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Discovering We Are Not Alone
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Have you ever thought how infectious fear can be? It spreads from one person to another more quickly and certainly than any of the fevers we know so well. AMY CARMICHAEL You Are My Hiding Place
"I can't do this! I don't want to do this! I don't want to be here! I think it is totally irrational to spend all this money to terrorize myself and risk possible injury that could keep me from functioning properly for weeks come!" My words tumbled out frantically, mingled with stifled sobs.
My husband worked quietly, but steadily, as he continued to tighten my rented ski boots in preparation for what I knew was the inevitable experience just ahead. Then, with uncharacteristic candor, he looked me in the eyes and said, "You're afraid. So what? What's the worst thing that could happen? You might fall down and you'd have to get up again."
Now I was angry. He didn't understand. Fear was a subject I knew too well. A virus I had transferred to others. A paralyzing emotion I sometimes denied but always had to face. Why couldn't he understand the depth of my fear?
We had lived in Michigan for years, within easy driving distance of numerous ski resorts. Every winter it always turned cold and snowy... and every winter I went into hibernation until the first breath of spring.
Skiing was for people who lived "on the edge," I convinced myself. It was a sport for people who did not value straight noses and unbroken bones. It was for those who thrived on adrenaline for stimulation-instead of honest work in a legitimate vocation.
But our teenage son had requested downhill skis for Christmas, and we decided to treat him to a New Year's weekend at Shanty Creek Ski Lodge. From the moment he took his first trip down the hill, he was hooked. By the second day his skis were gliding down Schuss Mountain with precise accuracy, and it was hard to get him to take breaks for meals. He had discovered his sport!
Halfway through the weekend my husband, Gene, said, "Honey, Jason loves skiing. He's our only child. He will probably marry a woman who likes this sport. We may spend many future vacation weekends in ski lodges. If you want to spend time with your family, you have a choice: You can sit in the lodge drinking hot chocolate by the fire for the rest of your life, or you can conquer this phobia."
He was right. I hate it when he's right, especially when I have to admit it. Besides, I had already gained my seven extra Christmas pounds, and the prospects of that hot chocolate increasing the diameter of my thighs while they were getting exercise did not create a desirable image. I reluctantly yielded to his suggestion and registered for a ski lesson.
Gene finished tightening my boots, then he carefully helped me balance as I moved in the direction of the bunny hill. I found myself wondering how many people had died on that hill-or worse yet, how many were permanently maimed?
He softened a bit. "Carol, I heard a speaker recently who said, 'There are only two fears we are born with: falling and loud noises. All the rest are learned or acquired.' I know you can conquer this fear!"
THE PROBLEM DEFINED
I was afraid of falling, all right. But my fear went deeper than that. His words reverberated in my mind: "all the rest are learned or acquired." Where did fear come from? How did it get so powerful? Why did it immobilize so many people? What was the origin of this monster anyway? And most of all, why did it continue to plague me? After all, I had been a Christian for many years. I was a leader. A speaker. An author. A wife. A mom. An educated, hardworking woman who believed the Bible and loved God. Why did I still have this problem?
Fear is one of our oldest and deadliest enemies. It causes illness, stifles creativity, prevents love, destroys families, depletes energy, feeds addictions, and holds people in bondage. For many women, fear is an unwanted, constant companion. In the middle of watching the destructive force of fear, sometimes we forget there's a positive side to fear as well.
Webster tells us fear is any one of several responses: "(1) anxiety and agitation caused by the presence of danger, evil, or pain; dread, fright; (2) awe, reverence; (3) a feeling of uneasiness, anxiety, concern."
That definition is helpful, but even more insight comes when we investigate fear as a verb: "(1) to be afraid of, to dread" (I can identify with that!); "(2) to feel reverence or awe for" (I certainly fear God in that way!); "(3) to expect with misgiving... to feel fear... to be uneasy or anxious." (Now that's a definition I can relate to.) And that's what this book is all about!
UNDERSTANDING THE UNDERLYING TYPES OF FEAR
There are basically three types of fear: "holy" fear, "self-preserving" fear, and "slavish" fear. The first comes from our reverence for and awe of the God who created us and loves us. The second has everything to do with the God-given instinct to run from danger, avert an accident, or protect ourselves and those we love. This "wise" form of fear causes us to take responsibility for ourselves and others. It motivates us to teach our children to look both ways before crossing the street and to use caution on a bicycle.
This book, however, is about "slavish" fear-the negative type that kills expressions of love, plugs lines of communication, imprisons victims of abuse, taunts with ridiculous phobias, controls by manipulation, and erodes all confidence and security. Wise, self-preserving fear shifts into slavish fear when it becomes obsessive and controlling. When a child reaches an age of maturity, and a parent prevents the development of natural independence by immobilizing him or her with fears that are not based on reality, slavish fear takes over. When a sport as regulated and exhilarating as downhill snow skiing paralyzes me because of a twenty-year-old memory of one bad experience, I am allowing myself to be victimized by fear.
Boiled down to the bottom line, the negative aspect of fear is a problem of (1) focus and (2) self-reliance. It all began in the Garden of Eden. Adam and Eve had known a perfect relationship with God. They knew Him as their creator, companion, teacher, and friend. At that time in history the only fear present was absolutely holy. There was purity in God's relationship with Adam and Eve.
After Adam and Eve disobeyed God, a change occurred. With no instruction, Adam had an instant awareness of slavish fear. When God called, Adam responded, "I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid" (Genesis 3:10, NIV). Instead of rushing to be with his best friend, Adam was now doubting his position, fearful of not being accepted, and hiding in the bushes.
The false roots of Adam's fear are still with us today. God had always been there for him, but self-reliance kept him from asking for help:
* Adam feared abandonment, yet he chose to abandon the One he needed the most.
* He was ashamed of revealing who he really was, yet needed to be honest with God to learn how to live in a sinful world.
* He made himself lonely because he feared rejection. * He gave in to temptation and felt unforgiven and afraid.
When sin entered the human race, Adam's focus was taken off God. Self-reliance (and let's add self-preservation) kicked in, and Adam was running and hiding. (Okay. I admit it. Eve had the problem too.) And today we're still doing the same thing-running and hiding! Adam's response is a lot like mine.
Slavish fear is a natural consequence of self-reliance. Sometimes "helping myself out and doing my best in the middle of my fears" keeps me from admitting that sin and self-reliance are the same thing. Trusting in "self" as Adam did leads to shame, slavery, obsessive, controlling behavior, and thick walls of self-protection. It becomes a learned cycle that is hard to break.
Running. Hiding. Protecting myself. As Proverbs tells us, "The wicked are edgy with guilt, ready to run off even when no one's after them; Honest people are relaxed and confident, bold as lions" (28:1). All this sometimes seems complicated to me, because when I'm afraid and choosing "run and hide" behavior, I'm usually not telling myself, "Well, I'm emotionally running away from God right now, so that's why I'm feeling this overwhelming terror. It's just a problem of focus and self-reliance that I learned from Adam and Eve. I'll just change my direction."
When God asked Adam whether or not he had eaten from the forbidden tree, Adam immediately began to hurl blame in Eve's direction-a tactic I often use myself! When I'm afraid, I want to blame someone else for the problem. "The man said, 'The Woman you gave me as a companion, she gave me fruit from the tree, and, yes, I ate it'" (Genesis 3:12). When we are afraid and looking for someone to blame, our self-preservation kicks in, and we often hurl it (as Adam did) in a variety of ways.
Fear is complicated. Like Adam and Eve, sometimes we hurl blame and other times we emotionally run from God by conveniently "forgetting" past abuse that so deeply needs His healing. Or we lose ourselves in perfectionism. Perhaps we form codependent relationships with friends or relatives. Our running keeps us from revealing our doubts about God's love... or at times, the very existence of God. We dismiss prison-like phobias as "little hang-ups." We rarely reveal the true magnitude of our fear to other human beings. They might think we are weak.
Most of us have never thought much about where our fear came from or how it developed. What we do know is that it's a monster we live with, an emotion that's sometimes out of control. Our fear is an undesired and uninvited guest that invades the inner sanctums of our lives and establishes residency.
When fear invades, it comes with a customized wardrobe of disguises. So, for many of us, recognizing fear in its many forms is a lifetime struggle. Dealing with that fear once we've recognized it is a much greater challenge.
Fear is subtle and has many hidden forms. Attractive forms. Productive aspects. Admirable faces. Like someone dressing up for a costume party, fear can appear glamorous; the outside looks flawless, but the inside is rotting. Hurting. Hidden. Sick. Running. Dishonest. The person is masquerading as "healthy," but beneath her facade she is terminally ill.
If you picked up this book because the title caught your eye, that person might be you. Or it could be your friend, your sister, your mother, your neighbor, or your coworker. One thing you can't escape: You do know this person. And therefore you are responsible to do something. But what?
A POSITIVE SIDE TO FEAR?
Until recently, I never saw any personal benefits connected to fear. The disadvantages always seemed so obvious. I know women who are trapped in a web of spine-weakening and spirit-breaking fears. At times, I am one of those women. Some of the negative conditions fear produces are apprehension, anxiety, low productivity, loss of vitality and serenity, intimidation, paralysis, resentment, rage, and obsessive self-protection.
The plus side of all of this is that there are positive conditions fear can lead us to: awe, adrenaline, humility, a shift of focus from finite to infinite power. When I give myself permission to see the positive aspects of fear, I get a totally new focus on the potential of this powerful emotion. Fear is often viewed as a roadblock to happiness, an insurmountable obstacle on the road to success and fulfillment. In this book we will learn techniques for taming fear, for turning it into appropriate power, positive action, and love.
Peter McWilliams' words remind us of the benefit of fear: "Fear provides the energy to do your best in a new situation. When you're afraid, your senses sharpen, your eyes narrow, you have more adrenaline, more precise focus, more energy. You are more aware."
FIVE FORMS OF FEAR
Before we talk about the solution, we need to identify slavish fear in its many forms. I have asked women all over the United States and Canada what their fears are. Their answers have convinced me that geographical location, economic background, educational credentials, denominational affiliation, and strength of personality make little difference in the intensity of fear.
All of us have experienced the paralyzing grip of this emotion we would rather live without! The comforting factor I've discovered is that we are not alone. Here are the categories of fear that women have described to me repeatedly.
The Fear of Things That Haven't Happened... Yet!
Fear 1: Paralyzing Phobias
Cheryl was a basket case. She was afraid of everything. If someone shook her hand, she knew she'd get a disease. If we were in a crowded room, she couldn't breathe. If we were at the beach, she didn't swim. She had phobias to go along with situations most people never dreamed could happen. Irrational panic was her constant companion-and Cheryl seemed to need a baby-sitter more than a friend.
Fear 2: Potential Disasters
Diana's husband was an hour late for dinner. With every passing minute her anxiety increased. There had been layoffs at his plant. At first factory positions were cut, and now the management team was being streamlined. A meeting was set up for that afternoon and more cuts would be discussed. What if he lost his job? How could they pay the mortgage payment? And what about the children's college tuition? What would they do? As the clock continued to mark the passing of time, she was sure he had received a pink slip. Her head pounded. Much of Diana's life was consumed with what she knew were "legitimate" fears of negative things that might happen to someone in her family.
The Fear of Being Vulnerable
Fear 3: Losing Control
Kathy was greatly respected. She was the hardest-working committee member on the retreat staff. When she accepted a job, it was done correctly and quickly. Her motto seemed to be, "If it's worth doing, it's worth doing right!" Her house was immaculate. Her children were clean and well-behaved.
Excerpted from TAME YOUR FEARS by CAROL KENT Copyright © 2003 by Carol Kent. Excerpted by permission.
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Chapter 1: "If I'm Such a Great Christian, Why Do I Have This Problem?"
Chapter 2: "What Happens Inside My Head When I'm Afraid?"
Part Two: Overcoming the Fear of Things That Haven't Happened…Yet!
Chapter 3: "Why Do I Let Irrational Things Immobilize Me?"
Chapter 4: "Why Does the Fear of Things that Might Happen Consume My Mental and Spiritual Energy?"
Part Three: Overcoming the Fear of Being Vulnerable
Chapter 5: "Why Does Everything I Do Have to Be Perfect?"
Chapter 5: "If I Let You Get Close to Me, Will You Still Like Me?"
Part Four: Overcoming the Fear of Abandonment
Chapter 7: "If I Don't Meet the Expectations of Others, What Will Happen to Them and Me?"
Chapter 8: "What If the People I've Given Love to Leave Me or Abandon Me?"
Part Five: Overcoming the Fear of Truth
Chapter 9: "If I Remember and Reveal What Happened to Me, Will the Pain Be Insurmountable?"
Chapter 10: "How Can I Have These Doubts About God and Call Myself a Christian?"
Part Six: Overcoming the Fear of Making Wrong Choices
Chapter 11: "What If I Never Live Up to My Potential"
Chapter 12: "What If Reaching My Goals Isn't Enough?"