Another tool to fight fear

2 Comments

Humble yourself……casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. 1 Peter 5:6-7 ESV

My mom used to say, “Maria, most things we worry about never come to pass!”

I know Mom believed that, yet she still struggled with fear and worry. As do I.

If we Christians look simply at the low probability of our fears coming to pass and don’t find peace in statistics, then surely with God’s presence, character and promises we will be free from anxiety. One would think. But I don’t think that is the case for most of us.

Sunday, at church Katie shared something that is helping her to let go of worry and fear. One of our pastors’ wives mentioned it in a Bible study and Katie has passed this nugget of freedom onto me.

“Worry is assuming the worst outcome.”

I have been turning that thought over and over in my mind since Katie blessed me with this definition. Notice she did not use the verb to ‘imagine’ the terrible.  To assume is a much stronger action. It’s to take as true, as real, as FACT, even.

I am beginning to notice just how often fear thoughts drop into my mind.  Maybe that’s normal for all humankind. What troubles me is the ease with which I accept those projections as true and start to worry.

After my week with Anne in El Paso, I am consciously practicing catching myself each time this happens. And I am learning to respond with:  I reject you, Fear!

These depressing visions of the future spring from my imagination. An imagination I have trained to assume the worst outcome.

But rational thinking would pause and ask:

  • What is the statistical probability that this is happen? Telling the truth helps.
  • And if ‘it’ DID come to pass, what would be the implication? Would it really be that awful? Habakkuk faced the possible reality of food scarcity and forecast his reaction in this worst-case scenario.

The Holy Spirit is helping me move toward freedom from fear IN Christ. For example, this morning, the verses below popped into my Prayermate feed.

The righteous…..they do not fear bad news; they confidently trust the LORD to care for them. Psalm 112:6-7 NLT

I wrote this in my journal:

“When bad news comes or a major problem arises, instead of assuming the worst outcome, I choose from this day forward to assume a God-directed good outcome.”

The situation or the problem might have a harmful effect, but I am daring to opt for believing God when He says that His grace will be sufficient and that He is working ALL circumstances for long-term good for those who love God and whom He has called.

Although I am 65, it is NOT too late to change my modus operandi. For far too long I have kept myself in that waterless pit of fear that Bunyan referred to as the Castle of Giant Despair.

How I am worrying less

Leave a comment

I’ve been struggling with the temptation and sin of worrying, of mulling over all my anxious thoughts. There’s a lot going on with my mother-in-law’s cross-country move. Plus, Mike and I are trying to sort out some of our financial matters with Social Security and that is daunting. But that’s no excuse for fretting!

When do any of us NOT have lots going on, producing anxiety in our hearts and minds.

Recently, the Holy Spirit brought a sobering image to mind that is helping me think twice before worrying, a practice that Jesus commands us NOT to do.

When you and I worry about anything, we are actually declaring that Jesus is NOT God, that we can’t trust him, that he is not ‘enough’ to help us in our neediness.  We also proclaim that we don’t believe the Bible and all of God’s covenant promises of supernatural wisdom, help, rescue, strength, guidance, peace. 

During the 9 days I spent with Mom in Seattle, my mind at night often scattered to various details about Mom’s move.  I would settle into bed, handing over everything to Jesus and fall asleep. But in the middle of the night, I would awake and fall into worry.

One night in my refusal to give back my worries to Jesus, I pictured him saying to me, “If you want your worries back, then pick up that mallet and the rusty stake next to it and pound it into me. If I am not worthy of your trust, then I deserve to die as an imposter.”

Ever since then, I have often gone back to this reality of what my continued preoccupation with problems means.  My desire to honor Jesus as God, as worthy of my complete confidence is growing.  He absolutely DOES merit my devotion and trust.

This morning Paul’s quote in Romans 10:11 (from Isaiah 28:16) reinforced my faith. For the Scripture says, “Whoever believes in Him will not be disappointed.” (NASB)

I hear you, Lord.  Strengthen my faith in You!

Futile speculations

1 Comment

Where there is no vision, the people are unrestrained, But happy is one who keeps the Law. Proverbs 29:18 NASB

I worked hard last night.  Thinking.  No wonder I woke up, already tired.

