Fireworks, Fears, and Finding Freedom

photo-1521478413868-1bbd982fa4a5It’s the May long weekend in Canada, and for many that means frenzied gardening and fireworks. Last night, after a gruelling day of gardening—and a decently grueling 8 AM workout—once happily tucked into bed I could still hear fireworks firing at 11:30 PM. My dog, Angel, is frightened of fireworks, so when she heard the explosions she crawled and hid under the side table next to our bed.

When faced with something fearful, I’ve been known to behave like Angel. Instead of bravely facing it, I hide. Like the fireworks for my dog, often the thing I’m afraid of isn’t really that scary and won’t hurt me at all. It just sounds scary, or I build it up in my mind to be larger than it is, put roadblocks where none exist, and delay facing it altogether.

Facing fears is hard. They come in the form of a conversation you know you need to have but are putting off for fear it will cause conflict or remain unresolved. It may be that task at work you’ve been given but are avoiding because you don’t know where to start or exactly how to do it. It may be the goal you’ve been holding close to your heart but are afraid to start for fear you’ll fail. It may be that you’re afraid of what people think of you so you avoid social situations. Or it could be a life change that would benefit you, but you’re afraid of the unknowns. Fear often makes us hide from the very thing we need to face to move forward.

To counter this, we need to give our fears a good stare down. They’re what stand between our goals and dreams and even our freedom. Like anything, you can’t get good at something you don’t work at. Every fear we fight and conquer makes the next fearful challenge easier, and brings us closer to the person God made us to be and the things we’re called to be doing. Facing fears gives us confidence to move forward and reach further. Soon you’ll develop a kind of fear-confidence where you find you’re no longer hiding from your fears but boldly and regularly facing them.

Start small. Tackle one small fear at a time. If it doesn’t go well, instead of giving up, assess what went wrong and try again. As much as depends on you, don’t quit. Every failure is growth, and the more you grow the stronger you become. With enough practice, you’ll find the thing that was formerly fearful has become a lot easier and maybe even a strength.

Pick one thing you know you’ve been putting off or hiding from then write down one concrete thing you can try to tackle it. For instance, you’re terrified of public speaking but the job you really want involves speaking to audiences on occasion, so you muster courage and sign up for a public speaking course. Whatever it is, choose one thing and start. Then choose the next, and don’t give up. Facing fears is hard, but so worth it. You never know what you can do until you try. Write down your achievements. When you look back in just a few months you’ll be amazed at how far you’ve come!

No matter what age, it’s never too late to learn and grow, and it’s never too late to face your fears. Freedom awaits!

“’For I am the Lord, your God, who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you.  Do not be afraid, for I myself will help you,’ declares the Lord, your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel.” ~ Isaiah 41:13-14

 

 

 

Facing Worry

They say don’t worry about things you have no control over—whoever they are. Don’t worry. Don’t stress. It’s all good. But is it? I’m not convinced this brushing off business is the best approach. There must be a better way. Better than working hard not to worry. Better than pretending things are okay when they’re not. Better than trying not to feel when it actually hurts, or putting on a brave face when clearly, what you’re facing is tough.

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But we get good at it, this game face. This presenting to the world, posting polished pictures, and smiling while answering, “I’m good thanks” day after day. After all, no one wants to bring others down. And so, along with trying to dismiss the stresses and struggles, we drown them out. But worry has a way of bubbling to the surface.

God knows we struggle with worry. That’s why he tells us: “do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?…seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. (see Matthew 6:25-34)

There are a plethora of things we could try not to worry about. But what if instead of burying our worries and fears, or icing over them, we face them? Acknowledge they actually exist? Look them in the eye and give them a name, instead of ignoring the ever-growing elephant in the room? What if instead of feeding ourselves platitudes to get through, we—in an act of fierce courage and self-care—stop and take an honest look at what’s troubling us and then do something about it?

We often have no control over the source of our worries, but we do have control over our attitude toward them. We can take responsibility for our thought patterns. Though we might not be able to fix the problem, we can fix our thinking. Instead of telling ourselves not to worry, we haul that pile of worry—in its various forms—to God. And in the handing over, the confessing it’s too heavy for us alone, we allow God to help us carry our burden. Then we train our brain to think differently.

cast all your care upon Him, for He cares for you. ~ 1 Peter 5:7

We weren’t meant to excuse our cares and concerns, neither were we meant to drag them around. We can tell God about them, releasing them to him. As we offload them, we feel lighter. It doesn’t mean the problems disappear, it just means we have help and an adjusted perspective to work through them. In this way, we proactively face them, and like most things we pay attention to and give a concerted effort toward, they begin to positively shift.

We could spend a whole lifetime dreading events or outcomes that never occur, stressing over all the bits we can’t control. But these moment-by-moment choices in our thinking  end up comprising our lifetime. We have a choice regarding what we allow our minds to be preoccupied or consumed with, and we have help to master it. Why would we knowingly waste our life on worry?

