Choosing Not to Engage in Fear or Despair

on_the_fenceContinued from here.

In my last blog entry, I said that fear and despair are choices. This can be difficult to believe because the magnetic pull feels unavoidable. However, Jesus experienced the same pull but did not sin. Jesus is our example for how to choose not to give in to fear and despair.

In my last couple of blog entries, I talked about three guardrails that Jesus erected to protect himself from going over the edge of the cliff, which are thinking about the needs of others, setting your mind to obey God, and earnestly praying. These are three specific tasks that fall under the umbrella of fear of the LORD. The fear of the LORD is what will enable you to resist the temptation to go over the cliff into fear (anxiety & worry) and despair (depression & hopelessness).

How can we “unchoose” fear and despair? The good news is that if you “unchoose” the fear, then you won’t have to worry about the despair: if you choose God’s safety net while you are still freefalling, you won’t hit the waters of despair. We “unchoose” fear by choosing trust. Each time you are tempted to worry, replace the worry with thankgiving and prayer:

God, I’m tempted to worry about how I am going to pay this bill, but you said in your word not to worry about this because you will take care of my needs. I am choosing to seek you first and trust that you will provide for my needs. Thank you for the many ways you have provided for me in the past. You were faithful before, and you will be faithful again. I trust you.”

You cannot worry and trust at the same time. If you will flood your mind with Scripture that reassures you that God will take care of the fear-inducing situation, you will put up a guardrail that will prevent you from going over the cliff.

Climbing out of the “hell well” is harder because with fear, you replace an unhealthy action (worry) with a healthy one (meditation on Scripture) whereas once you sink into despair, the temptation is inactivity. Set your mind to take action, even though you don’t feel like doing anything, and begin the process of climbing out. As you flood your mind with applicable Scripture, God will empower you to climb out, and He will restore you to a place of safety, security, and trust.

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace shrugging her shoulders and saying, “I’m on the fence.” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Setting up Guardrails to Protect Us from Fear and Despair

cliffs_of_moherContinued from here.

As I meditated on the concept of at what point “normal” stress (temptation to fear) gives way to fear and despair (sin), God gave me an interesting metaphor. When I was in Ireland, I visited the Cliffs of Moher, pictured here. In the metaphor God gave me, I saw the continuum of stress to fear and despair as sliding off the Cliffs of Moher.

As we experience stress, we find ourselves drawn closer to the edge of the cliff. That’s not sin – that’s temptation, and Jesus himself experienced this. Sin, which Jesus did not experience, comes into play when we allow ourselves to be pulled over the edge of the cliff. This happens when we allow our stress to slide into fear, such as when we engage in worry or anxiety. (Yes, worry and anxiety are choices.) Fear is the freefall over the side of the cliff. When we repent of our fear and choose to trust God, we fall into His safety net, and He restores us to a place of safety.

If we don’t repent of our fear, we eventually plunge into the waters of despair, which includes depression and hopelessness. (I call this going down the “hell well.”) Once we reach a place of despair, it can become even more challenging to repent. God can certainly pull us out of this place, but it’s harder to repent from a “hell well” because being in despair causes us to become very self-absorbed. Remember how Jesus thought about others as his first step in fighting the temptation to fear.

All of us, even Jesus, are vulnerable to experiencing stress when we face fear-inducing circumstances. As a magnet draws a metal object, the temptation to fear pulls us closer and closer to the edge of the cliff. It’s not sin to be caught in the pull of the magnet – after all, Jesus found himself in the same pull that we do. However, unlike us, Jesus never went over the side of the cliff. That’s because he set up guardrails by considering the needs of others, setting his mind to obey God no matter the cost, and earnestly praying. We can set up the same guardrails and avoid going over the cliff, no matter how fear-inducing our circumstances may be.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Photograph of the Cliffs of Moher. Courtesy Cliffs of Moher.]

 

How Can We Avoid Sliding from Stress into Fear?

prayerContinued from here.

All of us have experienced both stress and fear in our lives. Jesus joined us in experiencing stress but not fear. What can we learn from Jesus’ example to avoid sliding down the slippery slope from stress into fear?

When faced with the most stressful situation of his life, the first thing Jesus did was withdraw to a quiet place and encourage his closest friends to pray:

Jesus went out as usual to the Mount of Olives, and his disciples followed him. On reaching the place, he said to them, ‘Pray that you will not fall into temptation’” (Luke 22:39-40).

Interestingly, he did not ask them to pray for him but to “keep watch” while he prayed. They failed to do so, and he chastised them, not for letting him down but because they were vulnerable to falling into temptation. When we are stressed, we need to think about others and not just ourselves.

The second thing Jesus did was make the determination to obey God, no matter the cost:

He withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed, ‘Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.’ An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him” (Luke 22:41-43).

Note that his willingness to obey God, no matter the cost, led to supernatural strengthening.

The third thing Jesus did after experiencing supernatural strengthening was to engage in even more earnest prayer:

And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground (Luke 22:44).