Just how did I spend hours in the night speculating about scenarios? I’m in Seattle helping my mother-in-law sort through what to discard, donate, sell and move across country. 

Since Mom is mostly wheelchair bound, I imagined her actual flight across country and the actual move in and set up in her new Senior Living apartment. I examined and lived through future scenarios as I imagined them to be.  That is, from THIS point and time stamp on the horizontal.

This morning, with my Frenchpress coffee, I listened to one of John Eldredge’s Pause meditations and immediately SAW how I had exchanged God’s gift of rest for time spent focused on the cares of this world.

I journaled my conversation:

  • ‘Jesus, I disconnected myself from you. I see now what happened, where I went wrong.
  • Did I even ask you, before turning out the light, to increase my focus on you?  No!
  • Did I pray for you to fill me with more of you, crowding out temporal thoughts? No!’

Then I wrote my plea.  ‘Tonight, Father, please!  Remind me…give me a compelling picture of you, so I can hand over my cares.’

I didn’t have to wait until tonight. Immediately, an earlier ‘vision’ or picture of Jesus’ night vigil, watching over me popped into my mind.

At times during the past several months, I have settled into sleep picturing Jesus and me sitting cozily together on a leather sofa in front of a fire crackling with warmth and light.

I tell him my cares, humbly off-loading them as Peter instructs us in 1 Peter 5:7.  He receives them and bids me good night.  I move off into the bedroom and leave the door cracked.  My situations are with him for the night.

This morning, I took that vision a step further.  I imagined Jesus reminding me before I left my warm spot next to him: ‘Remember, Maria, I will work out the details and give you instructions for these events when it is time.’  I nod and go off to bed.

Do you remember the words before that ‘Cast all your cares on Him….’ promise?  God instructs us to give him our situations by humbling ourselves.  That means, we let go of them.  We release the illusion that we know best. 

Hm. That’s hard.

The Lord brought Solomon’s God-inspired teaching to mind right after my cabin scenario. Using the various Hebrew slants of several terms, I worded Proverbs 29:18 like this:

Part A – Where there is no mental sight or dream, the people neglect, overlook (God).  They are uncovered, open to unbridled human thoughts.

Part B – But he that guards and treasures God’s instruction is HAPPY, blessed!

That truth-seeking treasure hunt down the paths of words led me to God’s reminder in Psalm 40:4  How happy (blessed) is the man who has made the Lord his trust!

With those reflections in my journal, I moved on to one of the morning’s readings in Romans 1.  God clobbered me with more reinforcement.

Romans 1:25 –  Just as non-Christians who turn their backs on God, I am guilty of exchanging the truth about the Lord for lies. 

Such as:  I have to figure this out myself!

Just four verses earlier in Romans 1:21 I read and wrote down:  When I am not thanking God and honoring him, I indulge in futile, empty speculations.

How am I to honor or celebrate God?  By surrendering my cherished worries. Those patterns of preoccupying thoughts that lead to exhaustion.

Okay, Father, I get it.

Tonight, before I turn out the light, I will ask you to strengthen my resolve to hand over everyone and everything to you. Then by your supernatural power, I will trust you and expect you to help me fill my thoughts of your ‘able-ness’, willingness and goodness.

Fighting fear, one breath at a time

1 Comment

As long as my breath is in me, and the spirit of God is in my nostrils…Job 27:3 ESV

And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” John 20:22 ESV

Fear, discouragement and shame are Satan’s weapons of choice because they usually work. We look around us, take in our circumstances and listen to Satan’s false interpretation of events. For good reason he’s called the liar, the deceiver.

Over the past weekend, Mike and I retreated to a cabin in the woods of North Georgia.  We spent four days resting, restoring, reflecting and hiking.

Thanks to our newish daily practice of using biblical apps to meditate on God, I’m beginning to notice more often each individual breath I take in. This growing morning routine of observing my intake of oxygen causes me to know that at that moment, all I need, all my body has to have is this next breath.  And the Lord is providing it.  I am 100 % dependent on him. He alone will decide when I no longer need that physical sustenance.

