Can Others Tell When You Are Afraid?

fear1.jpgThat afternoon, we drove away from their house. We had been in a difficult conversation.  We met with a woman whom we both liked and admired but found difficult.  She seemed self-assured and almost smug. I told my wife that it seemed as if she perceived herself to be an expert on most subjects.

Yet, Charlotte had a different take on this woman.  “She is actually quite fearful.”

Upon reflection, I think she is correct.

How do you spot a fearful person?  Is this a person who is cowering in the corner with fear?  Not necessarily.  This may be a 30 year old man who, like an insecure boy, is doing his best to appear cool.  Actually, one may be speaking with a fearful person and yet not really be aware of this person’s fearfulness.  This person may actually be dominated by fear. Children are often more obvious in the way they express their fear.  They typically fight or flee when they are afraid.  Adults respond in much the same way, only we try to mask our fear.

When You are Afraid

fear4“Were you afraid?” she asked.  Of course I was.  We were moving across the country after living in Waco for twenty years.  We were leaving the known and entering the unknown.  Yes, I know fear. Typically I become afraid of what could happen.  After all, “What if?”

Meanwhile, early this morning I sat at a table in Starbucks.  I was near the door.  My cup of coffee was to my right.  My computer was open.  I was working on a document for a lunch meeting that I would have in a few hours.  The morning was calm. People were coming and going, each leaving with a cup of coffee.  I anticipated a full day with several meetings scheduled and some other work that I needed to take care of.  The sun was shining and all was well.  Fear was nowhere to be found.

However, there are times when I have awakened in the middle of the night only to be faced with my fears.

1.  What if the situation I am working through goes bad?  What will I do or say?

2.  What about my children?  What about their future?  Will they be all right?

3.  What if I die suddenly?  What will Charlotte do?  Will she be all right?

4.  What about my work and ministry?  What if I’m not as competent as I should be?

5.   What about my health?  What if I am suddenly stricken by disease?

The Real Me (and perhaps the real you)

fear.jpgThe real me is a guy who sometimes spends too much time wrestling with fear and worry.

Does this sound familiar?  If not, you may want to skip the rest of this post.

Like you, the real me is more than fear.  There are other qualities that I hope I’ve grown and matured in over the years.  I hope I reflect more of Jesus’ character.  I would like to think that my life displays the fruit of God’s Spirit (however imperfectly).

Yet, I sometimes spend too much time with fear and worry.  These can be middle of the night visitors that keep me awake as they remind me of the bad things that could happen in my life.

A few weeks ago I was in conversation with a friend of mine who preaches for a very large community church.  He has served this church for many years.  He is handsome, articulate, and has numerous gifts.  Yet, at one point in the conversation, he made the following comment regarding my ministry and role at Harding School of Theology.

“Jim, I don’t see how you do this work.  Wow.  I would have a lot of fear about doing something like this.”

What Has Fear Done To You?

img-book-start-smallJon Acuff has written a fine book entitled Start.  At one point in the book as he discusses fear he writes, “Stories without dragons are boring” (p. 64).  He says that in every story there is typically a villain of some sort. 

For many of us the villain in our lives is the voice that often puts fear in our hearts.

Fear can be paralyzing.  It can keep you from starting.

Fear can be deadly.  It can destroy your confidence.

Fear can be self-defeating.  It can cause you to severely limit yourself.

As a result,  you don’t take the initiative.  You don’t take risks.  You don’t start.  Instead, you talk about “someday.”

Someday is the day that never comes.

The internal voice of fear will stop you in your tracks and keep you from doing the very thing you know you need to do.

  • Fear will cause you to accept a status quo life instead of what God wants you to have.
  • Fear will keep you from pursuing your dream, and stepping out on faith.
  • Fear will keep you from addressing an obvious problem for fear you might fail.
  • Fear will keep you from starting.
  • Fear allows you to think that one day you are going to do this or that but to never make any attempt.
  • Fear causes us to be afraid as a congregation living in a world that is changing rapidly.
  • Fear will keep you from obeying Jesus.

Think about what we fear.

Fear

(I am away on a vacation/study break during the month of July. The posts that appear during the month are from the archives.)

Fear.

It is everywhere! No, I am not talking about the fear of the Lord. Nor am I talking about any sort of healthy fear.

No, I am referring to another kind of fear — an unhealthy fear.