Jesus did not take a Xanax, get drunk, or engage in other ways to escape the temptation to fear. Instead, he faced his fear head-on through prayer. The greater the stress (temptation to fear), the more earnestly he prayed … so much so that his body experienced a physical reaction. This wasn’t a simple five-minute prayer in his head. He threw everything he had – heart, mind, and soul – into his earnest prayer. He set his heart, mind, and soul on following God no matter the cost, and as his determination collided with his temptation to fear, his body expressed the collision through sweating blood. If we want to walk in victory over our fear, we must throw everything we have into the fight as we ask God to help us push through the stress into obedience.

What was the end result? When the people came to arrest Jesus, he was not fearful. Instead, he was so filled with God’s power that when he first spoke to his captors, they “drew back and fell to the ground!”

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace praying next to large emoticon hands in prayer. Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Stress as the Gateway to Fear

screamContinued from here.

As I previously mentioned, I used to have a severe anxiety disorder. It was so severe that I experienced panic attacks every 8-12 weeks in which my body would shake uncontrollably for 5-15 minutes as I hyperventilated. After the panic attack ended, my body would relax, and I would sleep very well because my body had released the pent-up anxiety. But the next day, my stress would build again until my body could not endure it any longer, and the process would repeat itself 2-3 months later.

I have no question that God doesn’t want His children living that way. According to Alex Kendrick and Stephen Kendrick in their movie, Facing the Giants , the Bible tells us 365 times not to fear, which is one “do not fear” verse for every day of the year! God clearly knows our tendency to fear and encourages us repeatedly not to do so.

Jesus was without sin and did not fear. He provided a powerful example of following God to the cross, where he clearly did not want to go. And yet he was certainly not without stress, as was evidenced by his body sweating blood as he anguished over obeying God. So the line for where we cross over from experiencing normal human emotions of stress to sin must fall somewhere between feeling stressed about the future, which Jesus himself experienced, and experiencing fear, which Jesus did not experience. As someone who experiences a lot of stress (enough to give my massage therapist quite the workout!), I find it encouraging to know that I’m not engaging in sin when I experience stress.

I wonder if perhaps stress is actually the temptation to fear. We know that Jesus was tempted but did not sin, so perhaps stress is the gateway to fear that we must resist. And the more tempted we are to fear, the greater the toll on our bodies, from Jesus’ sweating blood to my ongoing knots in my shoulders. Rather than being a negative thing, might stress actually be part of the process of walking in victory over fear?

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace looking stressed beside a “Scream” emoticon. Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Are Stress and Worry Sins?

I am working my way through Chris Tiegreen’s excellent book, Creative Prayer: Speaking the Language of God’s Heart. I was fascinated by this observation about God and have been meditating on it for a while now:

Clearly, the Bible portrays God as extremely emotional. I find it encouraging that two emotions are never assigned to him: those that fall under the category of fear (anxiety, worry, stress) and those that fall under the category of despair (discouragement, apathy, depression, hopelessness). We should give these feelings no place in our hearts. They are not in line with God’s emotions.”

I do not disagree with Tiegreen’s assessment about emotions expressed by God in the Bible, and I fully agree that we need to “starve” any emotion that falls under the categories of fear and despair by not “feeding” them with our thoughts. That being said, the Bible portrays Jesus as experiencing emotions related to stress: a person does not sweat blood without feeling a stress-related emotion. The Bible says that Jesus was in anguish, which Merriam-Webster defines as “extreme pain, distress, or anxiety.” And yet Jesus did not sin:

To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.
‘He committed no sin,
and no deceit was found in his mouth’” (1 Pet. 2:21-22).

As someone with a history of severe anxiety who has people in her life who continue to wrestle with anxiety, I’m very interested in learning from Jesus’ example. Is feeling stress a sin? What about worry? At what point do we cross over from experiencing normal human emotions, as Jesus did, to sin as we move down the continuum from stress to anxiety and despair? What can we learn from Jesus about how to process normal human emotions of stress so that we don’t cross over into debilitating anxiety and despair? These are the questions that I will be pondering this week.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cover of Creative Prayer: Speaking the Language of God’s Heart. Courtesy Amazon.]

 

Battling Anxiety and Depression

cry_me_a_riverA couple of people I dearly love are struggling with anxiety and depression, so I thought I would blog about the role our thoughts play as we struggle in these areas. Before I launch into this topic, I want to be clear that some people’s issues with anxiety and depression include a physical element requiring medication. I am not a medical professional and am not going to focus on that aspect of anxiety and depression – that’s something that should be discussed with your doctor. The advice I have to share on this topic comes both from the Bible and from personal experience.

I used to have an anxiety disorder that would sometimes spiral into depression. I would feel anxious and think about the external factors in my life feeding the anxiety. As I came up with backup plans for my backup plans in a futile attempt to control my circumstances, my feelings of anxiety would grow stronger and stronger until I had a panic attack, which temporarily relieved some of the pressure. My body would actually relax for a little while after a panic attack, and I would get a good night’s sleep before it all started over again.

