Last week I met with the ladies of the “Vigilante Food Book Club” to discuss my novel, “When the Vow Breaks.” They provided me with a wonderful potluck dinner, great conversation, and some thought-provoking questions. Since it takes place in Butte, Montana, a copper mining town, I brought each a little copper mug stuffed with BUTTErfinger candy bars. Thank you for a delightful evening Patsy, Janine, Joanne, Michelle, and Kathleen!
In A Shepherd Looks at the 23rd Psalm, Phillip Keller analyzes the psalm from both his perspective as a shepherd in Africa and later as a lay minister. As the psalm follows a flock of sheep through a year of care, Keller helps us understand the goodness of our Shepherd as the rural culture of biblical times would have understood the story.
He explains the psalm:
The Lord is my shepherd–
David, the psalmist and a shepherd, understood how much his people and we are like sheep. He’s proud and jubilant that our Shepherd is the one who created the immense universe and yet He cares about and for each of us. As Jesus asserts that He is the Good Shepherd, we learn that this guardian and guide of ours is willing to die for us. We belong to Him because He created us and because He bought our redemption with His death. He is a shepherd of compassion and integrity.
I shall not want–
The author suggests a double meaning to these words. I shall not lack anything (though tribulation will come our way) but also, if I accept the Lord as my shepherd, my contentment should be obvious to others. I don’t need to pursue my own desires.
He makes me to lie down in green pastures–
Sheep only are willing to lie down if they are free from fear, tension from the dominance of flock mates, aggravations from parasites and insects, and hunger. Only the shepherd can alleviate these needs: he protects, rebukes contention, applies oil to prevent infestation, and provides rich, lush fields through hard work in the typical dry lands where sheep flourish. Simply seeing him in the field will calm them. Like the sheep, we have our fears, our fights for status, our petty irritations and challenges, and a spiritual hunger. Through His Spirit and His Word he calms our fears, encourages love, guides us through our challenges, and delights in being with us, satiating our hunger.
He leads me besides the still waters–
A good shepherd brings his sheep to pasture while the grass is still heavy with dew. He leads them away from polluted puddles and guides them to fresh water. He maintains the streams and pools of his land so that they are clean and safe for his flock, or labors to draw heavy buckets of water from wells. Our Good Shepherd satisfies our thirst by drawing us to Him. Like sheep led to grass while dew is still heavy, we are encouraged to turn our thoughts to Him before our day begins, studying his Word and conversing with Him.
He restores my soul–
We are not always at peace. Sometimes we are downcast and disheartened. Sheep, too, are frequently “cast,” which means they lie down and either because of the hollow they choose, the heaviness of their fleece, or being overweight, they flounder with legs up and unable to right themselves. Left this way they can die quickly from abdominal gas buildup or predators. When we find ourselves to be helpless, unable to recover from a mistake or sin, our Shepherd leaves the 99 sheep to search for, find, and set us lovingly back on our feet. He restores our souls!
He leads me in right paths for His name’s sake–
Sheep tend to stay in a rut. They will follow the same path, drink in the same spot, and forage down to the roots rather than move on. Left long in the same area, they will devastate the land, pollute the waters, and beat paths into gullies. If the shepherd rotates them through different pastures, they enhance the soil and the fertilized grass can regrow.
Our Good Shepherd also wants to lead us in healthy ways. However, like sheep, we would rather stay in our ruts than allow ourselves to be led. In order for us to enhance His Kingdom, we need to love our Lord and others. And by love He means self-sacrifice. He leads us to fresh experiences of service, humility, acceptance, and trust through the enabling help of his Spirit.
Yea, though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil for you are with me–
As summer comes, shepherds drive their sheep through valleys to reach higher ground. The going isn’t easy; it is uphill, and often fraught with danger from storms, flash floods, and predators, but it’s the fastest way to reach the better grazing. We too may want to move to “higher ground” with God, but we forget that the way to higher-ground, closer relationship is through our struggles up the valley. Yet He is with us as we walk through the valley. When faced with true death, either of loved ones or our own, we have faith that we pass through it into eternal life. Our struggles and sufferings become the road to God. We have no need to be afraid. In fact, when we have passed through the valleys, we can become encouragers to those still struggling through their own valleys.
Your rod and your staff they comfort me–
A shepherd’s rod was a strong club for redirection or protection for the flock. The rod symbolizes the Word of God. We take comfort and assurance from His Word that He is all powerful and will lovingly redirect us onto the right path.
The staff with its hooked end was used to rescue sheep trapped in briars or struggling in water, as well as to move a newborn lamb closer to its mother without the risk of the shepherd’s scent on the lamb causing the mother to reject it. The staff symbolizes the Spirit of God, reminding us of God’s comfort, consolation, and tenderness. The Spirit draws us together into an intimate relationship with our parental God and with other members of His flock.