She sat just outside the main doors to our auditorium (sanctuary, worship center, etc.). She was in her late 40s, had alcohol on her breath, and looked as if she had been crying for days. The doors were open and the service was about to begin. She sat in a chair and refused to go in. She said something about not being worthy. She sat in that chair, legs crossed, and rocked.

I knew this woman and some of her family. She was an alcoholic and had lived in much pain and had caused much pain for many years. She had lived a sad life.

Deep within this woman was much fear. She was fearful that God no longer loved her. She was afraid to stop drinking and afraid to continue. She had been hurt deeply by others. She had been through one broken marriage and wondered if she would be loved again.

When Perfection Becomes an Obstacle

David Seamands, a longtime Christian counselor, told of a young woman whose mom always demanded perfection. She was never good enough for mom’s praise. When she was 6 or 7 she had a piano recital. She had worked hard and practiced and practiced. On the day of the recital she performed her piece flawlessly. Her teacher leaned over and whispered, “You were perfect!” The young girl then sat down by her mother who said nothing. Ten minutes later her mom finally said, “Your slip was showing.”   perfection.jpg


I wonder if some of us do not have a similar view of God. You do your best and then expect him, like this girl’s mother to say, “Your slip was showing.” No matter what you do, or how well you do it, it is not enough. Such a view of God, is not only inaccurate, but can be actually be paralyzing.


I remember sitting in my first graduate Bible class at Abilene Christian University, a number of years ago. It was “Introduction to the New Testament.” The class was full of students who seemed to know more than I knew. The professor would refer to various scholars and other students would nod their heads knowingly. Sometimes a student would raise his hand and interject thoughts from a book he had read recently.


I sat there feeling as if I was at the back of the line, behind most of the other students. It seemed they knew so much more.


Eventually, I finished school, and we moved back to Alabama where I began preaching for a small church full of patient people. I was new, and I wanted to do well. Yet, even though I had just begun my work there, I felt hopelessly behind. I wrestled with these kinds of questions:

  • How can I read all of these books?
  • How can I know everything that is in the Bible?
  • How do I know when I have sufficiently prepared a sermon or Bible class?
  • What if I steer someone in the wrong direction? Is this really the best answer to give them?
  • What am I supposed to do?
  • Am I doing this (ministry) right?
  • Am I praying the way I should?
  • Am I depending on God the way I should?
  • What if I don’t do ministry very well?
  • What if I fail?


Then, someone would call our church office. They wanted to ask a question about the Bible.

“I just thought I would call you. I figured you would probably know the answer to this question.”

“Right.”


I wanted to do my work right but for the longest I was so focused on perfection and not making a mistake that it became paralyzing. It was hard for me to finish anything without worrying about whether or not it was good enough.

Does any of this sound familiar to you?

Years later, I am thankful to be free from that kind of bondage! I am glad to be free to give the time and effort that I have and to trust God to be at work in whatever I have to offer. I am glad to be free to trust God instead of my own performance. I am glad to seek excellence but to be satisfied with what I have to offer, trusting that God will bless.


Question:

Can you describe a time when you found seeking this kind of perfection to be an obstacle or even paralyzing?


When the Sharp Teeth are Pulled From Human Anxiety

Lately, I have been spending a lot of time with The Paraclete Psalter: A Book of Daily Prayer. Yesterday’s reflection on Psalm 46 was especially meaningful to me.


God is our refuge and strength.


In 1529 the church reformer and former Augustinian monk Martin Luther paraphrased Psalm 46 in a hymn that has been sung with hope-filled zeal by generations: “A mighty fortress is our God / A bulwark never failing; / Our helper he amid the flood / Of mortal ills prevailing.”

worry1.jpg

The theme running through this Psalm is the incomparable beauty and unshakable security of the city of God. The place where God makes his abode is the most glorious and the most stable place in all the earth. To live within its borders is to live without fear, for nothing in all creation–not the volatile power of nature, nor that of man, nor the destructive power of “our ancient foe”(in Luther’s words)–can do harm in “the holy place where the Most High dwells” (v. 4).

Where God is, there is no reason to fear. And, since God is “with us” (v. 7) and within us, there is no place to fear. In just a few short verses, the psalmist effectively pulls the sharp teeth from all human anxiety. What real threat exists that is able to subdue the faith of those whose “refuge and strength” is God? “Be still, and know that I am God.”


Yesterday morning, I read this meditation and this Psalm once and then I read it again. I read it another time later in the day. Today I read it again. Again and again, I need to need to hear the words of this wonderful Psalm. This Psalm (and this meditation) is a powerful reminder that God has pulled the sharp teeth from all human anxiety.