Sometimes instead of my anxiety building up to a panic attack, I would instead fall into an emotional pit of depression. This, too, gave me a little relief from the anxiety, but it was far more difficult to manage because I would feel despair. While I was anxious, I was at least coming up with backup plans for controlling my world. When I sank into depression, I lost all hope of being able to control my circumstances and battled strong suicidal urges. While in the emotional pit, I had trouble believing I would ever feel OK again.

In this blog series, I will share some of what I learned as God has healed me from both an anxiety disorder and periodic depression. While I will likely always be vulnerable to feeling anxious, I have learned not to allow those feelings to drive my thoughts. This life lesson has been critical to successfully walking in victory over anxiety.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace crying. Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Abiding in God’s Presence Drives Out Fear

lets_goContinued from here.

The day after I wrote yesterday’s blog entry, I attended an evangelism meeting at my church. We talked about a presentation I am building on talking about our faith: why we need to do it and how. I felt so alive in that meeting and did not have a whit of anxiety during or after it. I realized that my focus was on God rather than my problems, and I felt the difference between a “life” and “death” focus in a tangible way.

And then God pounded home the same message during my quiet time the next morning. I read the following quote in Daily Wisdom for Women 2017 Devotional Collection:

Try ‘abiding, not striving nor struggling.’” ~ Hudson Taylor’s friend

Next was this quote in Jesus Always: Embracing Joy in His Presence:

Relax in My loving Presence.’”

And then this quote from Experiencing God: Knowing and Doing the Will of God (Workbook):

To be God’s servant, you must be moldable and remain in the hand of the Master.”

When I hear the same message three times in a row, I take notice.

I am now getting a better understanding of what I keep doing “wrong.” I have a similar nature to Peter and Paul, always running ahead of God, zealous to do His will but not waiting for His signal to act. Both men truly wanted to serve God, but their view of servanthood aligned too much with the world’s view – as soon as they thought they knew where God was going, they ran out ahead of Him and tried to do the job themselves. I don’t know if this caused them anxiety or not, but that’s what happens to me when I do it. Like Peter and Paul, God can use me to go boldly where He leads, but I first must learn to follow, just as they did.

Continued here.

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace running and saying, “Let’s go!” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

How Love Drives Out Fear

do_not_panicContinued from here.

I am still in the early stages of processing all of this, but here’s what I have learned thus far…

God is love, so whenever I am with Him, I am “with love.” While He promises never to leave me, I can leave Him, and I do whenever I run ahead of Him into my circumstances. He always walks with me, but I don’t always walk with Him.

My pattern is to run ahead into the circumstances, reminding myself that God will show up. My faith has developed enough to know that God will, indeed, show up, but it always seems like he does so at the very last minute. Meanwhile, I’m surrounded by unpleasant circumstances, trying to hold onto my faith and remain standing until God arrives. I don’t think that is how God plans for us to live.

I have been pondering if perhaps there is another, better way to live. Perhaps God wants me walking alongside him with my focus on Him rather than on my circumstances. Instead of running ahead into my circumstances and waiting for Him to catch up, perhaps I have another option – to walk alongside God at His pace and enjoy the blessings of His love and presence while the circumstances come to me. For all I know, by the time those circumstances reach me, they might look quite different up close. Rather than being a river at flood level, it might just part the moment God and I step into it. And even if it doesn’t, the time leading up to my inevitable intersection with the river can be spent experiencing love, joy, peace, and rest as I walk alongside God, knowing that I am in His presence the entire time we are walking together.

When I was in therapy, my therapist repeatedly told me to live in the present moment, not in the future. Perhaps this is what he was talking about. The only moment I can do anything about is right now, and right now is the only moment that intersects with eternity. If I can stay focused on walking with God right now in this present moment, might love drive out the fear and anxiety?

Only God knows the answer, and only He can empower me to do this. Please pray that I learn this lesson. I am so tired of living in fear.

Continued here.

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace holding up her arms and saying, “Don’t panic.” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

Do Not Fear

fearAnxiety has plagued me for most of my life. It used to be much worse: I struggled with an anxiety disorder for decades, which caused me to have panic attacks regularly. I cannot remember the last time I had a panic attack, so I have certainly progressed. However, anxiety continues to be an issue for me.

I have been praying about what I am doing “wrong,” and God led me to this verse:

There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” ~ 1 John 4:18

I have always struggled with this verse because I don’t perceive what I am fearing as “punishment.” The root of my fear is other people harming me, and that comes from a childhood of abuse, where authority figures had the power to inflict much harm. I do not view the child abuse as “punishment” so much as simply evil.

Looking at the context of the entire passage, the focus is on love – God’s love for us, our love for God, and our love for other people. It sounds like love and fear are incompatible, so where I have a fear problem (anxiety), I have a love problem. I know that God loves me, and yet I fear (experience anxiety). How specifically does love drive out fear?

Multiple passages in the Bible tell us not to fear. The reason provided for not fearing is that God is with us:

So do not fear, for I am with you;
do not be dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you;
I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” ~ Is. 41:10

I know that God is always with me, but do I really believe it? If I did, wouldn’t that drive out the fear? And then where does love tie into this?

Continued here.

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace looking frightened. Courtesy Bitmoji.]