When we truly believe that we can trust our loving Shepherd, the rod and the staff are comforts.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies–
In the highlands, or table lands, flocks spent the summer on land the shepherd had prepared for them by removing poisonous plants, seeking out snakes, and adding salt and minerals to the soil. The sheep and shepherd spend days and nights together, away from their farm, and the psalmist reflects this intimacy as his words change from sheep boasting about their wonderful shepherd to praise spoken directly to the shepherd. Though grazing was rich on these table lands, predators stalked the flock and were kept away only by the vigilance of the shepherd.
We take comfort knowing our Good Shepherd has gone before us, and knows of every danger we will encounter, praying for us like He did for Peter that we might not fail in faith. Because of the predator of Evil, it is wise for us to walk closely to Jesus. Work to always know Him better through the Word, the Church, prayer life, sacrificial love, and holy mentors.
You anoint my head with oil, my cup overflows–
Summer flies and pests torment sheep. Nose flies can lay eggs that will become parasites that drive the sheep mad. Also, affectionately rubbing heads, sheep infect each other with scab. To protect the sheep, a conscientious shepherd will repeatedly anoint their heads with oil, which repels the insects and infection and brings them relief.
Haven’t we all had pesky irritations that prevented us from being our best? Haven’t we or our children “put our heads together” with people who do not believe as we do and come away exposed to destructive thoughts? We too need the balm of the Holy Spirit to calm our minds and refocus our beliefs. Rather than frustration demanding our attention, we can, through the Spirit who comforts, claim the fruits of joy, contentment, love, patience, gentleness and peace.
Not only will our own cup be full, but it will overflow for the good and blessing of others.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life–
As the shepherd has diligently cared for the flock, the sheep trust him and don’t fear for the future. We too know our Good Shepherd showers goodness and kindness upon us daily and we must trust He will continue to do so all the days of our lives, no matter what difficulties lie ahead for us.
Yet, perhaps the psalmist meant more. Sheep enrich the lands they travel through. Perhaps we, by being so tenderly loved, by having our cups overflow, will also provide goodness and mercy to others. Goodness should follow us wherever we go and whatever we do, a legacy of blessing for our fellow sheep.
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord my whole life long–
In the fall the sheep return from the tablelands to their homeland, full and healthy and ready for winter. The speaker sheep proclaims how proud he is of his shepherd. Shepherds also take pride in and joy from their flock’s well-being.
We too should take pride in belonging to our Shepherd’s fold, “enfolded” by His love, and being welcome to dwell in the house of the Lord forever. We should be like the boasting sheep. Our love and contentment should proclaim to the world how good our Shepherd is.
With a loving Good Shepherd to watch over us, what or whom should we fear?
Thank you for reading these weekly Lenten posts. I hope they have helped you. May the Easter season fill you with new courage!
This is our penultimate week of preparation for Easter. It’s also our next-to-last look at how to fight fear in our lives. I just listened to Chris Tomlin’s song, Whom Shall I Fear, with the line, “The God of angel armies is always by my side.” What more could we ask to uphold our courage?
The book we focus on this week is Worry Free Living, by Frank Minirth, M.D., Paul Meier, M.D., and Don Hawkins, Th.M. Though it was published in 1989, it still holds great insight, and used copies are available on Amazon. Written by two psychiatrists and a minister, this book pulls together guidance for our minds and our hearts.
The authors believe we experience anxiety when we are afraid to look at a negative emotion inside us, such as, anger, guilt, lust, or resentment. The Holy Spirit uses anxiety to draw our attention to something that needs to be aired. Though we might not want to admit a hidden truth, we must uncover it, and forgive ourselves or someone else or ask for forgiveness, in order to rid ourselves of anxiety. Forgiveness involves becoming aware of our anger and then choosing not to hold the offense against the person, in order to unburden ourselves. We decide not to seek revenge or even dwell on the offense. We don’t lick our wounds.
As we’ve read from other authors, a little anxiety can be a good thing, if it helps us prepare or encourages us to work in order to dispel the worry. Too much anxiety can lead to defense mechanisms, phobias, mental disorders, addictions, physical complications, and spiritual hopelessness. Sometimes professional help is necessary, but the authors suggest steps of self-help can prevent or alleviate anxiety for most of us:
- Meditate daily, including meditation on Scripture.
- Condition yourself to relax, using a repetitive phrase (like our affirmations) or visualizing a beautiful place to calm yourself.
- Listen to soothing music.
- Talk through problems to vent the pressure with someone you trust, and listen to theirs, too
- Limit your worry to a 15-minute time slot and push aside worries until that time (As a parent, when my girls became highly anxious we would walk around the block once or twice, limiting our expressing-worry time to that walk.
- Live one day at a time, not thinking “what if” about the future, or “if only” about the past.
- Design an Action Plan. Do something to lessen your anxiety, for instance take an assertiveness class if you have trouble expressing your wants and needs.
- Cultivate awareness of God’s presence with you. (Our God of angel armies!)
- Decide to obey God, both to avoid guilt, a source of anxiety, and because He commands us not to worry.
- Replace worry with prayer.
- Give up faulty beliefs, like perfectionism or the necessity of winning approval from all.
- Adopt a healthy lifestyle in the areas of sleep, diet, recreation, and exercise.