Let me encourage you to name your worries and bring these before this wonderful God who is with us.

If you are like me, you may know what it is to sleep through a part of the night only to awaken at 4 am. You lie in bed for a few moments only to feel that sense of dread again. As peaceful as your sleep has been, that heartbreaking problem has not gone away.

Read again these ancient words and know that God’s promise to be present is just as real now as it was then.


Question:

What has been particularly helpful to you in times of anxiety and worry?


Question: What are the Great Fears?

What are the great fears?

questions.jpg

I am interested in your response to this question.


Consider the following:

  • What do you sense from your friends? What do they really fear?
  • What do you hear through the media that might cause one to fear?
  • What are some of the great fears that people have in general?


Today, I was at lunch with a group of friends. One observed that so many people are anxious today. Unsure. Uncertain. Uneasy.

I would love to hear your thoughts regarding fear and what you are observing.

If I Could Say What I’m Really Thinking

Yesterday, Anne Jackson’s new book, Permission To Speak Freely.JPG Permission to Speak Freely arrived in the mail.

Last night, I read the entire book.

No, I don’t normally read an entire book in one evening. However, this book was different. Perhaps it was her raw honesty that kept me engaged. Maybe, I was captivated because I felt as if I was looking into the soul of many, many people who I have known through the years. It could be that I was seeing myself in places.

In May 2008, Anne asked this question on her blog, FlowerDust.net:


What is one thing you feel you can’t say in the church?


Hundreds of people responded. This book, in part, is a reflection on this experience.

The book opens with a wonderful, candid discussion of fear. I found this to section to be particularly helpful. Anne writes:

I realize Fear isn’t only affecting me, but humanity as well. As I look around today, I see him hooking into many people I encounter. Their hearts are fighting for their dreams, yet Fear claws away at their spirits, telling them their dreams are impossible.

These people want to have a family, go back to school, quit their jobs and move to Africa, ask that girl out, volunteer at a shelter, stand up for justice, pose a question, right a wrong, or say hi to their neighbor, but Fear soaks into their bloodstream like a paralyzing virus and prevents them from taking a step in the beautiful, wonderful, difficult life in front of them.

Fear wants to stop our stories.

You might be interested in visiting the Permission to Speak Freely website or Anne’s blog. The book is available for purchase here.

  

What Has Helped You Feel Less Self-Conscious?

I never intended to be a minister.

Never.

I grew up in a church. Over the years, there were probably a half-dozen ministers who preached at this church. As a child, I really didn’t know much about them. I only saw them from a distance. Yet, most of them seemed “different.” Not different in a Christian sort of way. Just different in terms of manner. I remember dark suits, pulpit voices, and distance. I don’t say this to be critical. I am just expressing what I sensed as a child.

So, I never intended to be a minister.

Yet, I am a minister. I have been in this role for 30 years. I mean the kind who preaches each Sunday and does various kinds of ministry “full-time.” (Whatever that means!)

How did I end up in this role? How did I come to believe that God wanted me to do this for a portion of my life? That is a long story. Yet, I can honestly tell you that during my younger years, I never gave a thought to wanting to be a minister.

Years later, as I found myself moving toward this role, I had to grapple with my self-consciousness. I worriedself1.jpg (a lot) about what people thought about me. Would they think I was odd, weird, or different? The answer is “yes.” Yet, I learned that the issue to grapple with was not their perception but my own self-consciousness.   

I’ve known some ministers who seem to to deal with this by attempting to project a certain “coolness.” It sort of feels like this person is saying, “Hey, I’m not odd, weird, or different. I’m cool. I’m like you.” Well, ok. I just don’t think I want to approach this problem this way. Maybe I don’t trust my motives. It seems to me that in trying to convey “coolness” that my own self-consciousness is still in control.

I have learned to deal with this by first recognizing when I am feeling self-conscious and then focusing my energy and intent toward being authentic and being “me.”

The other day I was at a luncheon. Most of the other people present were either attorneys or business people. I was there as a guest of the luncheon speaker. At each table, we were asked to stand and introduce ourselves to those in the room. In this self-introduction, we were to give our name and our work. At one time, being the only minister present, I would have felt self-conscious in such a setting. That day, however, I was more focused on the conversation taking place between myself and a very interesting man who I had just met. I was more interested in him than focused on myself. It was an enjoyable lunch.

Question:

Do you ever find yourself so concerned about what others think of you that you don’t enjoy the moment? What has helped you become less self-conscious?