Monday, June 26, 2017

Surrendering Fear.

Bath bomb in hand, I placed one foot into the warm water.  Hot, but not too hot.  Dropping the purple bath bomb into the tub, I smiled as it fizzed and filled the air with the comforting scent of lavender.  I settled in for what was supposed to be a relaxing, pain-relieving bath.  It had taken quite a bit of convincing in the form of a bath bomb to actually get me and my self-diagnosed OCD self into the tub in the first place, but I had high hopes that this would be the answer to relieving my chronic pain, if only for a little while.  I picked up my newest Barnes and Noble find, The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, and easing further down into the warm, lavender-scented water, I began to read the chapter labeled “Fire and Light.”

One paragraph in, I knew something was wrong.  The temperature in the room rose to a suffocating level.  Sweat began dripping down my face as my breathing grew labored and my heartbeat echoed in every part of my body.  I tried to continue reading, but the words on the page were meaningless.  I could read them, but I couldn’t comprehend them.  Looking up, the room began spinning.  I knew I needed to get out of the tub, but I couldn’t move.  Time moved in slow motion.  I was so scared.

“Ashlee?” my sister called from the adjoining room.  “Ashlee?  Are you alright?”  “No,” I whispered just loud enough for her to hear.  The bathroom door opened and Emilee poked her head in, eyes shut tight to give me as much privacy as she could manage while still trying to help me.  “I’m coming in.  Give me your towel and I’ll help you out.”  Holding the towel in front of me, Emilee managed to lift me out of the tub until I was on my feet.  Immediately, pain shot through both of my legs, leaving them tingling like I was being attacked by a swarm of fire ants.  I cried as my legs gave out and I collapsed into my sister’s arms.  I couldn’t stand.  I couldn’t walk.  I couldn’t move.  I was paralyzed, but yet, I could still feel the pain as it besieged my legs. 

 Fear.  That is the emotion that filled my heart and my mind as I tried to get my legs to work to no avail.  My heart raced.  My body shook.  And tears raced down my face, falling onto useless pale legs.

Fear is an emotion we all endure.  Many of us experience it on a daily basis.  So, what exactly is fear?  According to Psychology Today, fear is necessary to our survival.  It is a vital response to danger, both physical and emotional.  In other words, without fear, we would be helpless in defending ourselves from legitimate threats.  For example, let’s say you’re walking down the street alone at night.  Coming directly towards you is a man in a hooded sweatshirt, walking at a brisk pace.  What do you do?  For most of us, our hearts start racing as images of guns, knives, white vans, and kidnappings race through our minds.  That’s fear.  This fear-response thus causes a fight-or-flight response.  Basically, we have two choices: prepare to fight off the potential attack with the pepper spray we have in our bag and our mad self-defense skills (fight), or cross the street as far away from the stranger as we can and continue safely home (flight).  That is the benefit of fear.  It alerts us to, and prepares us for, potential threats.

But, as we all know, fear can be suffocating as well.  We fear losing friends and family; we fear being late to a job interview or to an important examination; we worry about money and finances; we worry about our marriages, our children, our families; we fear never finding the “perfect” guy and remaining single our entire lives; we fear losing our jobs, our homes, our livelihood.  And the list goes on and on and on until we cannot breathe, cannot think, cannot function.  Here’s the problem:: The more room we make for fear in our lives, the less room there is for God. 

“For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind” (2 Timothy 1:7, NKJV).  “Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time, casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:6-7).

Too often, our lives are so full of fear that we so easily forget about the God who conquered all fear when He conquered the grave.  When I was sitting in that bathtub, unable to move my legs, and the pain was so severe, how easily I became so consumed with my fear and forgot about my God.  I forgot about the excellent One who hung the moon and the stars with only a finger.  The One who has walked the depths of the sea and explored the fields of the earth.  I forgot about the One who designed the heavens and the earth and brought them about with just the sound of His voice.  I forgot about the One who made the lame walk, the blind see, the sick be healed, and the dead be raised to life again.  In my fear, I forgot that I need only cry out the name of Jesus, and the King of the World will hear me and He will help me.

“Fear not, for I am with you;
Be not dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you,
Yes, I will help you,
I will uphold you with My righteous right hand” (Isaiah 41:10, NKJV).

The next time I am afraid, I pray that instead of allowing the waves to crash over me and leave me gasping for my next breath, I will instead lift my eyes to the heavens and cry out to the God who saves.  I wonder how much different our lives would be if our first response was to battle fear with praise?  What if instead of allowing our minds to feast on fear, we brought our worries to the foot of the throne of heaven?  I bet our lives, our worlds, would be so much freer, so much more joyful, and our burdens would be so much lighter. 

May we realize that God is not a God of fear, but a Giver of Peace.  Sweet Jesus did not come to this world so that we may waste away under the burden of fear.  He came and died and conquered the grave so that in Him we would find peace and joy and courage.  Today, may we surrender our all-consuming fear at the feet of our all-consuming Savior.

“But now, thus says the LORD, who created you, O Jacob,
And He who formed you, O Israel;
‘Fear not, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name;
You are Mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
And through the rivers, they shall not overflow you.
When you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned,
Nor shall the flame scorch you.
For I am the LORD you God;
The Holy One of Israel, your Savior’”
(Isaiah 43:1-3a).


