Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The Truth about Fear

I can't remember where I heard this--whether it was in a church sermon or a book--but I can't get it off my mind.  It has to do with the same theme as my last post, so it seemed appropriate to share. 

The subject is the Israelites, as they are coming out of slavery in Egypt.  The tribe of Jacob (the Israelites) went to Egypt during a time of famine, when Joseph had become a high-ranking ruler in Egypt.  As generations passed, however, the Israelites multiplied numerously and the kings of Egypt forgot about Joseph, and out of fear of the Israelites' increasing numbers subjected them to slavery and hardship.  They were "oppressed with forced labor...they worked them ruthlessly....they made their lives bitter with hard labor..."  Doesn't sound like a very desirable situation; in fact, it sounds pretty desperate to me. 

And then the Egyptians started killing their baby boys.  Just as a mother, to have the joy of a new baby ripped away and replaced with horrifying fear--apart from the normal fears of healthy pregnancy and birth--that if my precious new baby so much as cried (which babies will do), someone might come and kill him mercilessly--that would do me in!  I feel like that alone would give me the courage to do whatever it took to gain freedom! 

But, Moses came along, and through a series of miracles and wonders, God delivered the Israelites from their oppression.  I'm sure it was hard work packing up their homes and doing all the preparation to leave for the long journey (they'd been in Egypt 430 years), but it's worth whatever it takes, right?

They got as far as the Red Sea...not really very far...when they met their first opposition: Pharaoh changed his mind and sent his army after them.  They had just witnessed a host of miraculous signs and wonders by the hand of God, and God's very presence had been traveling with them in a manifest form, so you would expect their faith to be strong.  But here's how they respond: "Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die?  What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt?  Didn't we say to you in Egypt, 'Leave us alone; let us serve the Egyptians'?  It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert!" (Ex. 14:10-12, italics added)

WHAT??!!  Shocking, right?  It really seemed better to the Israelites to live under oppressive slavery under ruthless slavemasters without even the freedom to give birth...than to face freedom and become rulers of their own land with a loving, powerful God on their side?

In their defense, however, I've also experienced the other side.  The Israelites were obviously facing a significant amount of Fear, and Moses answers their complaints with an exhortation: "Do not be afraid. Stand firm."  I've recently started reading Max Lucado's book Fearless, and it's been astoundingly eye-opening.  I knew I had issues to deal with, but never, ever tied them back to fear; I never thought I was a fearful person, and in fact thought I was an exceptionally non-fearful person.  But Max Lucado explains how fear is the root of so many other issues in our lives (I highly recommend this book!):
  • Fear corrodes our confidence in God's goodness and makes us question whether He really loves us.  It causes us to doubt, and makes our doubt turn to anger.
  • Fear turns us into control freaks.  We become so insecure that we frantically try to control whatever we can: dieting, cleaning house, people, etc.
  • Fear makes us get mean, because we feel threatened and cornered.  
  • Fear makes us unable to love deeply, because love is risky.
  • Fear makes us lose hope and give up.  It prevents us from dreaming wildly.
  • Fear makes us forget the good things and the miracles God has worked in our lives.
  • Fear sucks life out of our souls, steals joy, drains contentment, reverts us to an embryonic stage, creates numbing dread, paralyzes us with insecurity, makes safety our god and causes us to worship a risk-free life ("the easy life," perhaps?)
I just think of myself, and how my "Egyptians"--those battles I'm facing that seem so daunting and frightening--can scare me so badly that I forget the wonders and miracles God has done for me, I forget His goodness, and, instead of standing firm in faith, I angrily challenge God, "Why have you brought me here?  Do you not love me??"  As if it would really be better for me to hopelessly rot in my own slavery than to fight for freedom. 

I think, at least for myself, the slavery and bondage of where I am is familiar, and in that sense it is comfortable.  It's not comfortable in and of itself, and of course I would want change!  But freedom is unknown, it is expensive, it takes hard work, it is not predictable, and it doesn't allow us to sit around on our rear ends and mope.  So I keep thinking about the Israelites, and it brings perspective: Slavery, or Freedom?  The choice is obvious...*All it takes* is a face-down with that frightening monster named Fear.