- Examine your self-talk and replace the negative with positive. Replace a low self-image with a sense of your worth as a child of God.
- Grow in intimacy with others. Reach out, build healthy friendships. If you aren’t able to do this, then reach out to a counselor to help you learn how. A good friend offers love, peace, open communication, mutual improvement, and refreshment.
- Grow in intimacy with God through prayer, Scripture, and meditation. Since God is for us, who can be against?
I suspect each reader has methods they use to counter fear and anxiety. As we mature, we adopt methods of self-soothing. I tell myself, “I’m safe right now.” One reader emailed that she prays, “Jesus, I trust in You.” Another reminds herself to “claim my power” or “take control of my life”.
How do you fight fear?
This week, let’s turn to fighting fear spiritually. In Courage: Fighting Fear with Fear, authors Wayne and Joshua Mack remind us that nurturing fear is not part of God’s plan for us. Repeatedly, 365 times even, the Old and New Testaments instruct us not to fear. For the Macks, when Jesus tells us, “Let not your hearts be troubled; believe in God, believe also in me (John 14:1),” He is giving a command, not a soft encouragement. God wants us to be in relationship with Him, and that relationship is meant to be one of love and trust. Worrying shows a lack of trust, a disbelief that God is all-powerful, loves us unconditionally, and wants what is best for us. To be afraid of people and what they think of us borders on or is outright disobedience, because we should only be concerned with following God’s guidance. In fact, by nurturing fear, we often fail to be our best selves, and fail to live out the life of meaning that God intends us to live, thus cheating ourselves and others of the graces He wishes to bestow.
The words of the title, Fighting Fear with Fear, refer to replacing our fear of man with a healthy, holy fear of God. This concept has bothered me since I was a child. Why should we fear God, if He is all loving and all good?
An alternate translation of “It is the Lord of hosts whom you should regard as holy. And He shall be your fear, and He shall be your dread,” (Isaiah 8:13) is instead, “The Lord of Hosts, Him shall you hallow.” To hallow means to make holy, to have great respect or hold in reverence. It can mean to sanctify, as in setting apart as holy. If we “fear” God, as in hold Him in respect and awe while setting Him apart as exalted above all else, we recognize his complete power and control of every situation. If we set God apart as holy, He becomes our holy place. Our refuge. We turn away from sin because we “fear” God, respecting and honoring Him with our actions and choices. Yes, we may suffer, but we trust His plan will transform our suffering to good.
The authors point out that frequently in the Bible, the commands for us to fear God are followed by promises of consequential blessings to us:
- God will instruct us and guide us in our choices. (Psalm 25:12)
- Our souls will abide in prosperity. (Ps 25:13) And what is soul prosperity? Direction and meaning in life, inner joy and satisfaction, inner peace.
- Our descendants shall inherit the earth. (Ps 25:13, Ps 112:2) The positive influence will affect our children and our grandchildren
- The psalm continues saying the secret of the Lord is for us. This implies a very close intimacy, for it is only with our dearest that we share our secrets. (Ps 25:14)
- He hides us from the conspiracies of man. (Ps 31:20)
- We will influence others, even after our death. (Ps 112:6)
- We will not fear evil tidings. (Ps 112:7,8)
Our fears put the focus on us, rather than our trust in God. Fear can be selfish and debilitating to what good we can accomplish. It runs counter to the two great commandments: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind,” and, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matt. 10:28) The Macks write, “When you fear man, you are not loving God with all you have, and you aren’t loving your neighbor as yourself.” The opposite of a spirit of fear is a spirit of love. The former is self-protecting, the latter is self-giving.
How do we rid ourselves of unhealthy fear?
- Exercise our faith daily; trusting God’s Word that He is in control of everything.
- Remember heaven and how eternal it is, compared to our current short-term worry.
- Be prudent, protecting ourselves from real danger, but not to the point that it keeps us from serving others in need.
- Ask ourselves if our fear keeps us from obeying God’s commands, or causes us to disobey them.
- Replace sinful fear with holy fear, that which puts or keeps us on the right path.
- Feel sorrow and repentance when we don’t trust God enough to overcome our fear of man.
How do we attain a healthy “fear” of God?
- Ask for a change of heart from God, that we might fear Him rather than anything or anyone else. We must ask for forgiveness and for this grace to fear Him.
- Revere God and respect those whom God has given authority.
- Devote ourselves to prayer.
- Study God’s word.
- Meditate on the truth: our sinfulness, God’s salvation, God’s goodness, His mighty works, His judgment, and His blessings. “Be still and know that I am God.” Ps 46:10
- Follow Christ’s example, which includes taking up our cross and dying to ourselves. We must trust that since God is good, when we suffer it is for his purpose, and that purpose will be for our best, even though we don’t understand.
Here’s my favorite quote from this week’s book, which wouldn’t be a bad addition to our daily affirmations:
“God knows, God cares, God understands, God is loving, God is good, God is sovereign, He is in control, and He will deliver my soul from destruction and keep me in my times of difficulty. There is a way out. God will work all things together for good. He will not abandon me.”
