actually vital to Riley as she processes all of her emotional reactions to the move.

Nestled throughout the clever universe that “Inside Out” creates are big ideas about how various emotions drive our identity. For every sight gag that makes kids chuckle, there’s an eye-opening meditation for adults – and that’s just what Docter and his frequent producer, Jonas Rivera, intended. (Huffington Post).

If you have ever looked at someone and wondered, ‘What is going on inside their head?’, you will really enjoy this movie. You can watch the trailer here.

Some unforgettable quotes:

Crying helps me slow down and obsess over the weight of life’s problems (Sadness).

Congratulations San Francisco, you’ve ruined pizza! First the Hawaiians, and now YOU! (Anger).

All right! We did not die today, I call that an unqualified success (Fear).

Change – love it or hate it?

As we have embarked on a New Year, it has been interesting to see how we all welcome it – or not.

Some of us bring in the New Year with great gusto. One of my Facebook friends wrote: ‘Happy 2012! I love NEWNESS!’

Others of us are much less bold to step out into something new. We prefer to cling to the old, the well-known, the comfortable – like an old pair of slippers.

One theory is that the young welcome the new because they don’t have enough life-experience to know that it might hold pain and sickness, even death; while those of us who are older are more fearful because we know that for sure our future will contain some of those things.

But I don’t think it’s purely or exclusively an age thing. It’s also a temperament thing. Some of us have a half-full glass while others have a half-empty glass – and that is the glass through which we will view the New Year – pardon the pun.

An age thing? A temperament thing? It’s also a comfort thing. And most of us are creatures who love comfort. The Christmas holidays are, for many of us, filled with feasting and family gatherings and food and fun. Then the New Year comes. The Christmas decorations come down. The family members leave. Our normal routine of work and routine beckons. Ouch.

If the gospel doesn’t touch our lives in these moments, then it isn’t for real. As Paul Tripp is fond of saying, very view of us live in a world of big moments. Most of our moments are small moments, apparently insignificant moments. Like facing work tomorrow. How will we do it? In the same way as those whose lives the gospel hasn’t touched yet? With a groan? With a sigh? Telling ourselves that at least the weekend is coming soon? Or our Easter break? Or our summer holiday?

Jesus didn’t come just for Christmas. If he had, how sad we would be when the New Year comes. He came to stay. Emmanuel – God is with us – forever.

That is why – whatever our age, whatever our temperament, whatever our temptation to idolise comfort – we can face the New Year – with confidence. Because Jesus lives. He lives in me and he lives in you. And I live in him and you live in him. Christ in me (Colossians 1:27) and me in Christ (I Cor.1:30).

This week I have heard people say ‘I hope the New Year is kinder to you than last year’. I know what they mean – and I hope so too. Many of us experienced loss and sadness and a great deal of pain last year and we are hoping for better things this year. But for those of us who are in Christ, we know that it is not the New Year which will decide what happens. God is sovereign and our new year is in his hands – his gracious hands. He will decide what our future holds. Nothing can happen to us which he has not permitted. And wherever we find ourselves, he will be there with us. So let us step into the New Year with confidence in him.

“And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:20.

Advent: a Waiting Room

The season of Advent is a bit like a waiting room.

What do we think about in the waiting room? How do we feel? It depends on the waiting room, doesn’t it? If it’s the waiting room of the doctor’s or dentist’s surgery, our thoughts are probably on the diagnosis or treatment we are about to receive. Our feelings are probably a mix of anxiety, apprehension, maybe even fear.

But if we’re in the waiting room in a solicitor’s office where we are about to hear the reading of a will, our thoughts and feelings will be very different. Perhaps we are thinking about the one who died. We’ll be wondering what we are about to hear. And our feelings may be anticipation, maybe even joy.

This morning as I was reading my Bible, I happened to glance up and look our our kitchen window – where I saw a magnificent pink sky as the sun came up. Unlike the dramatic sky we see with manmade firework displays, accompanied by ear-piercing bangs and hisses, this amazing work of art had just quietly been painted in the sky by the Creator, without any fanfare, and left there – just for a few moments – for anyone who happened to be looking.

But I could have missed it. If I hadn’t glanced up and looked out the window, I wouldn’t have seen it. I could have been going about the business of the day, preoccupied with what had to be done – and I would have missed it.

It set me to thinking about those who were waiting, those who were looking out for something – for Someone – 2000 years ago. Quietly, unobtrusively, a little baby was born in a dirty manager in a humble stable in Bethlehem. Most people were going about the business of their lives. Many people missed it. Some were surprised – even filled with fear when they realised what was happening:

There were shepherds camping in the neighborhood. They had set night watches over their sheep. Suddenly, God’s angel stood among them and God’s glory blazed around them. They were terrified. The angel said, “Don’t be afraid. I’m here to announce a great and joyful event that is meant for everybody, worldwide: A Savior has just been born in David’s town, a Savior who is Messiah and Master. This is what you’re to look for: a baby wrapped in a blanket and lying in a manger.”

But some people had been waiting for the news. When Joseph and Mary took baby Jesus to the temple, there were two people there who had been waiting:

In Jerusalem at the time, there was a man, Simeon by name, a good man, a man who lived in the prayerful expectancy of help for Israel. And the Holy Spirit was on him. The Holy Spirit had shown him that he would see the Messiah of God before he died. Led by the Spirit, he entered the Temple. As the parents of the child Jesus brought him in to carry out the rituals of the Law, Simeon took him into his arms and blessed God: 

   God, you can now release your servant; 
      release me in peace as you promised. 
   With my own eyes I’ve seen your salvation; 
      it’s now out in the open for everyone to see: 
   A God-revealing light to the non-Jewish nations, 
      and of glory for your people Israel.

And then there was Anna:

Anna the prophetess was also there, a daughter of Phanuel from the tribe of Asher. She was by now a very old woman. She had been married seven years and a widow for eighty-four. She never left the Temple area, worshiping night and day with her fastings and prayers. At the very time Simeon was praying, she showed up, broke into an anthem of praise to God, and talked about the child to all who were waiting expectantly for the freeing of Jerusalem.

Simeon and Anna were waiting and watching – and their hopes were not dashed. They saw what they had been waiting for.

This season of Advent, let’s look out for God. Let’s watch out for what he’s doing – in our lives, in our homes, in our world.

If we wait and watch for him, we won’t be disappointed.