The secular world has used meditation and mindfulness for years. What is different for us as Christ-followers, that is those who aspire consciously to abide in union with Jesus, is that we use Scripture as the content for guided meditations.

A few days before our trip, the speaker in the Encounter app Mike and I use mentioned that each breath is a gift from God who knows just what our body needs, moment by moment. As obvious as it sounds, I had never consciously connected God with each inhale.  Most of the time, I breathe without thinking.

While section hiking the Appalachian Trail with Mike, God gave me plenty of time to pull back from fear.  When the trail became less steep, my mind would wander forward into the coming days.  All of a sudden, the Holy Spirit would alert me to my fear-filled thoughts and I would ‘run back’ to Jesus who inhabits my very breathing. I’d confess my sin and huddle closely to him, breathing in thanksgiving and exhaling fear.  It was during our last full day, while hiking up to the summit of Blood Mountain, that I actually began thanking God each time I caught myself worrying and projecting.  Each fear thought became a trigger to return and enumerate with gratitude the Lord’s numerous blessings to me. I realized that I can’t multi-task.  I can’t nurture fears while naming the gifts God provides. 

For me, this ordering my thoughts, this submitting them to God to govern is new.  That is why I keep talking about this recently-acquired spiritual discipline of biblical meditation.   All the uncertainty regarding my mother-in-law’s care weighs heavily on me. I realize that I have become an expert in ‘futurizing’, that euphemism for ‘worry and fear’. My best friend Joyce has rightly named it for what it is.  This projecting into the days ahead is also sin.  I know, for the Bible teaches, that each time I indulge in fretful imagining of what might happen, I grieve the Holy Spirit who is in me.

This morning, something struck me from Hebrews 13:20-21: ‘May the God of peace…..equip you with all you need for doing his will…’ (NLT)

“Oh”, I mused, “you really are preparing me for the future!”

A daily ‘spiritual retreat’ of 15-20 minutes has become a precious part of my morning routine.  I am learning to be present with Jesus. This early meet-up is where I hand over all that concerns me and my family. Then I arise once again, to follow closely on his heels. I imagine myself often stepping on his heels, so near to him I want to be.  I don’t believe he minds.

Do we trust the Lord in dire times?

1 Comment

Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in God my Savior. Habakkuk 3:17-18 NIV

Habakkuk ticks off six dire circumstances that he and his fellow Hebrews are facing. He doesn’t even mention that the Lord has announced his plan to hand over their homeland, Judah, to the cruel pagan Chaldeans.  Habakkuk reacts with horrified surprise.  Earlier he had pled with God to save Judah out of her very own wickedness.  He knows his people have broken God’s covenant time and time again.  So, he appeals to God’s love for God’s special people. 

But sending a cruel enemy TO Judah as part of God’s remedy is not Habakkuk’s idea of a rescue plan.  Toward the end of his dialogues with the Lord, he simply hands over the entire situation to God.  Communicating his ‘so be it, Lord’, he specifies all the conditions he had hoped would change for the better.

I decided to write my own version of Habakkuk’s prayer to communicate to the Father that I trust him even if he never provides, heals, restores or changes the issues weighing on my heart.

Though….

  • our retirement savings might not last us and….
  • We still live far from our 7 grandchildren, hindering the close relationships we long for and…
  • Our adult children continue to struggle with work, parenting and relying on God and…..
  • Mike’s mom is suffering alone on the other side of the country away from all family and….
  • We might not ever get to satisfy our desire to live overseas again and…..
  • Aging in these bodies doesn’t loom pleasant

Yet, will I consider myself blessed because I KNOW Jesus is with us. I KNOW for sure that our future with Jesus is going to be bright.

Wasteful nighttime worry

Leave a comment

Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the LORD that will stand. Proverbs 19:21 ESV

The Lord had scheduled this verse in my reading this morning, for it hit home. 

I had lain in bed after ‘pee o’clock’ just thinking about various hypothetical scenarios.  You’d probably call it ‘worrying yourself sleepless!’ What kind of situations?

There’s my mother-in-law who grows weaker by the week.  She lives alone, but in a retirement community, about 2000 miles away from us. I foresee us making more frequent trips out to see and encourage her.