Finally, in the words of St. Pope John Paul II: “Do not be afraid. Do not be satisfied with mediocrity. Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.”
Last week we discussed differentiating true fear from anxiety and worry. Sadly, sometimes people get so used to true fear that they ignore it. In The Gift of Fear, author Gavin de Becker writes, “People who ignore their intuition, their mind and body’s warnings of danger, either through self-doubt or groomed desensitization, can find themselves in very imminent risk of harm or death.”
You may know people in difficult relationships or be in one yourself, and with de Becker’s permission to quote directly, I include his list of pre-incident indicators associated with spousal violence or murders. Perhaps it will help you to help yourself (or someone you love) recognize an unsafe situation, take control of your life, and leave safely. Or maybe a controlling person may recognize himself and seek help before it is too late. (Note that sometimes the genders in these warnings can be reversed.)
“The signals won’t all be present in every case, but if a situation has several of these signals, there is reason for concern.”
- The woman has intuitive feelings that she is at risk.
- At the inception of the relationship, the man accelerated the pace, prematurely placing on the agenda such things as commitment, living together, and marriage.
- He resolves conflict with intimidation, bullying, and violence.
- He is verbally abusive.
- He uses threats and intimidation as instruments of control or abuse. This includes threats to harm physically, to defame, to embarrass, to restrict freedom, to disclose secrets, to cut off support, to abandon, and to commit suicide.
- He breaks or strikes things in anger. He uses symbolic violence (tearing a wedding photo, marring a face in a photo, etc.)
- He has battered in prior relationships.
- He uses alcohol or drugs with adverse effects (memory loss, hostility, cruelty).
- He cites alcohol or drugs as an excuse or explanation for hostile or violent conduct. (“That was the booze talking, not me; I got so drunk I was crazy.”)
- His history includes police encounters for behavioral offenses (threats, stalking, assault, battery.)
- There has been more than one incident of violent behavior (including vandalism, breaking things, throwing things.)
- He uses money to control the activities, purchases, and behavior of his wife/partner.
- He becomes jealous of anyone or anything that takes her time away from the relationship; he keeps her on a “tight leash,” requires her to account for her time.
- He refuses to accept rejection.
- He expects the relationship to go on forever, perhaps using phrases like “together for life, “always,” or “no matter what.”
- He projects extreme emotions onto others (hate, love, jealousy, commitment) even when there is no evidence that would lead a reasonable person to perceive them.
- He minimizes incidents of abuse.
- He spends a disproportionate amount of time talking about his wife/partner and derives much of his identity from being her husband, lover, etc.
- He tries to enlist his wife’s friends or relatives in a campaign to keep or recover the relationship.
- He has inappropriately surveilled or followed his wife/partner.
- He believes others are out to get him. He believes that those around his wife/partner dislike him and encourage her to leave him.
- He resists change and is described as inflexible, unwilling to compromise.
- He identifies with or compares himself to violent people in films, news stories, fiction or history. He characterizes the violence of others as justified.
- He suffers mood swings or is sullen, angry, or depressed.
- He consistently blames others for problems of his own making; he refuses to take responsibility for the results of his actions.
- He refers to weapons as instruments of power, control, or revenge.
- Weapons are a substantial part of his persona; he has a gun or he talks about, jokes about, reads about, or collects weapons.
- He uses “male privilege” as a justification for his conduct (treats her like a servant, makes all the big decisions, acts like the “master of the house.”)
- He experienced or witnessed violence as a child.
- His wife/partner fears he will injure or kill her. She has discussed this with others or has made plans to be carried out in the event of her death (e.g., designating someone to care for children.)
“With this list and all you know about intuition and prediction, you can now help prevent America’s most predictable murders. Literally. Refer the woman to a battered women’s shelter, if for nothing else than to speak to someone who knows about what she is facing, in her life and in herself. Refer the man to a battered women’s shelter; they will be able to suggest programs for him. When there is violence, report it to police.”
One may ask why a person has stayed in an abusive relationship. De Becker writes:
“Being struck and forced not to resist is a particularly damaging form of abuse because it trains out of the victim the instinctive reaction to protect the self. To override the most natural and central instinct, a person must come to believe that he or she is not worth protecting. Being beaten by a “loved one” sets up a conflict between two instincts that should never compete: the instinct to stay in a secure environment (the family) and the instinct to flee a dangerous environment. […] The instinct to stay prevails in the absence of concrete options on the other side.”
Sometimes people who won’t leave for themselves can be convinced to leave for their children’s sake. However, leaving must be done carefully and with advanced planning, if at all possible, because women are most in danger while, or right after, trying to leave. Women’s shelters can give the best advice.
Violence in relationships is widespread. In today’s Oregonian, Amy Wang writes that 20% of teenage girls who date say they have been victims of violence in their relationships. This could be you, your daughter, or granddaughter. Know the signs. Find help.
National Domestic Violence Hotline 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or www.thehotline.org
Dating Abuse and Domestic Violence – “loveisrespect” – call 1-866-331-9474 (24/7) or text loveis to 22522
Last week we considered the idea of feeling fear and acting anyway by calling on courage. Though I want fear fighting to be the main focus of these Lenten emails, it would be imprudent not to bring balance to the idea.
