When I Am Afraid

Pic of me on diamond head

I laid in bed last night or should I say early this morning awake and restless.  I couldn’t sleep; my mind was going at warp speed.  I have learned in the middle of these insomnia ridden hours to calm my racing thoughts by praying.  Honestly, I have prayed around the world and back on many a sleep deprived night.   I’ve most likely prayed for many of you.

No need to thank me.  😉

I tossed and turned, adjusted my pillow threw the covers off and then back on (Some of you menopausal ladies will understand this.) flipped from my stomach to my back and finally stared at the demon red numbers on my illuminated digital clock like I had a vendetta. 2:33 am.  Why?? That was the real question bouncing around in my much too awake mind.  So, instead of throwing a pillow and a mini tantrum, I began to talk to the Lord. 

I prayed for hurricane victims, family, friends, strangers, persecuted Christians around the world and some other things I can’t quite remember.  But, as I continued to pray, I noticed the number one request I kept having over and over again was for protection.  Protection from a home invasion, protection from disease, protection from false truths and from abandonment.  On and on I went. 

Nothing like having a revelation at two a.m..

Have I ever told you I work at a church?  Yep, I am the bookkeeper and secretary for a wonderful old church right in the heart of our small town.  I work with some really good people, and almost every week those of us who are employed there meet for staff meeting to get all of our ducks in a row. You’d be surprised how much planning goes into the Sunday morning worship service you attend each week.  It’s no accident the hymns often compliment the sermon theme; prayerfully considered and planned.  

Anyway, at the beginning of each staff meeting we take a moment to share our cares and concerns, it’s a way for us to stay in touch with the personal needs we carry around in our hearts.  It keeps us connected when it would be so easy to become isolated in the midst of all the tasks that need completing. 

I have learned to really appreciate these times of sharing around the table. 

Last week the Pastor was giving a short devotional before we shared about our lives and he said something that has been sinking into my heart a little more each day.  It was really just a passing statement and not the gist of the point he was trying to make.  He was talking about anxiety and he said something like “anxiety is usually driven along by something.”  That’s not an exact quote but that’s how it sticks out in my mind.  In the story he was telling, the person suffering from anxiety was afraid of not being fully prepared for anything and everything that may come his way.   He found himself constantly striving to be ready to face any scenario and had a reoccurring bad dream that on one occasion he wasn’t prepared and it was terribly embarrassing.

As I lay there in the wee hours of the morning something I had thought about many months ago began to fit like a missing puzzle piece in my mind.  Something drives our anxiety, what was it that drove mine? I’ve been very transparent with all of you about my struggles especially after my mom died. 

It was in the silence of this long night I had an epiphany.

Much of my anxiety is driven by a feeling of being unsafe. 

When I thought back over all of the things I was praying for, so much of it had to do with feeling unsafe, a fear of being harmed.  This fear of harm was more than just physical, it also included the emotional and mental. 

I need to feel safe, and I don’t.

That tough statement begs the question, why don’t I feel safe?  I look back over my life and there is no way to pinpoint one incident as the blame for these feelings.  I think it’s a buildup of one hurt and loss after another.  As I lay there I also realized how fragile I am, we all are.  I pray for life to show mercy, but, like everyone else I am forced to face my immortality and the fact that I have so little control over what happens to me. 

Let me give you some examples of things that keep me up at night.

I have grown children that drive all over the place and my throat tightens often when I think the next phone call I receive could be bad news about a wreck or worse.  I’ll never forget my mom pulling me aside and into the kitchen pantry of the church where we worked together to tell me she thought she had cancer. 

A piece of the foundation that already felt cracked under my feet fell away that day and I was left shaken.

It was scary as I realized again how small I am and how little say I have in what happens to those I love. 

My husband flies airplanes for a living.  I never want to hear your worst airline story, okay?  It’s nothing personal, it will just keep me up at night.  When my husband has to be gone I stir in my sleep when I hear any little noise, it could be an intruder after all.  When my youngest child was sick as a second grader and spent several days in the hospital eventually having to see the oncologist, I was terrified inside. And, again it was burned into my mind how life is so unsure.

And as life continued to unfold, and days turned into months and years, more pieces of my foundation crumbled.

In the middle of all the uncertainties of life, it’s no wonder I feel unsafe.

What could do to feel safe?

I sure wish I had an easy answer for this question.  I don’t think there is one. I don’t think you can decide not to be afraid and presto it happens.  I hear people say, just choose to have faith.  What exactly do they mean?  Just choose to trust and never allow these scary thoughts to enter your head?  I sure wish it worked that way for me; unfortunately, it’s a lot more complicated.  I firmly believe in speaking positive words, as a matter of fact I shared with you last week how the Lord is dealing with my speech pretty seriously lately. 

It’s made a difference in my outlook.  

I’m no stranger to a walk of faith, I’ve been a Jesus follower for most of my life.  Recently, I have been discouraged with church language that causes believers to feel ashamed if they struggle with fear.  I am not advocating we give into our fear or excuse our fear, but we need to acknowledge we HAVE fear before we can overcome.  The whole idea of pretending it’s not a problem has only pushed many who struggle into the shadows.  In the darkness one may find anonymity, but loneliness and uncertainty also live there. 

And there is just no way to shove fear in the closet.

To be continued next week….