Another issue I spent time ‘planning for’ had to do with packing for an upcoming trip.  Then my worrying bordered on the ridiculous. Of all things, I started wondering just what I would do with my life if Mike died before me.  Yes, I know, all in the middle of the night.

I paid a price for giving into these anxiety projections – less sleep!

But it wasn’t a waste, for God redeemed it this morning by pointing out his truth, delivered by Solomon’s proverb.

How do those words help?  I’m choosing to draw a distinction between planning and preparing. Of the three topics that occupied my awake time, only one, Friday’s upcoming trip, involved an actual situation written on my calendar.  But as I had already written down some prep details during daylight hours, just what was the point in thinking about it at night?

But the other two scenarios, how Mom’s decline will play out and life as widow?????  I have NO business giving attention to them.  What prompted the latter worry, it can only have been Satan.  And about Mom, I was pondering her situation and our involvement only because she had been depressed that day when I zoomed with her.

Listening to her lamentations had led me to suggest two actions she could take the next day.  Other than that, for the time being, I can’t control her or supervise her to see that she actually puts into practice what I think will help her. I have to leave her in God’s hands and keep praying.

My imaginations, those speculative plans certainly won’t change God’s purposes.

Do you remember those ‘choose your own adventure’ books?  Here’s my application of that kind of authoring.  No matter how many possible ‘choose- your-own eventuality’ exist, until Mom’s story on Earth 1.0 ends, I know that God ‘has this all his hands’.  Furthermore, having experienced God’s creative solutions numerous times, I will not be surprised if how he has written the story is in a way I would never have imagined.

So, what’s the whole point in telling you all this?  Just that, in case you’re like me and occasionally fall prey to that temptation to lie awake worrying, maybe seeing the silliness in my preoccupations might help you see more clearly your own unholy imaginings. 

Let’s pray rather that we trust the Holy Spirit to give us supernatural power to resist the suggestion to start imagining an ending. God has got this!

Could trusting the Lord be this simple?

Leave a comment

Whenever the cloud lifted from over the sacred tent, the people of Israel would break camp and follow it. And wherever the cloud settled, the people of Israel would set up camp. In this way, they traveled and camped at the LORD’s command wherever he told them to go. Then they remained in their camp as long as the cloud stayed over the Tabernacle. Numbers 9:17-18 NLT

Has God changed since he trained the Hebrews to follow his lead? Good heavens, no!  But functionally, we who proclaim to be followers of Jesus tend to act like he has. 

The other day, I saw this so clearly as I read the passage from Numbers. I started to put myself in the place of one of those Hebrew families:  ‘Why does Yahweh seem to be training us to look up each morning when we peek out our tent flap?  We never know until the sun is rising whether today will be a pack-and-move day or a stay- in-camp day.’

Surely, the night before they would have talked over their plans for the following morning.  One woman might have said to her neighbor, ‘Oh, tomorrow, I need to teach my oldest daughter how to press the olives for oil, so we can light the tabernacle candles.’  Or a Levite father might have intended to show his son how to take down the tent.

I’m no different. I keep a calendar.  I have in mind what I want to accomplish tomorrow.  I make a list of tasks around my programmed activities that I must attend to.

In the past year, though, I’ve been working on checking in with the Lord each morning and listening for his direction while I read the day’s appointed Bible passages and pray.

But this new mental picture of the body language of these wandering Hebrews has gripped me. Their 40-year-long camping adventure was one big dress rehearsal for the rest of their lives.  They learned to obey through repetitive daily practice.

In one sense, life was far simpler for them than it is for us in 2022 America. They were forced to depend on God for their daily needs.  Their food came from him, their plans came from him, their jobs came from him. 

Maybe if we were ‘reduced’ to that level of subsistence living, our functional atheism would be squeezed out of us. Through repetition, we would really come to know and trust the Lord as provided new mercies, met our needs for food, protected and guided us. In many ways, those Hebrews were blessed through their hardships because all they had was the Lord.

This is what the LORD says— your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel: “I am the LORD your God, who teaches you what is good for you and leads you along the paths you should follow.” Isaiah 48:17 NLT

Get used to uncomfortable!