In the book, The Gift of Fear, Gavin de Becker reminds us that sometimes fear is a blessing. He distinguishes fear from anxiety or worry or hesitation by stating that true fear is always response to an immediate danger or is connected to pain or death. It is an outpouring of our intuition—a word women are comfortable with but men might prefer to call a gut reaction—that excites us to action. De Becker pleads with us to not second guess or rationalize away such fear, but instead, trust our intuition and follow its guide because it results from our mind’s drive to survive. Even before we formulate thoughts about our senses’ stimuli, our brain has connected our past experiences to our current situation and determined if we are in danger. If so, it demands immediate action. Although on reflection a person might say, “I don’t know how I knew, I just knew I needed to…,” later that person will remember the danger signals that their reasoning ignored, but their survival instinct didn’t.
On the other hand, de Becker, like our other fear-fighting experts, wants us to reduce our worries and anxiety, claiming that we can overload our minds with worrying about what might happen and miss immediate, imminent danger.
“We all know there are plenty of reasons to fear people from time to time. The question is, what are those times? Far too many people are walking around in a constant state of vigilance, their intuition misinformed about what really poses danger. It needn’t be so. When you honor accurate intuition signals and evaluate them without denial (believing both the favorable or the unfavorable outcomes are possible), you need not be wary, for you will come to trust that you’ll be notified if there is something worthy of your attention. Fear will gain credibility because it won’t be applied wastefully. When you accept the survival signal as a welcome message and quickly evaluate the environment or situation, fear stops in an instant. Thus, trusting intuition is the opposite of living in fear.”
Precautions are healthy, but remaining in a constant state of fright is destructive and can lead to panic, which destroys our ability to react with reason. If we spend our lives looking for the expected danger, we will miss the unexpected threat.
Again, differentiating true fear from worry is important. Worry or anxiety keep us from acting. True fear propels us into action. It energizes and drives us away from danger.
“Worry, wariness, anxiety and concern all have a purpose, but they are not fear. So any time your dreaded outcome cannot be reasonably linked to pain or death and it isn’t a signal in the presence of danger, then it really shouldn’t be confused with fear. It may well be something worth trying to understand and manage, but worry will not bring solutions. It will more likely distract you from finding solutions….. Worry is the fear we manufacture—it is not authentic. It is a choice…. When you feel fear, listen. When you don’t feel fear, don’t manufacture it. If you find yourself creating worry, explore and discover why.”
We might want to follow our line of worry to answer all our “what if’s” until we discover that our worry leads us to an imagined end that we really will survive and handle. “What if I fail this test? Then I’ll have to retake it. What if I fail the next one and the class? Then I can retake the class and study harder. What if I’m not smart enough to succeed in this line of study? Then I’ll change course. But I won’t die from failing this test. I will handle whatever comes.
Sometimes our intuition doesn’t scream, “Get out now!” Sometimes it comes as a suspicion, or a discomfort, or a sense that something isn’t right. Trust that sense and any such “gut feeling.” Don’t deny that danger might be present just because a stranger seems nice. Remind yourself he is still a stranger, no matter how he tries to win you with charm. Women especially are reminded to avoid the trap of not wanting to be rude. Not being nice, not giving a person who makes you uncomfortable any benefit of the doubt, is a survival skill. A truly good person will usually understand when you react with suspicion because he recognizes how you must protect yourself and not allow vulnerability. Even if he is insulted, isn’t that better than the opposite error of trusting someone you shouldn’t?
Honor that nudge of unease. Examine it. But when true fear demands action, don’t take time to think it through. If fear says, “Get out now!” then get out! You can later think about it and examine it all you want. True fear, remember, is either about what is imminently to happen, or it is about pain and death.
Our most famous quote about fear came from Franklin Roosevelt, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” De Becker would change that to, “There is nothing to fear unless and until you feel fear.”
De Becker recommends we not allow media to heap on us its daily doses of fright. I admire Mr. Rogers’ take on televised disasters. He reminds children to look for the helpers. Whenever people are in trouble other people come to help them. I’m reminded of the Boston marathon that ended because of two bomb explosions. Within seconds of the detonations, we saw people scrambling to help the fallen.
De Becker would say in times of danger, follow your intuition. Mr. Rogers would add, there will be helpers. And Susan Jeffers would conclude, “You can handle whatever comes.”
How was your week? Have you figured out which fears you would like to work on? Mine is a fear of disapproval, so I’m drawing on courage in order to send out my thoughts to so many people. (Meanwhile, a loved one is fighting fear that returned cancer will win, which puts my small worries into perspective.)
Not to back away from risk, but because I want to give you the advantage of an expert’s input, we will turn this week to the work of Susan Jeffers. In the book, Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway®, (great title, right?) she inspires us to take brave action. Jeffers attained a PhD in Psychology from Columbia University and wrote several self-help books. Parents might know her from other accomplishments. She wrote and/or illustrated children’s books on horses, classic stories, and a little dog named McDuff.