With God’s help, we can live light, unhindered, free of the weight of worries, and make no allowance for frivolous, fearful thinking. Life-giving thoughts and actions begin to prevail and create spacious places for joy and love to pour into moments and into the lives of others. A life lived undistracted by worrisome thoughts and paralyzing fear. One of freedom and purpose. A life-changing life, lived leaning into God.

Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. ~ Hebrews 12:1-3

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  1. What worries are you carrying with you today?
  2. Hand them over to God to help you and strengthen you.

 

 

 

 

 

It’s Easier Than You Think

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This is my encouragement to you today:

Whatever you are facing, it’s easier than you think.

It’s our thinking that gets us into trouble. We build things up in our minds to be much larger than they are. With our vast imagination, we form small things into big. Tasks loom large—both the time we imagine they will take and the amount of energy we think they will consume. The sheer thought of some things can be immobilizing.

But the battle is won in our thought life.

My mum used to tell me, “Don’t make mountains out of mole hills.” Hearing this used to annoy me, but it was her way of admonishing me not to make a circumstance bigger than it actually was—a gentle reality check. We need this same check throughout our day. Borrowing trouble from tomorrow, inflating something out of proportion, or living in dread, is a sure way to stifle joy, hinder creativity, and heap refuse into your mind.

Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. ~ Matthew 6:34

We expend a lot of energy worrying about a plethora of outcomes that never come to fruition. How often have you dreaded a task, a confrontation, a meeting—delaying or avoiding it—only to later reflect that it wasn’t nearly as difficult or time-consuming as you had built it up to be? Once you jumped in, it flowed much smoother than you imagined, and you wonder why you expended all that energy stressing over it.

It’s human nature to avoid pain. We all prefer comfort, so if we view a task as hard or uncomfortable, we falter. If we look at a situation and deem it impossible, we give up before even starting. But what if we could rejig our mindset? What if instead of engaging in defeatist thoughts, procrastinating, or projecting difficulty, we purposed to shift our thinking? And what if we had help to do so?

We can start by acknowledging our cares and fears instead of ignoring them. Once we do that, we can:

cast all your cares upon Him, for He cares for you. ~ 1 Peter 5:7

Once we recognize then unload our cares, celebrating that we don’t have to carry one ounce of the weight of them, we can shift our thinking to a place of thankfulness. We can be grateful that we have the opportunity to face fears, knowing that in doing so, the circumstance won’t remain the same, and neither will we. We can then ask for strength and courage to move forward, one small step at a time, to exact change or tackle a task.

Even a simple attitude adjustment can make a vast difference. As we begin to positively alter our perspective towards hard or uncomfortable things—and ask God for help to release fear—we can secure a mindset of faith, and our thoughts toward what lies ahead become lighter and more manageable. We no longer feel frozen but free.

God not only offers help in the form of carrying cares and helping us conquer our challenges and fears, he offers peace and protection.

 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. ~ Phil 4:6-7

God invites us to hand over our anxieties to him. We can ask for his help in any circumstance. In place of fear, he offers inexplicable peace that guards our hearts and minds against fearful meanderings.

The next time you are facing a mountain, do a double take. It just might be a molehill in disguise.

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  1. List three things that have been consuming your thought life.
  2. Bring each to God and release them, asking for help to face them.
  3. Move forward and prayerfully tackle them with God’s help.

 

 

 

 

 

Learning to Trust

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not rely on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight. ~ Proverbs 3:5-6

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Maybe you’re like me and you like to figure things out. You strive to understand why something is happening, to comprehend why someone is treating you a certain way, or attempt to sort out what God is doing.

I think: if only I could make sense of the evil I see, if only I could apply some overarching truth to the madness in this world, if only I could find some sort of pattern, or future hope that reassures me this circumstance will change, people will improve, or God will let me in on the divine conversation in heaven, then I could relax.

Which sounds fairly reasonable…but is it?

Not really.

Because if I think about it enough, I realize those “if onlys” are a by-product of fear.

Let me explain.

When I am afraid, I’m not faith-full and clutch harder to control events, people, even God.

This fear-laden control is detrimental to relationships. It steals joy, squashes trust, and hinders hope.

If I understood everything in the midst of a crisis, if God downloaded the step-by-step plan, there would be no need to trust, to have faith, and to hope in things unseen.

One thing I have noticed a pattern of is God asking me to trust Him. And it seems the longer I live, this invitation to trust repeatedly shows up, in a variety of ways and through various hardships. I’ve been invited to trust Him with my marriage, my kids, my friends, my health, and my future. Of course, I’m meant to trust Him with everything, but He uses circumstances to make it clearer when I’m not. I’m to trust that He is working all things together for good and that – though it might not bear even a small amount of resemblance to how I imagined or even prayed it would look – it will be beautiful, it will be better, actually…the best.