1 Comment

But you trusted in your beauty and used your fame to become a prostitute. Ezekiel 16:15 NIV 

I’ve been reading Andrew Murray’s book The True Vine. Earlier this week I came across this strong statement:

“Self-confidence is…..a great evil.”

What do you think?  Do you trust yourself?  Probably for some things you do.  Do you have confidence in some of your natural talents?

We all do, to some extent.  But according to many places in the Bible, that is not God’s way. He doesn’t want us to trust ourselves at all.  We are to put confidence only in him.

If I look back over my life, I can spot the times when the Lord deliberately put me in situations where I had no experience or training to handle the responsibilities. 

The earliest one happened one day when I was a young military intelligence lieutenant.  My boss called me to his office and said: ‘I have a new additional duty for you. You’re to manage our battalion’s budget.  Here’s the file. Call the budget office at headquarters for any help you need.’

Did I have an accounting background?  Not at all! I had majored in foreign affairs and Russian studies.  No problem.  Lieutenants are expected to learn on the job.  And I did. Could I depend on myself?  Nope.

Similar situations followed.  Having a baby was one of those.  I had grown up as an only child AND my mom never allowed me to babysit.  I had zero exposure to babies.  Imagine the hospital handing me and Mike this 2-day old baby.  They never even asked us for proof of training or experience?  More God-directed practice in depending on him. And Graham survived.

One of the most uncomfortable of these God-ordained experiences was when I was hired by a Christian school. NOT to teach French, but to teach US history and government. Okay, that didn’t scare me too much, for I had taken some history courses in college. Not American, though!

What DID rock me were the additional two courses:  Informal Logic for 7th graders and Formal Logic for 8th graders.  I didn’t have a clue to what logic was.  All summer before that school year started, I struggled to study and understand logic. I fumed with frustration.  There was no one to help me.  Was that first year hard? You bet!  Did I cling to Jesus? Without a doubt.

What I am slowly absorbing is that God’s best plan for us is to depend 100 % on him.  But the hard part is that I don’t naturally gravitate to what feels uncomfortable.  I’m seeing that he, in effect, is saying: ‘Get used to uncomfortable!’ Like you, I prefer clinging to my idol of comfort.  In fact, when the next thing on my agenda is the habitual, I don’t even think to depend on Jesus. That framework is sin. Self-confidence is wrong.

Yet, culture blares the opposite message: Believe in yourself!  Trust yourself!

It seems that we are to be more like little children who only ever trust their strong daddy or reliable mommy.  They don’t fake being okay on their own.  As long as their parents are with them, they feel secure.  And they are content. 

I anticipate more ‘adventures with Jesus’ as he keeps training me to lean only on him.

Then he said, “I tell you the truth, unless you turn from your sins and become like little children….Matthew 18:3 NLT

Living with Jesus is like being a substitute teacher

1 Comment

We make our own plans, but the LORD decides where we will go. Proverbs 16:9 CEV

Have you ever been a substitute teacher or had one as a child? Then you know what it’s like for these stalwart men and women who never know when or whether they will receive that early morning wake-up call. When the phone does interrupt that last hour or two of REM restoration, they quickly dress, heading out the door to such-and-such school by the designated time.

That’s how I’m beginning to look at my life.  Even though I do all my work these days as a volunteer, I still have a schedule.  I’m learning to hold it loosely. Recently, I readjusted my week so I could fly out to Seattle to encourage and help my mother-in-law.  This family need trumped what I had penciled in on my calendar.

That decision altered an entire week. I’m also finding that the Lord redirects my steps not only at the beginning of a day, but in the middle of the day. I’m developing the mindset that allows me to hold loosely every plan I make. 

I see the life of a substitute teacher as a metaphor for how we family members of God are to live.  We are not the ones running God’s household.  But he’s included us in his family to learn and to serve, obeying out of love. We should expect the Holy Spirit often to change the schedule according to the needs of the Godhead.

Mike’s clients in his contractor’s job often don’t clarify what they want, making it difficult for Mike and his team to provide value.  He sometimes laments the murkiness of his job. He frequently doesn’t know what to expect.  How like the daily duty of a substitute teacher!  I remind him to count on the Lord to unfold his plan for Mike when he doesn’t foresee how he should proceed.