Jeffers categorizes our fears into:
- Things that happen, like aging or accidents
- Things that require action, like giving speeches, making decisions or leaving a bad situation
- Damage to our ego and sense of well-being, like ridicule or fear of failure
- Feeling unable to handle whatever comes our way
She tells us five truths to help us combat those fears:
- Fear will always be present as long as we continue to grow.
- The only way to get rid of the fear of doing something is to go out and do it.
- The only way to feel better about myself is to go out… and do it.
- Not only am I going to experience fear whenever I’m on unfamiliar territory, but so is everyone else!
- Pushing through fear is less frightening than living with the underlying fear that comes from a feeling of helplessness.
Since everyone is dealing with fear, but some do it more successfully, it must mean it isn’t danger paralyzing us, but rather our attitude. In Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway, we are encouraged to handle our fear from an attitude of power, rather than pain. We do this gradually, by intentionally moving away from pain, towards claiming our power. The author recommends we draw a line on a piece of paper with “Pain” at the left side and “Power” at the right. Each day we pin where we are on the line, with the intention of moving right toward Power.
Even our vocabulary can help us move into our strength:
Pain →——————————————–→ Power
I can’t ——————————————–→ I won’t
I should ——————————————→ I could
It’s not my fault ——————————-→ I’m totally responsible
I’s a problem ———————————–→ It’s an opportunity
I’m never satisfied —————————-→ I want to learn and grow
Life’s a struggle ——————————–→ Life’s an adventure
I hope ——————————————–→ I know
If only ——————————————–→ Next time
What will I do ———————————-→ I know I can handle it
It’s terrible ————————————–→ It’s a learning experience
To grow in confidence we need to do something daily that widens the space in our comfort zone. Each night we can plan the risk we are going to take the following day. For instance, call someone we are intimidated to call. Visualizing or practicing it makes it a bit less scary. As long as we are taking those risks that build our sense of self-worth, we are moving to the right on the Pain-to-Power chart.
Taking responsibility for our method of handling fear means:
- Never blaming others for anything we are being, doing or feeling
- Not blaming ourselves, but becoming aware of those circumstances in which we are not taking responsibility, so that we can eventually change
- Handling the Chatterbox – Replace that negative inner voice with love.
- Being aware of payoffs that keep us stuck. What do I gain from staying afraid? The comfort of not changing?
- Figuring out what we want in life and acting on it.
- Being aware of the multitude of choices we have in any given situation. Let’s pick the one that contributes the most to our aliveness and growth.
Psychology commonly accepts that our actions and thoughts are interdependent. We can increase our courage by either acting more confidently or by thinking more confidently. The former is the “fake it until you make it” strategy. The more bravely we behave, the more we see ourselves as brave, until we no longer are faking it, but actually become brave.
The latter, thinking more confidently, is where we take control of our negative, frightened inner voice. If our thoughts are negative and critical and fearful, our behavior will be less than our best. If our thoughts are positive, we will behave in a confident manner. This even works if we don’t, at first, believe our words. We can repeat positive thoughts, or affirmations, enough that we begin to believe them and, as a consequence, our actions evolve to prove them true.
Here is my favorite of Susan Jeffers’ affirmations:
I AM POWERFUL AND I AM LOVING AND I HAVE NOTHING TO FEAR
Let’s repeat this (or your own affirmation) aloud at least 10 times a day for the next week. (I’m reminded of several rides in reckless foreign taxis when I closed my eyes and repeated, “I’m safe right now; I’m safe right now.” It really did help prevent panic.)
I highly recommend Susan Jeffers book, and also her website at www.susanjeffers.com where more self-help information and affirmations are available.
One of my favorite quotes from the book: “The less you need someone’s approval, the more you are able to love them.”
May you grow in courage this week!
This Lent we will pursue the topic of fear.
Why should we fight fear? Isn’t fear a good thing? Well, yes, sometimes. When there truly is a danger to us or others, fear is good if it inspires us to an action that prevents harm.
Not all fear is healthy. It can become debilitating and keep us from growing to our full potential.
Reasons to fight fear:
- Physical – Prolonged or frequent fear causes damage to our bodies. Excessive worry can negatively affect our sleep, appetite, concentration, or cause headaches, nausea, and muscle tension. Anxiety can trigger a stress response sending us into fight/flight/freeze mode and flooding our bodies with adrenaline. Stress hormones such as cortisol are released to raise blood sugar levels and provide fuel for dealing with perceived danger. If such anxiety happens chronically, If we don’t expend the energy with physical activity as we would if we were fleeing or fighting, the fuel builds up and can lead to a suppression of our immune system, digestive issues, artery disease, and even heart attacks.
- Social – If we are afraid to take risks, we don’t reach out to others. We miss opportunities to build friendships or find our “one and only.” We may stay in relationships that are unhealthy, preferring what we know to the unknown, thinking we’d rather be with anyone than alone. Our careers may suffer if we don’t have the confidence to ask for help and seek out mentors.
