Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Fear, Worry, and the God of Rest

I am an expert on fear.

Worrying is a particular specialty of mine. I could give you some great tips. Like, it’s important to feel in control of every possible horrible situation that could ever happen to you by using your imagination to go through each and every detail of each possible scenario.

I remember once trying to convince Gil that we needed a full-time gardener so that someone could open the gate for us instead of doing it ourselves. “But what if,” I argued, “I was trying to open the gate myself, and in doing so I left the kids in the car, and a car jacker came up and demanded the keys from me, and he drove off with the kids in the car?” I could totally picture myself running down the road and screaming. If I thought about it hard enough, I could even start crying.

Gil just looked at me in disbelief. “Have you ever heard of that happening here?” he asked.

Well, no. But that doesn’t mean it couldn’t happen.

And just when I think I have worried about every-possible-bad-thing-that-could-ever-happen, then God surprises me by allowing my washing machine to catch fire in the middle of the night. Never had thought through that one.

But anyway.

I have been more than just a worrier. When I say I am an expert on fear, that’s not just because of my over-active imagination. It’s because I struggled for a number of years with what some would call Panic Disorder.

It started 10 days after arriving in Dar es Salaam for the first time in 2001. I had a massive panic attack, which led to a nervous breakdown for the following few weeks. “Barely coping” would be an understatement. “Breathing for the next minute” would be more descriptive. Darkness, fear, the world falling apart around me…that’s what it felt like. I thought I was going insane; I had crazy obsessive fears; I couldn’t use a knife in the kitchen because I was paranoid I was going to stab someone with it.

There were no professional counselors in Dar at the time. I didn’t know what was happening to me so I had a hard time even articulating it to my husband. Only the grace of God kept me in Tanzania. I honestly didn’t think there was much hope for me, so I didn’t think that going back to the States would make things any better. So I stayed.

The darkness lasted at least six months. We later traced its beginning to the malaria medicine I was taking at the time, but even after the drug was out of my system, my brain had a new way of thinking. The second year in Tanzania was better, but within two months of returning to the States, it all returned with a vengeance.

This time I fought. I fought hard. I read everything I could. I got some help. I trained Gil in what to say to me when I was struggling (Bless my patient husband for enduring this with me!). The turning point came when I took a class at my church in the Foundations of Biblical Counseling. I took the class because I wanted to help other people, but first I needed to apply the principles to my own life.

And it all clicked. Not all at once, of course. But I started to get it. The roots of my fear. God’s view of suffering. The importance of perseverance. Who I was and who God was. Acceptance of suffering; confession of sin; trusting Him above everything else; submission to His will. And I was set free.

That was 2004. Six years ago, and it has yet to come back. I have no guarantee that it won’t; but I don’t fear it anymore if it does. And that is probably my best weapon to fight it.

The whole point of why I am writing this post is to give you a book recommendation. But I had to give you all that background so that you would understand why I so highly recommend this book. I have read a multitude of books on the subjects of fear and worry, from all sides of the counseling spectrum. But this one takes the cake. This one gets the prize. He gets it. He says all the things I had to figure out on my own. If you are just an everyday worrier or an expert in fear like me, then you want this book.


Some nuggets:

“Any time you love or want something deeply, you will notice fear and anxieties because you might not get them. Any time you can’t control the fate of those things you want or love, you will notice fears and anxieties because you might lose them…..Control and certainly are myths.”

“Worriers are visionaries minus the optimism.”

“One message is obvious: If I imagine the worst, I will be more prepared for it. Worry is looking for control. It is still irrational because worry will not prepare us for anything, but at least it has its reasons.”

“If you are jaded because you feel as though God has been unreliable, look at it this way: there are no other choices….The greatest possibility for rest and comfort lies in the knowledge of the true God.”

“If I can trust the word of a friend, why do I question the word of the God of the universe? Go figure. Sin is truly bizarre.”

“Anxiety asks for more information so it can be prepared for the coming apocalypse. It also asks for more information so it can manage the world apart from God.”

“Can we say that we die to our children? Yes, in a sense, but it isn’t exactly our children. We die to our notions that God doesn’t care about them. We die to the fear that no one is in control. We die to our belief that God is not always good. We die to the grasping that says, ‘My children are mine and mine alone.’”

I could go on. But I’ll just let you read the book instead.  And I pray you find the rest and freedom that have been granted to me.
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