Moses' words to the Israelites encourage me in my own situation: "Do not be afraid.  Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today.  [The Egyptians/ enter personal problem] you see today you will never see again.  The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still" (Ex. 14:13-14).  God is not asking me to single-handedly slay the dragon; He's simply asking me to not be afraid and trust Him to be strong.  And what a promise!  If I can be still enough to let God bring deliverance, I will never see this problem again!  Sure, there will be others, but that sounds pretty amazing. 

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Looking Forward to a Terrible New Year

Confession:  Today, I cleaned our bathroom for the FIRST time since moving in...four months ago.  Shocking, I know, not to mention disgusting!  (If you've been a guest at our house and used our bathroom--no worries--I have actually cleaned our guest bathroom on a regular basis!)  Truth is, most of the time our house is not unlike a hurricane disaster area, and I really don't think I'm exaggerating. (And if you've been to our house, you still might not know the extent of it, because I'm good at frantically stuffing things away without really cleaning.)  I actually am an organized person.  I actually like to clean.  I actually HATE living like this.  

This is how I've been feeling lately...buried, with no hope of catching up!

This past year has been hard.  That's no secret.  But, coming into this new year has been even harder, because it seems that over the past couple of years I've been getting through each stage of life by holding on to the hope that when we reach the next stage, things will be better.  I'm chasing that elusive dangling carrot of an easier life, where things are in order, where need is eradicated, where we are in control of our own lives.  And I have neatly packaged that "easy life" dream into the box of "normalcy": my husband having a job, having a house, having a larger (and even second!) vehicle, etc.  The trouble is, every time I get to that new stage of life, it's NOT the golden age that I anticipated it would be, and worse--it's HARDER than before!  (My guess is, if I'm really honest with myself, that those of you who have these things probably wouldn't label your life "easy" either.)

These may be cheesy, but they have a good point!

And each time, I get angrier.  "I'm not asking for that much, here!  Just a normal life, with the same normal things that everyone has!  A job, a car, a house, a dog.  Why does it always have to be SO HARD?????"  I know that this will make many of you cringe and want to rush at me with Bible verses in hand, but often I have felt and begun to believe that God really doesn't love me.  (But hold your sermon-writing...just wait...we're not at the conclusion yet!)

Time after time this has happened, and I've worn thin; I've worn past thin, to raw, un-coping nerves.  I admit, for some time now, I've given up.  My house has, in a way, become an expression of my inner life: the mess inside my heart and mind just spewing out into confused heaps on the floor.  Efforts to clean and organize have been frustratingly unproductive, because how can I create order when I'm muddled in confusion? 

Last night, and I honestly can't even pinpoint why or how, I felt like someone had wiped my eyes clear.

Maybe...instead of complaining, "Why does life have to be so hard?" I should wonder, "Why should life be easy?"  Maybe God has bigger plans and bigger blessings in mind for me than my own mediocre goal of "easy."  Maybe God has more faith in me than I do in myself to achieve dreams He hasn't even yet placed in my heart.  Maybe, just maybe, this time of hardship is exactly the blessing I need to push me to do what I would never normally do (you got it--because it's not easy!) so that I could see past my limited vision and limited dreams to a whole new world of possibilities. 

Okay, these conclusions are obvious, I know.  And I'm sure some of you have tried to tell me these same things a time or two, and I just couldn't hear at the time.  I was spinning in space and just had to find my own feet.  I honestly always thought I was a strong person, unafraid of new challenges, never willing to quit just because of adversity, quick to find resourceful solutions.  But I'm realizing now that I've really been weak and cowardly, hiding behind a facade of strength. 

So I guess I've decided:  This year is going to be hard anyway.  It's a fact and it's not going to change.  So...Instead of fighting it aimlessly and wailing about the injustice, as I've been trying for years, why not embrace the hardship and do things I may not want to do, which might make this hard year harder, but will make our future brighter?

That's my goal for the New Year: to have a really, truly terrible year, in the very best possible way!  To take a year that's filled with hardship and turn it into a catalyst for blessing.

 And my bathroom is clean.

(P.S.  I'm not super-motivated here, folks.  I'm scared out of my mind.  But I think it's going to turn out to be a very good thing, indeed...)