- Emotional – Fear keeps us from growth. Fear will always be present as we stretch and try new things, but if it keeps us from acting we will stagnate, rather than find joy in accomplishment and a sense of capability and self-confidence.
- Intellectual – Learning something new requires admitting incompetence or ignorance and it can be frightening to not be good at something. But striving to better oneself intellectually is very brave. We will make mistakes but we will learn from them and grow.
- Psychological – Fear grows if we don’t face it. What starts as a discomfort can become a full phobia if we don’t bravely take on our fears. Or a fear of one thing can generalize to fearing something else. I once realized I grew anxious each time I drove to a particularly challenging class. That generalized over time to being stressed when I drove to any class, and before long, every time I drove. Recognizing the unfoundedness of my fear helped me process it and move on.
- Spiritual –God wants us to connect with him and with his other children. Fear blocks connection. His Saints realized this and overcame their fear. St. Francis de Sales wrote,
“The same everlasting Father who cares for you today will care for you tomorrow and every day. Either he will shield you from suffering or give you unfailing strength to bear it. Be at peace then and put aside all anxious thoughts and imaginings.”
God’s Word, in both the Old and New Testaments, tells us over and over not to be afraid. Why is that? Because fear can immobilize us. Because fear blocks love. Because fear shows a lack of trust in God who loves us and wants what is best for us. Here are just a few of God’s exhortations:
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. Isaiah 41:10
Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.” Deuteronomy 31:6
The Lord is with me; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me? Psalm 118:6
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. John 14:27
Years ago our pastor asked in his homily, “What do you know, deep down, you should be doing, but you aren’t because you are afraid?” (These emails grew from that challenge.) Ask yourself now, “What do I know, deep down, I should be doing, but I am not because I’m afraid?” If something comes to mind immediately, hold on to that thought, but then ask yourself what else and see what comes to mind. If nothing specific surfaces, what do you suspect you should or wish you could set fear aside and do? You know courage isn’t the absence of fear, it is acting in the face of fear.
What do you fear?
- Something as concrete as a particular person, or an illness, or financial strife?
- Something more abstract like not living up to expectations or not being respected?
- Something in the future, like the loss of a spouse or old age?
- Or maybe something from your past coming to light?
Is your fear reasonable and inspires you to prepare? Wanting a good grade in a difficult class might cause us to study harder. Needing enough money for retirement can encourage us to spend less now and save more. Or is the fear irrational and unlikely, but still very real to you?
For this week:
- Identify your fears and which you should fight.
- Understand that fear is human. We all experience it. However, giving in to fear keeps us from becoming the best we can be, from building the kingdom of God here on earth, from loving as deeply as we are able.
- Contemplate that God does not want us to be afraid. He promises to be with us throughout our challenges and to give us strength.
- Ponder that God loves us, wholly, completely, unconditionally, and always. He wants what is best for us.
With an ally like God, what or whom should we fear?
Imagined letters from Jesus’ grandma, Anne of Nazareth:
Dear Cousin Elizabeth,
Congratulations on the birth of your son! Mary tells me John is a handsome and healthy child. Joachim and I are very happy for you! And thank you for welcoming our daughter into your home. We were, of course, confused, but we have come to believe, as you immediately did, that she is telling us the truth and that we anticipate the birth of our Messiah, praise be the Lord! I only hope she and Joseph will return from travel to Bethlehem for the census soon. I am afraid her time will come and I won’t be there to help her.
We hear such terrible news from Bethlehem! We are told that King Herod suspected the Messiah was born in that tiny town. Mary and Joseph should have been back weeks ago. She surely has borne her child by now. Our only hope is that they escaped and are hiding. I know I must trust God that he will keep his Son and my daughter safe, but oh, how I am plagued with fear.
Just when I am about to be a grandmother for the first time, I must pray that our baby Messiah stay hidden. It is a small sacrifice we are asked to make to not yet hold him in our arms. If we were younger we would go search for them ourselves. Of course, you have shown me what women our age are capable of! Dearest cousin, you are not far from Bethlehem. I pray that Mary made her way to your home. If so, please send news with the next caravan. Not knowing pains my heart.
We too heard whispers from Bethlehem of the terrible tragedy of the little innocents, but also amazing tales of angels in the sky speaking to the shepherds of a child in a manger, and even of wealthy Magi bringing him vast riches and doing him homage. Of course, you know how tales grow, but deep in my soul I believe there must be some truth to their stories.
I have heard today about an infant who was brought for his circumcision to the temple, causing a holy man and woman to declare that they have seen the Messiah. They said his name was Jesus. Surely, this must have been your grandson! Zachariah is studying scripture to see if the prophets can offer you insight.
Great news! A merchant has brought word that our three are safe, though I know not where they have gone for they feared the wrong people would overhear. Praise the Father of Abraham and rescuer of Isaac! I hope they are far from the reach of this king! I worry what they will do for money, though Joachim assures me a good carpenter like Joseph can find work wherever he goes.
