THE ABIDING LIFE
When Acknowledging the Fear Trumps Avoiding it
By Gwen Sellers
The past few weeks have been...interesting. Many mornings I've found myself not wanting to get out of bed. Not because I was sleep-deprived; I simply did not want to face the day. Escaping to a dream world, or at least protesting the start of having to deal with reality, seemed a better option. There really was no glaring explanation for why I started feeling down. Nothing in my life had significantly changed. I enjoy my job, my friends, my family. I'm healthy. Spring had sprung. So what was the deal?
At first, I just ignored it. But then I finally worked up the gumption to admit to myself that I might have a problem. And then I admitted it to other people. Much to my surprise, simply acknowledging the issue really helped. It made me think about what was going on. In doing so, I discovered some lies I was believing. Sharing also really helped. Speaking aloud against the lies stripped them of their power. The people I shared my situation with affirmed truth, further disempowering the lies. They also affirmed that I was not alone, that I was loved, and that they were in my court. Acknowledging the struggle to myself and to others made it much more manageable and invited healing. I'm almost embarrassed to admit I was surprised acknowledging the problem and presenting it as a prayer request helped as much as it did. I've written multiple times on the importance of speaking up, of exposing things to the light so we can learn truth, and of engaging honestly and consistently with community. And yet all of this is much easier said than done. However, once again, when I actually practiced what I preach, it proved immeasurably helpful.
Now the whole thing has gotten me thinking about avoidance. Avoidance is deceptively alluring. I tend to want to ignore problems — in my emotional health, my physical health, my relationships, etc. I seem to think that if I close my eyes to something, it isn't really there. If I pretend everything is okay, then it really is. And if it's really okay, then I don't have to do the hard work of change. I don't have to self-reflect. I don't have to try something and risk that it fails. I can live in suspended animation where everything I know about myself and everyone else stays fixed. I already know how to cope with what is, so if it doesn't change, I'll survive. The lies in this type of thinking are obvious. And I've tried this method long enough to know that, practically speaking, it just doesn't work. Usually avoidance ends up prolonging the problem unnecessarily. Or in some cases making the problem worse.
At the root of my avoidance, and the lies undergirding it, is fear. And a good bit of shame. I don't want to acknowledge struggle because I don't know if I'll be able to handle it. I don't want to admit when something in my character is deficient because I fear I'm not loveable if it is. I don't want to work hard and fail, because I falsely believe that failure makes me worthless. I fear the implications of believing I'm worthless. I don't want things to change because I fear it will be disappointing or that I won't be able to meet new expectations. Essentially, I don't want to look because I don't know what I'll see and I falsely believe that I am alone in seeing it or that whatever I see will necessarily bring suffering.
One of the friends with whom I shared my recent reluctance about life reminded me of 2 Timothy 1:7: "...for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control." Fear is not from God. First John 4:18 says, "There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love." My fears are legitimately felt, but not well-founded. Some are based on how people typically interact with others or ways I've been hurt in the past. But none are based on God. He loves me perfectly. He has deemed me worthy and loveable, all the while knowing everything about me. I struggle with perfectionism. Yet God's standards are far higher than mine, and He has already covered the gap. There is no secret about me that can come out that makes God change His mind. God will never fail me. Yes, I may fail at something. A change might be hard. I might move from a mountaintop to a valley. But God has walked with me through valleys before. Romans 8 assures me that nothing can separate me from God's love, and that He will ultimately redeem all suffering. Looking at myself and acknowledging the truth about my life need not be a thing of fear. Instead, it is an invitation to increasing freedom. God gives me a spirit of power, love, and self-control (or a sound mind, as some other translations put it). He never reveals something to me to shame me or to leave me on my own to fix it. He brings things to light in the context of His love for me and in the context of His Holy Spirit living in me.
