Every Friday, I join an online Christian writing community, Five Minute Friday. We are given a one-word prompt and write – unscripted, unedited, pure free-write – for 5 minutes. The prompt this week is IGNORE.
I am inspired by Kate Motaung’s post on the perceived awkwardness that can cause us to ignore ‘strangers’ and so I want to share my own subsequent reflections.
I remembered how today I was walking back from the swimming pool, hood up to keep my wet head as warm as possible, and saw, at a bus stop, a young woman holding a very new baby against her shoulder whilst frantically going about something urgent in the pram. I could see there was only 2 minutes till the bus was due, so stopped to offer help. She refused help at first, but then confessed to being freaked out at having seen a ‘massive spider’ in the pram and was trying to find it. I searched the pram for her, assured her it was gone and put back the mattress and blankets so she could replace the baby in peace.
Kate’s post caused me to think how easily I now make those decisions to show compassion with strangers – especially if there seems to be a need, a child, or a slight vulnerability in the other – this seems to give me the sense of courage of responsibility to make the first move and be neighbourly.
I wonder if it is because we heard so many warnings about ‘stranger danger’ when growing up?
Thinking back, there was a time when I was so wounded and insecure that I would ignore the phone ringing, even when I could see friends calling, and would often hide away so that I could ignore the world. I had the sense that ignorance is bliss.
I am so grateful for the healing of God through community. Now I see strangers as friends I haven’t yet met.
Doesn’t scripture say something about when entertaining strangers we may be entertaining angels?
It is true that we are wounded in relationship and it is through relationship and the growth of trust that we are gradually healed.
Trust is almost a dirty word and terrifying, to me, yet simultaneously one of the sweetest and most precious of dreams.
It is currently being held right up there in my face, questioning, showing me how little of it I have, testing me now it is actually needed.
Now I need to walk the talk!
I see that it is the only thing left, if I am to obey the voice of God.
But all of me rebels, kicks and screams and asks for an easier way, a way I can control myself, a path I can see the outcome of and one which looks safe and ordinary…
(Of course my own way, the broad road, is never at all better, or smooth, or safer, or anything else I deceive myself with in my denial and resistance.)
How does one surrender, submit, let-go and let God?
How does one learn to trust? Except by doing it?
My only response, to self, is that if I am to trust that God loves me, as He says; to trust that God has forgiven me my sins, that He hears my prayers, that Jesus has purchased for me eternal life with Him, then I am going to have to prove to myself that I will trust and obey Him with this seemingly crazy, but relatively trivial, step right now.
Many are afraid of death. Most are afraid of pain.
But what is behind the fear; behind the threat, if you like?
For most of my adult life I have been told not to worry and am reminded that the Bible tells us to ‘Be not afraid’. But I was still afraid.
For me, apart from the common fear of annihilation and fear of physical pain and suffering, most often the fears I have are much more difficult to understand or explain – and therefore more difficult to control. These are often experienced as worry, nervousness, anxiety, but can be equally terrifying and debilitating.
We all know about the flight, fight or freeze response to fear of immediate (real or perceived) threat. This bypasses reason and thought, which is why it can be more difficult to control. If we have suffered trauma in the past, this fear response may have become a default response.
This had happened in me. My immediate response was usually to freeze, but later I would look how to run and escape.
These are old scripts and I have (in the last few years) been looking at debunking some of those lies and myths that held me captive to fear for so long.
It’s all well and good to say – ‘Don’t be afraid’ – but what do we do if we are afraid? Today another well-known Bible verse on fear came to me in a whole new light. The verse says:
‘There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear,’ (1 John 4:18)
but it then says something I had not seen before; it says
‘because fear has to do with punishment.’
Wow! Yes. I think that is certainly true!
So I allowed my mind to answer the question of what I am generally afraid of, in a day-to-day personality sort of way.
I make myself vulnerable here, but you may resonate with some of this:
I’m afraid you will hate me; you might laugh at me; you might reject me; you might blame me; you might take revenge on me; you might punish me and make me pay; you might smack, starve or torture me; you might hurt those I love; you might abandon me completely; you might turn everybody against me; you might deprive me of something…
Ultimately what you might do is to see me as I truly am and then reject me – confirming my fear that I am an unimportant nobody, a complete waste of space, a mistake to my very core and completely undeserving of any love or warmth from anybody!
If this is true, then you might also infringe on my other fear and physically torture, rape, hurt or in some concrete way annihilate me.
This is big stuff!!!
You know what they say about making a mountain out of a mole-hill, but for some of us, hearing a flippant comment, or considering a job-interview, or being asked a question – such little molehills can cause an unconscious mountain of serious stuff like the freight-train above, to come crashing through our emotions, via our thoughts, and cause us to freeze, fight or run!
We all have very different ways of coping with fear. Ingeniously, apart from the fight, flight or freeze reactions, we devise coping strategies to respond to fear from an early age. We learn these from those closest to us, or we learn by trial and error of what seems to keep us safe.
We may learn to be silent, to disappear, to hide, to please and smile, to cry, to fight, to run away, to scream, or any host of other ways to cope with the perceived threat.
As we grow into an adult, these coping strategies often are no longer helpful in our functioning in the world as an adult. Often the old patterns disable us.
To grow and function well as an adult, we need to find ways to change our thought patterns so that we can rationalise and deal appropriately with things that make us fearful.