I cannot tell you how happy I am to hear of sweet Mary’s safety and that Joseph and the Child are well. I know, now that I’ve become a mother, that I would walk to the ends of the world—or even Egypt—to keep our little John safe, though I hope the three found shelter much closer than that.
We know we must be patient. We continue to pray that we will soon hold our grandchild and give him our blessing. I imagine us teaching him to read the Torah, like one of my dearest memories of Mary. For now, I will prepare for them so that when they return, even if they arrive years from now in the tatters of refugees, all will be ready. We will wait, always in mind of how the child grows. Lord willing, my faith and hope will grow, too.
After all this time I rejoice to tell you the beloved Holy Family sleeps safely in our home! All are well. They will rest and then join the next caravan to return to you. Lord willing, the little Messiah will run to your outstretched arms very soon.
Like our imagined Anne, we prepare for Christ’s coming. When the Holy Child (or any child) comes to us, let’s open our arms with faith, hope, and joy.
I didn’t attend our parish’s Reconciliation Service last week because I was so angry at someone for hurting a member of my family that I knew I couldn’t yet ask for forgiveness. I wasn’t ready to forgive, and I know the two go inextricably together. A couple of days later I attended Reconciliation at another parish in our diocese; I wanted to let go of my anger and hoped I could. My confessor listened, looked at me with Christ’s tenderness, and suggested I write the word “forgiveness” on a paper where I’d see it throughout the week. I did.
In addition, I bought the book, Everyone Needs to Forgive Somebody, by Allen Hunt. He offers 11 stories of people who discover that forgiveness is a key to joy. At the end of each chapter, he suggests an activity. I’m listing some as suggestions to help you discover whom you need to forgive (perhaps yourself, perhaps God) and what steps can assist in your journey of forgiveness. So little can be covered in these 4 minutes. I read the book in a short evening and recommend it to all.
- Create a forgiveness journal. List people you have hurt and need to ask for forgiveness. Then list people whom you need to forgive for hurting you.
- Write down your 5 biggest mistakes, failures, or disappointments. Recite each aloud, praying after each one: Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy.
- Visualize your deepest hurts and resentments. See each as a rock and slowly place the rock in a bag. Imagine taking the bag to a lake, hefting it over your shoulder, and throwing it into the water. Watch it sink. Feel the release. Your hurts and resentments are gone.
- Seven steps to forgiveness:
- Remember your own need for forgiveness
- Pick one thing you know you ought to forgive
- Ask God to saturate you with his grace to help you forgive.
- If possible, engage the offender in direct, open, honest communication. Don’t accuse, focus on how you feel. Say, “I forgive you.”
- Follow your words with some act of reconciliation—perhaps a hug, handshake, or meal together.
- To prevent the same hurts from occurring again, keep your lines of communication open, with clear, healthy boundaries and guidelines for your relationship.
- Learn to forgive the small things—with friends, family, or coworkers. Be a person of grace. Don’t dwell on the hurts. Recognize you are still prone to mistakes as you become the-best-version-of-yourself, just as others are.
- Make 2 copies of the Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi and place one in your bathroom for mediation as you get ready in the morning. Place the other in your forgiveness journal.
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace;
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
When there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
And where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master,
Grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled as to console;
To be understood as to understand;
To be loved as to love;
For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
- Make a conscious decision to forgive. Resolve today you will be a forgiver. Those who forgive benefit from a better immune system; lower blood pressure; better mental health; lower anger, anxiety, and depression; and enjoy more satisfying and longer-lasting relationships than those unable to forgive.
- Perform an act of kindness. First do it for anyone. Next week, perform a kind act for someone who has injured you. Being kind to someone who has taken advantage of you prevents you from feeling resentful and can also change his or her heart.
- Write a letter to someone who has hurt you very much. You may choose to mail it or not, but writing the letter is an important first step toward your healing and the release of the power the person holds over your heart. Express the specific hurt and that you forgive the person.
So how am I, Betty, doing on forgiving? It’s a process, not a one-time decision, but I’m making progress. Here are a few practices that help me:
- Acknowledge to yourself the anger and hurt you feel. If possible, voice it calmly right away to the person who hurt you.
- Don’t continue to “lick the wound.” Dogs make their sores larger by doing this, and so do we when we dwell or obsess on them. Practice “thought stopping” when you find yourself doing this and instead—
- Pray for the person who hurt you. Place them in God’s care. Remind yourself you want to be a forgiver.
Today is Good Friday. Allen Hunt acknowledges how strange it is we call the day of Christ’s suffering and death “good.” Yet it brought our greatest gift of all time. Our sins are forgiven. All we need do is forgive those who hurt us. This isn’t easy, but God will help us, and grace us immeasurably. God’s plan for the whole world is forgiveness and reconciliation. What a gift and blessing!
After all, everybody needs to forgive somebody!
You can find this week’s book at www.dynamiccatholic.com, Amazon, or it can be ordered through your local bookstore.
Blessings on your week and on your Easter season!
-- Betty Arrigotti Author of Christian Love Stories: Hope and a Future (Oaktara 2010) Where Hope Leads (Oaktara 2012) www.BettyArrigotti.com