Sometimes ugly things are revealed — my own sin or even just the sad truth of living in a fallen world. There is darkness and suffering, and it can be disheartening to see. But sometimes great things are revealed — something about the way God designed me that I didn't recognize before, or a lie that has been plaguing me and which, when exposed to light, loses its power. The thing is, if God is the one shining the light and if I rest in Him while He shows me what there is to see, it is never a thing of fear. He can provide comfort in the heartbreaking things. He can provide forgiveness and restoration for sin. He can provide direction. He speaks truth that brings freedom. There is nothing to be lost and everything to be gained when I engage with my life, self-reflect, and acknowledge reality. Avoidance appeals to me, but ultimately it is deceptive and destructive.
My friend also mentioned 2 Timothy 1:6, which says, "For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands." Part of fanning into flame the gifts of God is engaging with the Body of Christ. Not only need I not fear looking at myself, I need not fear sharing my life with Christian community. My friend reminded me of God's truth. Had I not told her about my struggles, I would have missed out on her wisdom and her prayers.
Perhaps the best thing about what this particular friend shared is the way in which she did it. She didn't preach to me that I was not given a spirit of fear. She listened to me, affirmed my emotions, and expressed her care for me. She empathized and let the situation be what it was. But then I remained on her heart because she cares for me. She took me to God in prayer and several days later felt His prompting to call me up and share how she battles against the same struggles in her own life. So she did just that, and, in doing so, Scripture came out. She was not giving me a solution to my problem. Instead, she was processing with me honestly, sharing her own life in hopes that it might be helpful to me. Maybe most touchingly, the issues are not new for me or for her. We've processed together many times about lies and false expectations. We've both reminded each other of the truth to which we need to cling before. But we don't pretend that the war is over. She chose to call me and speak out the truth — that I presumably already knew — so that I would be reminded of it and refreshed in the struggle. In doing so, I understood that I am not alone, that I am loved, and that there is no shame in struggles that persist for years. Yes, I "know" the truth, but living it out is something that takes practice and time. Her willingness to admit she struggles with the same thing and her willingness to continue to engage in her own battle as well as in mine gives me courage to continue on, too.
So what have I learned from all this? After simply acknowledging that I was struggling and thinking on it long enough to process it in community, the problem seemed to dissipate. I needed only to pay attention to what was going on, to bring it into the light so that God could speak, and to share it with others so that God could speak through them, too. I thought it was a horrible monster and if I closed my eyes maybe it would go away. But that only allowed the monster to grow. What I needed to do was just open my eyes, see the lies, and then let God's truth conquer. God never fails me. Oh how I hope I remember that sooner next time. Avoidance pretends to offer life, but true life comes in full engagement. I abide in the Vine when I keep my eyes set on Him (John 15).
Just a quick note: This particular friend is what I like to call a "mentor friend." If you don't have a "mentor friend," let me tell you why I love these people.
Mentor friends are the people in my life who are about my parents' age, some a little younger and some a little older, and who choose to invest in me. What I especially like about them is that they do not provide prescriptive solutions for my life. Instead, they share their lives with me. They are not authority figures, but wise companions. They are open and honest about their own struggles. Some of our struggles are the same. Sometimes I'm on the first or second layer of a particular struggle and they are on the fourth or fifth. Sometimes the struggles are different and we just listen to one another and pray for one another. I appreciate their years of experience. I also appreciate that they don't act as if they have it all figured out. I too often fall into the trap of thinking I will one day "arrive," or that in order to be helpful to someone I have to have it all together. It's actually much more helpful to me to see these friends model what it looks like to authentically engage with the fullness of life's experience and to endure through the ups and downs of life than it is to have them give me solutions to my problems (God has that job covered). They remind me of truth, affirm my worth, and demonstrate in tangible ways that life really is worth living. These friends show me that God is faithful and encourage me to keep growing in Him.
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Tags: Biblical-Truth | Christian-Life | Depression | Ministry-Church | Personal-Life | Personal-Relationships
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