“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

“Humble yourselves, then, under God’s mighty hand, so that he will lift you up in his own good time.  Leave all your worries with him, because he cares for you.” 1 Peter 5:6-7

“Cast your cares on the Lord and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous fall.” Psalm 55:22

“Anxiety weighs down the heart, but a kind word cheers it up.”  Proverbs 12:25

“When I am afraid, I put my trust in you.”  Psalm 56:3

Advertisements

Life After Paradise

Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve

Last week will not go down in history as one of my favorites.  I know the Lord is trying to teach me something and it seems He has to wreak havoc to get my attention sometimes.  I’ve told you before how difficult it has been learning to cope with an empty nest.  The “parenting of young children” season of my life has ended and I have felt purposeless. 

What do I do now?  That question has haunted me many a recent night.

It was with those thoughts rolling around in my mind that I boarded an airplane on a twenty five year “second honeymoon” trip to Hawaii recently.  (By the way, it really is paradise.) The seven days my husband and I spent there were amazing and I found myself feeling encouraged and ready to come home to face whatever the Lord had next for me. I was slightly tanned and fresh when I boarded the plane in Honolulu, I may have even had a little North Shore sand on my feet.  I wasn’t prepared for the heaviness that landed like a boulder in my spirit when the plane landed on the Mainland.

I felt the despair I thought I’d shaken in tropical paradise return and I fell back into my same old habit.

I whined and complained in my spirit, and to my husband, about all the things that have happened lately and how hard life had been.  I told him how I felt abandoned and unheard, as though my prayers hit the ceiling and slapped me in the face as they fell to the floor.  I mean, why hadn’t the Lord answered?  Why was I having to wait?  And why did the waiting have to be so hard?  I groaned and griped about it all and my man listened, bless him, and tried to lift my spirits as we drove away from the airport.

So long paradise, we’d left it behind in every way.

When I got home I talked to my daughter about it all, rehashing the same old frustrations I’d laid on my husband.  She listened and tried to offer encouragement.  But I was not to be deterred, or lifted, or helped.  The Lord was making my life harder than I thought it needed to be and I wanted to understand why; and I wanted a way out.

I wanted to “run, Forest, run!”

In the midst of all my turmoil it has become clearer to me that where we focus our attention is exactly what will rule our thoughts and emotions. And for some reason the negative is so much easier to notice than the positive, so I found myself up to my eyelids in negativity. 

And talking about it felt like scratching an itch, so talk about it is what I did!

But all that talking seemed to reinforce and magnify the size of my problems, more and more I felt like God wasn’t answering my prayers, maybe he wasn’t even hearing them.  These thoughts took my mind captive and I began to feel hopeless, like my prayers were futile.  I had prayed and prayed and yet here I was, still asking God to help the same situations I’d been asking him to work in for weeks and months.  

The more I thought about it, the more discouraged I felt and the deeper I sank into my hopelessness. 

I want to throw this in here.   You know, it is so easy to justify a negative way of thinking; I do it way too often.  We don’t really believe God is going to answer that request, whatever it may be.  Or circumstances get unbearable and the easiest response is to talk about how unfair it feels, or wonder if God has forgotten about our peril.  Complaining is human nature and a natural thing to do; choosing to believe the positive in a negative situation takes a MOUNTAIN of faith in my book.  To believe God will come through against what my circumstances are screaming at me takes more faith than I have at times.

I was in a complaining state of mind as I headed to church Sunday morning.  I knew I needed to confess my ungratefulness for ignoring all God IS doing on a daily basis.  Things like opening my eyes in the morning to see the world around me, two healthy legs (albeit older and wobblier than they once were) that are strong enough to walk me to the bathroom at 2am.  A mind that works at least half the time, a place to live, a good job, healthy children, a husband who thinks I’m still twenty (I love him for still seeing me that way.)  Good conversations, my dad, faithful lifelong friends, hair color (one of my favorite things) the smell of coffee brewing, my blog and the people who read it. 

Hmmm…

It was then I realized, as I knelt at the front of my little church to pray, how much time I’d spent thinking about all the things that were hard and wrong.  I also realized my complaining might just be a disguise for unbelief.  I mean, if I really believed God would answer those prayers in HIS time, which is exactly what I pray for, then why was I worried?  Shouldn’t I just lay those cares and concerns down and trust He is taking care of them?  Even when I can’t see or understand what He’s doing.  He is God, after all, He can do what He wants when He wants, right?

So much easier said than done, but it is the secret to joyful living.

It was then I came face to face with a crisis of belief. 

Do I really believe God has good plans for my future? 

I have a good life.  Seriously, it is a good life, when did I lose sight of that? 

Now, I’ve always tried to be real with my readers, this is my real, unfiltered life I’m sharing.  Sometimes it’s easier than others to be this transparent.  I wish I could wrap up this blog with a nice little bow of how I’m focusing only on the good now, and that this lesson has been learned. 

But, that would be untrue.

I have reached the place of recognizing what needs to change. Now the tough work begins.  Change is hard. I have made a conscience effort to try and stop the complaining in my mind before it reaches my mouth.  I am not always successful but I have noticed my heart feels a little lighter and the world looks a little brighter. I still have a long way to go in the process of healing from the blows life throws at you, but I am learning gratefulness is the enemy of hopelessness

I’m taking it one ordinary day at a time.

I wish I could’ve taken you all on the trip to Hawaii with me, I will forever remember our time there.  I’ve made the lightheartedness I felt while touring this beautiful place a goal for my life.  As a matter of fact, I brought a little bit of sand home with me…in a container, not just on my feet.

Philippians 4:8  “And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.”