God repeatedly reminds us not to be afraid. I assume it is mentioned over and over because He knows we are so prone to it, and because He knows how limitless the opportunities are in this world to be fearful.

The verse above was highlighted to me to other day and is packed with all I really need to be fearless: “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and do not rely on your own understanding (don’t try to figure it all out). In all your ways acknowledge Him (abdicate control), and He will make your paths straight (steer my life in the direction He knows is best).

And this: “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 minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7)

…the peace of God will guard my heart and my mind. Who couldn’t use a healthy dose of that?

It’s not as though God is asking us not to think. Of course we do! But preferably we do so “not leaning on our own understanding”, which is prone to be life-squashing and fear-filled, and instead by learning to apply Godly wisdom that partners with Him to make life-giving decisions.

Will we always get it right? No! But as in anything, we are growing in fearless Christ-likeness. And that’s a worthy goal.

May we grow in greater trust and more often experience the peace of God.

Freedom Fighters

Perfect love expels all fear. ~ 1 John 4:18

We are a fearful people. We think we are safe if we just follow the rules. We build elaborate structures to fortify our faith, effectively placing God in a tidy box, like a cosmic cause and effect that believes, “If we do this, then that.” But this is merely a fearful attempt to control a God that we do not fully understand nor trust. We may even conclude that if we simply play by God’s rules and get them all right, He will keep us from all harm and “bless” us. The trouble is we can’t get them all right.

God is infinitely larger than our constructed confines and faith much more complex. We cry for order, easy answers, and straight lines. But life is messy, confusing, and full of detours. We don’t always get what we deem we deserve. Often, we receive the opposite. We misunderstand that God’s blessings are rarely in the form of a neatly wrapped gift.

The religious leaders in Jesus’ time were meticulous rule keepers. They were so taken by rules – and the power of wielding them – that they added more rules. With their Saviour in their midst, they missed the One who came to save them. They overlooked relationship in favour of rules.

But God is more interested with intimacy than rule following.

The rich young ruler, after asking Jesus what else (besides keeping all the rules) he needed to do to inherit eternal life, went away despondent because he had hoped for another rule to follow. Instead, Jesus felt love for him and points him to the one thing that was keeping his heart from His Saviour. Sadly, the “ruler” missed the very thing his heart and soul most needed. He passed up his freedom and future in favour of riches and the rule-ridden order of the now.

Because it’s much easier – even safer – to keep rules than relationships.

It’s easier to declare one deserves what they got and let them wallow in their pit, than to reach out a recovering hand and love – even when it makes no sense.

It’s much simpler and more satisfying to judge others when we have a rule book to follow than, as Jesus did, to walk into the messiness of relationships, travel alongside pain, disparity, poverty, or amid the fresh stench of repeated sin.

No, that takes fearlessness forged by God’s love.

It’s easier to throw fear stones than to be willing to lay down your life for another or take the hit on their behalf.

It’s simpler to choose bitterness than the kind of deep, soul-searing love that Jesus exhibited which declared forgiveness while being nailed to a tree in order to secure that love from now into eternity.

It’s much more manageable to keep people in line with rules that exact control and order than to fearlessly love no matter the cost.

But God is love. And He invites us to the divine feast.

Man’s rules limit God’s love, crowd out grace, mask mercy, and are, at best, mere behavior modification, when God would give us an entire heart transplant. Rules make us a slave, whereas God’s love makes us fearless and free.

Jesus came to teach us that it’s not about rules but relationship. Not about striving for salvation but accepting an invitation and resting in undeserved, unearned grace. Not about working to be loved, but learning to listen to the Lover. Because “nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38)

We need to give up fearful control of our own lives – and of others – and replace it with love. “Such love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear. If we are afraid, it is for fear of punishment, and this shows that we have not fully experienced his perfect love.” (1 John 4:18)

Fear crowded out makes space to effectively hear God’s voice. Fear removed leaves breathing space for God’s Spirit. Once freed of fearful control, God can become the author of your – and others’ – life stories. Your best penmanship will not come close to the love story God desires to write through your life. Release your grip and let God take hold.

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Is it possible that God’s kingdom is a good deal more spacious, free and joy-filled than we permit? In our feverish rule maintenance, we find ourselves rebuilding walls around ourselves or others to keep things neat, tidy and manageable. Our pristine, white-washed constructs are the very obstructions Jesus tore down by His death and resurrection alongside other walls like guilt, shame, rejection, hate, jealousy, and everything unlovely – from these Christ freed us. And God yearns for us to live secure in His love and the freedom from bondage He died to secure.

In what ways are you confining God, yourself, or others and bridling the freedom of Christ? I bless you that you might live in greater freedom in Christ.