So how can we control the feelings of fear? First we can acknowledge the fear and where it is. How does it feel in my body? What thoughts are attached? (Somewhere there is a thought or belief that is making us afraid.) How do I want to respond? (I would write all this down, to hold it still.)
Then I might ask what is real? What is a fact and what is an opinion? (Are you saying I am ugly or that my eyes are blue?) Are any of those thoughts facts? Are they facts that matter? Can I identify and debunk the lies and myths? Are the facts a threat? (When we write these down, some of these look very silly, but be honest, because your thoughts and feelings are never silly!)
An important question might now be to look at what the worst case scenario or outcome might be? What could be the best outcome? And what realistically is likely to happen? Is there a real threat to me or to all I hold dear?
Most of the time, though the feeling of fear is real and we have to move forward despite the fear (we have to ‘feel the fear and do it anyway’) in reality the outcome for most of us is that the sky does not come falling down and the mountain is a construct of our imagination that no longer serves our needs as adults in society.
If we focus on the task before us, on how we can serve and contribute to the well-being of others, we take the focus off self and fear of threat to self and we can add positive experiences to the lives of others, to build a culture of love, forgiveness, support and community. We can, for example, take a deep breath and answer the question to the best of our ability, or ask for time to think about it; we can prepare for why we want the job and why we would be good at it and turn up to the interview with all we have to offer; we can think about the flippant comment, the person that made it and decide if any of this is true or relevant, or we can let go and move on to those that matter.
As we learn to recognise old lies and form new strategies we can retrain our minds with truths and helpful thinking patterns.
‘The Lord says, “Do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed for I am your God. I will strengthen and help you: I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” Isaiah41:10
Does this idea of fear being to do with punishment resonate with you?
Can you identify the punishment you are afraid of?
I often write to process ideas and floating thoughts. This morning I am processing some thoughts on FEAR. I capitalise it, because it manifests itself as a very BIG thing.
I’m not an expert in any of this, though I have known the presence of fear for as long as I’ve known life.
I thought it was an emotion, but I think it is deeper and more fundamental than that.
In my humble view, fear is as solid and universal as an instinct – a defence/ protective warning signal for survival. It triggers the fight, freeze or flee response to danger. It has a very important role and if we consider what it is saying, it can protect us from rash, impulsive and dangerous choices.
But it can also be crippling, like a shackle around one’s ankles. It can render a person mute, ineffective and pathologically disabled or ill in many ways.
FEAR made its presence felt in me again last night. I feared my loved ones becoming very ill. I feared becoming ill myself. My chest went tight and my breathing laboured; I felt light-headed and faint. I was aware of the potential for fear to cause me to feel physiologically ill.
Of course for two years now, we have heard the sirens racing alarmingly through the streets, listened to news reports (which I rarely do), had to wear masks, follow precautions, sanitise, socially distance… Whatever we believe about the pandemic, we have been subjected to death statistics, to prolonged lock-downs and closures and to constant news of hospitalisations, illness and threats. Regular life has been suspended and we have all been distanced and put on high-alert. It is the topic of all news and conversations. The UK no longer discuss the weather, but open conversations with “Have you had your booster yet?” and “Where’s your mask?” whilst applying yet more sanitiser from bottles perched on every surface.
The symptoms for many with covid 19 have been coughing, a tight chest and difficulty breathing, so in a state of fear or panic, one feels these sensations, which can spiral into negative thinking, worst-case scenarios and further panic and psychological and physiological anxiety, stress and panic. When panic begins, it can be very difficult to control, but self-control is possible.
My defence strategy, last night, was to breath deeply, to pause and pray and to encourage myself in the truth of the promises of God:
We are constantly told by God to be strong and courageous; to not be afraid, not be terrified and not to faint…
(It is said that the Bible tells us 366 times to ‘not be afraid’ – one for every day, including the leap-year!)
Why not be afraid?
Because God did not give us a Spirit of fear, but of power, of love and of a sound mind. Because He promises to go with us wherever we are and to never leave us or forsake us…
So how do we do this?
Cast all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you. (1 Peter 5:7)
The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6-7)
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. (John 14:27)
Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. (Matthew 11:28)
Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. (Isaiah 43:1 – 2)
You will not fear the terror of night, nor the arrow that flies by day, nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness, nor the plague that destroys at midday. A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, but it will not come near you…
If you say, “The Lord is my refuge,” and you make the Most High your dwelling, no harm will overtake you, no disaster will come near your tent. For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways; they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone. (Psalm 91:5-12)
This morning, I could still feel the memory of the panic, but I was no longer carrying the burden. I had listened to God’s word and presented my concerns to God. I expressed my troubles and gave them all to Him who is able to carry them, and now my heart and mind are both at peace. I can now deal rationally with those things that are my responsibility to attend to.
I shall possibly need to remind myself over and over again. I need a treasury of promises on every surface of my mind, with which to sanitise my mind from the virus of fears all around.
If you become afraid, acknowledge it, see what it is trying to tell you. Listen to the warning, but refuse access to the spirit of fear, for that is not from God.
Lean on the Holy Spirit, breath in deeply and cast all of your concerns, worries, fears, requests on the God who cares for you.
Encourage yourself in the promises God makes to those who put their trust in Him.
May you enter 2022 in the Spirit of Power, of Love and of a sound mind, knowing that God is FOR you, He is with you and He loves you with an everlasting love.
And encourage those around you, helping them to carry their burdens and comforting them with the comfort you have received.