This approach is so like the one a sub has to adopt. She regularly has no idea what the day will be like when she shows up to a classroom.  But usually there is a plan, already purposed and laid out awaiting her. She arrives and carries out the regular classroom teacher’s lessons, following all the directions.  She doesn’t have a say in what she is to do.  She is under ‘orders’, so to speak.

I have found a certain freedom in anticipating God’s sudden changes.  There’s no longer a reason to stress.  For example, when I flew out to Seattle, I had to change in Dallas.  The margin was a mere 34 minutes.  Therefore, I packed a small carry-on bag that would not have to be gate checked, costing me minutes.  When the pilot announced a delay in our arrival time due to a headwind, I had to fight against anxious thoughts which attacked my peace.  Proverbs 16:9 was the weapon I used.  During the 2-hour flight, I wielded that promise about 6 times, finally reasoning that if I missed my connection, then Jesus had a good reason that would be better than making my connection. Anxiety finally gave up.

I’ll leave you a final thought connected to this idea of a substitute teacher.  A simple way of thinking of the grace that Jesus provided is that of a substitute.  He took my place as guilty sinner, deserving of God’s just anger and punishment.  What is more, his perfect life also substitutes for my fouled-up record.  A double substitution. Maybe it’s only fitting that I can sub for him as hands and feet in the part of the world he has placed me.  What do you think?

What do you want people to say about you at your funeral?

1 Comment

And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. 1 John 3:23 ESV

I lead a weekly ESL conversation class on Zoom. Typically, four of us meet for an hour.  The two women are Mexican and our one gentleman lives in Argentina.  They are strong intermediate-level speakers.  We have come to know each other and enjoy this mid-week hour as friends.  And I know they appreciate being able to practice their English.

As a language coach, I propose the weekly topic. Yesterday’s question or theme is the title of this blog.  ‘What do you want people to remember about you and how you lived your life?’ I wasn’t sure if my three friends felt put-off or startled when I sent them via What’s App the question to consider. They approached the subject with enthusiasm and we ended up learning a lot about each other’s cultures and approaches to death.

What’s interesting about this topic is that one of my sons is currently reading a leadership book for Christian men about creating a vision for oneself as well as for one’s family. He mentioned one of the suggestions was to do this very thing, to start with the end in mind. Just how DO you hope people will assess your life once you have died?

Happily, we don’t have to reinvent the wheel as Christians. The Bible provides many possibilities that are pleasing to God. The verse at the beginning of this post is one that continues to linger in my daily thoughts.

The way the apostle John condenses and communicates Jesus’ commands struck me about 2 weeks ago as a wonderful life purpose.  What pleases God is for us to rely on Jesus and love people as our Lord did while on earth.

Actually, the first part, ‘trusting Jesus’, is the main command. I am to depend on him for power to love people well.  Active love, how I treat people, is costly because it involves investing resources such as time, energy and money.  Added to that is my attitude, how I bring patient, studied attentiveness to someone in order to understand their needs and the manner in which they feel respected and valued.  I can’t do any of that in my own strength. That is why relying on Jesus is paramount.

I wish I had paid attention to John’s exhortation when I endured ongoing bitter attacks from a student at my last school. I tried to respond with love and patience, but out of my own reservoir. It got to me.  Many days I headed to school absolutely dreading French class with this gal. Her animosity and her dad’s displeasure with me lasted a year and a half before she graduated from the middle school. 

Five years later, I feel clear now on just who is my power source to obey. And in fact, I got to put my money where my pen is.  Yesterday, I realized that my mother-in-law who lives so far from us needs some TLC. At 93, she has been hit with one medical situation after another.  She said to me yesterday over the phone, ‘Maria, why is all this happening to me now?’  Thank you, Father, that your Spirit got my attention.  I booked a flight this morning for next week.

Wrapping up, what is it that I want on my tombstone?  ‘She relied on Jesus and loved her friends and family well.’  No, that doesn’t include ‘neighbors’ like my former student.  But I think that if I can mature in believing and depending on Jesus to love those who make up my family and my circle of friends, the spillover effect will extend to others the Lord places in my life.  That is my hope and my prayer.  

Older Entries

%d bloggers like this: