The Both-And approach to Fear

It was a simple statement on my feed this morning.  They stated, “Faith and worry cannot co-exist.”

With a sigh, I asked, “So then why is it that fear and faith co-exist all the time?"

We have to do better than mere platitudes.

Surely Christian spirituality is more robust in the hothouse of real life.

When we are in the shadow of significant challenges and suffering it’s natural for us to worry - or can we say, to be afraid.  This is how humans are wired for survival.  Healthy fear and worry can motivate us to take action to deal with a threat.  Faith isn't opposed to prudent action like keeping your child from a busy street. Faith isn’t a substitute for working to make your mortgage payment.  Faith is not a substitute for getting good medical care when you are ill.

The opposite of faith is certainty, but certainty is how faith is peddled in many western church contexts.   For many, faith is the currency we exchange for the goodies of God, or magic to keep bad things from happening.  The spiritual commodity of ‘works’ we have to possess to get God to do what we want.

Imagine the extra anxiety that amid worry to have shame and more anxiety piled on you because you’re worried that you don’t have faith?!  If faith works this way, one can feel totally screwed - caught between a rock and a hard place.  You are worried so it’s implied you don’t have faith but you need to have faith to not be scared.  How cruel!

Faith doesn’t promise that struggle and suffering won’t come, however, it does promise that when it does we are not alone. God is with us through our night times of fear, and no matter the outcome,  the faithful God who loves never leaves us.  That when we have done all that we can do, we can stand firm in the presence of the Abba of Jesus.

Speaking of which, I’m thinking about Jesus in the Garden.

Luke 22: 37 He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. 38 Then he said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.” 39 Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.

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We come from an ancient tradition of people who Lament and  yet people of the Presence.
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Jesus seems to be experiencing worry and fear with what is about to happen.  Can we say that Jesus lacked faith because he was worried?  Of course not, so why in God’s name would we hang such religious nonsense on ourselves and other people?

Jesus’ passion was no cliche’.  His cross wasn’t a shiny gold cross in a sterile cathedral.  The passion was ugly.  Every last bit of it.  Jesus being fully human would have agonized physically and emotionally with each step - each step full of anxiety and also full of faith.  The character of his Father - His faithful abiding presence - was in each step of Jesus’ march of misery towards crucifixion. And because of Jesus, God is with us too.

Brene Brown has lots to say about courage.  I have heard her say that courage is not the absence of fear, rather doing what you need to do even when you are afraid.  It is the conviction of faith and the ever-present presence of the God who loves that walks with us through the night-time of our fear.   This is walking in faith.

Presence is the promise.  It meets us in the scary times, the times of suffering, with love, a tenacious hope central to His compassionate presence, and with this assurance, we walk headlong into our deepest fears and suffering .... and out the other side.  Sometimes with a limp and sometimes ‘On the third day’.

Nevertheless, never alone.

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Many spiritual practices can help us affix our gaze, attune our ear so that we can sense/intuit God in the darkness of the night-time of our fears.  I continue to be an advocate for contemplative forms of prayer that can be practiced in a variety of ways and settings.

The word practice in the term ‘spiritual practice’ shouldn’t be overlooked.  It is helpful to practice our preferred spiritual practice on a regular (at least daily) basis.  I have a daily practice of contemplative prayer and the Examen. I cannot overstate the benefits of my practice in my life.

But I also understand that when our minds are going a million miles an hour in forty-five different directions that sometimes the more contemplative practices can be a challenge.  To this end, I often recommend a few whole body practices like prayer walks, walking a labyrinth, or forest bathing.  I personally enjoy singing, being creative or a Qi Gong exercise called Open the Heart.   These practices can help us be more present to the moment in our bodies.  It can be an effective way to soothe our amygdala and help create an inner refuge from the storms so we can see, hear, intuit a little better.

Still finding this difficult?  Try a simple practice to cultivate gratitude.  Ask for the grace to reflect on your life (your day) with the Holy Spirit, and make a physical list of all the things you are grateful for - big or small. Read your list a couple of times during the day.  And repeat the exercise the next day - fresh mercies each morning!

These practices are not a means to obligate God to do something for you.  We don’t use them as incantations to keep evil from befalling our homes - rather they serve to deepen our relationship and attune us to the reality that God is with us - no matter what.  These practices can help us wake up to what has been true all along.

I find myself sitting with and encouraging others with Romans 8:38.  I like the way The Message says it:

I’m absolutely convinced that nothing—nothing living or dead, angelic or demonic, today or tomorrow, high or low, thinkable or unthinkable—absolutely nothing can get between us and God’s love because of the way that Jesus our Master has embraced us. (emphasis mine)

 

 

-- Peace to you  --

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