Monday, June 12, 2017

To Turn and Flee.

I’m a planner.

I like to have every aspect of my day planned out to a T.  I like to make a schedule and stick to it.  I need structure.  If my plan is to meet someone or do something at noon and the plan changes last minute, I get stressed, anxious.  If my family wants to go to breakfast the following morning, but doesn’t say what time in an attempt to just “play it by ear,” I have a pit of uncertainty resting in my stomach until a specific time is named.

My tendency to plan seeps into other aspects of my life as well.  I long to control my future.  I have my future school, my future major, my future graduate degree, my future job, my future husband (or at least what I want in a spouse), my future kids and their future names, and my future pets all planned out.  This has always been the case.  It’s just the way I am. 

I think being a planner – wanting to be in control – is human nature.  Nobody likes being out-of-control, being at the mercy of someone or something else.  It’s scary.  It’s confusing.  It’s stressful.  However, we live in an unpredictable world with unpredictable people and an unpredictable God.  As such, there comes a point in everyone’s lives where they find themselves face-to-face with the unknown.  Changed plans.  Shattered dreams.  Broken lives.  Life happens.  We can’t control it.  But we can control how we respond to it.

In the book of Matthew, Jesus’ disciples are faced with a challenge.  In the midst of celebrating the Passover, Jesus has informed His disciples that one of His fervent followers is going to betray Him.  Astonished, each man cries that they would never do such a horrendous thing.  “Even if I have to die with You,” Peter exclaims, “I will not deny You!”  And so say all the disciples.  It is a solemn moment as each declares their loyalty to their beloved friend and teacher.  But it doesn’t last.

21 verses later, the disciples who had so confidently sworn that they would stay by Jesus’ side no matter what suddenly flee.  “Then all the disciples forsook Him and fled” (Matthew 26:56b, NKJV).  These passionate followers of the Lord abruptly abandon Him in Jesus’ greatest hour of need.  Why?  What happened in the hearts of these men of Christ that they would turn their backs on the King of the World?

“Then they came and laid hands on Jesus and took Him.  And suddenly, one of those who were with Jesus stretched out his hand and drew his sword, struck the servant of the high priest, and cut off his ear.
Jesus said, ‘Put your sword back where it belongs.  All who use swords are destroyed by swords.  Don’t you realize that I am able right now to call to my Father, and twelve companies – more, if I want them – of fighting angels would be here, battle-ready?  But if I did that, how would the Scriptures come true that say this is the way it has to be?’” (Matthew 26:50-54, NKJV, MSG). 

Jesus reveals a hard truth to His disciples:: He has the power, the ability, to change this.  With a single word, Jesus could summon thousands of angels to come to His aid and fight for Him.  He could end this, change His fate, right here, right now.  But He is choosing not to.

            This had to be heart-breaking for the disciples.  Their swords were drawn and they were ready to fight for their Lord.  They had a plan, and Jesus being arrested and crucified was not it.  Oh, how I can relate!  I have a plan.  I know how I want my life to turn out.  And struggle and hardship, pain and sorrow is not a part of that plan.  But the thing is, sometimes, it is a part of God’s plan.  And that’s a hard pill to swallow, especially when we realize that with one word, God can take all of the pain and all of the sorrow away but He’s choosing not to.

            When life doesn’t go as planned, I tend to get stressed and anxious.  I feel trapped in an out-of-control, unpredictable, messy life, and to be honest, I don’t like it.  I cannot control the events, the circumstances, the unpredictability of life.  But I can control how I respond to the unknown.

            When faced with Jesus’ arrest, the disciples could look at this unexpected event one of two ways::
1.)   Disillusionment and utter disappointment.
The disciples had a plan and Jesus dying was not a part of it.  They were confused and disappointed that Jesus had the ability to change His (and their) fate, and yet He was choosing not to.  Is Jesus really who we thought He was?  Is He truly the Lord?  I thought Jesus was good, but this doesn’t look or feel good right now.  These are the thoughts I imagine were flashing through the disciples’ brains as one-by-one they turned their backs and fled from Jesus.
When something happens in life that catches me off guard with pain and hurt, it is so hard to see that this detour could be part of a bigger plan.  A plan to bring about something beautiful and holy and good.  I cry out to God and beg for Him to save me, but when my pleas fall of deaf ears, it is so easy to question God’s goodness and love.  How can a good God let this happen? 
It is easy to walk away from Him when we don’t understand Him.  It is easy to turn our backs and flee.
2.)   Love.
This is the other response we can choose when faced with a change of plans.  If we predetermine that no matter what happens we are going to stand on the truth that God loves us, then we can filter everything through that reality. 
Too often, we view God’s love as something He feels for us, not realizing that feelings are fickle.  They sway with situations, circumstances, and events.  Rather, we must learn to look at God’s love for us as a fact that doesn’t change.  God’s love is a certainty above every circumstance.  And it was His love for us that kept Him on the unpredictable path to the cross.

            Like the disciples, we have the same choice to make.  When life doesn’t go as we had planned – when the waves of pain threaten to overwhelm us or we are thrown into the fire of fear – we can choose to respond with blinding disillusionment and sheer disappointment, causing us to turn and flee or we can respond in magnifying love as we remember and rest in God’s never-ending love for us.