Thursday, September 3, 2009

Faith Versus Fear

I’ve been putting off writing this journal and you don’t know why, but I know why. I promised one thing to myself in writing, and that was that I would be completely, completely honest with myself and with you about the experience…and I haven’t wanted to be honest about this.

It’s because an old acquaintance showed up, and has been distracting me.

He knows me so well. He knows all my vulnerable points, he knows how to get me to see things his way, he knows everything about me…and we have danced together so many, many times.

I love him, in a strange way. He always wants to get me, and fighting him off has made me a stronger person. So I am grateful to him for that. But he has so much control over me, and he makes me miserable, and so I hate him too.

He has been showing up in the last week, whispering seductive lies to me, and it is time to put a stop to it. It is time to close my ears and heart to him.

So, my old partner, I am calling you out from secrecy, where you have been lingering inside me, growing, into the light that makes you wither and die.

Yes, you, Fear. I’m taking you on…again...and I’m going to win. Again.

The first thing I learned about fear is this: Fear is the greatest liar in the world.

Fear will tell you that it will keep you safe.
That is a lie. It does not keep you safe.
Fearing something does not keep you safe from it.

Now, I’m not advocating a complete abdication of common sense. Don’t go touching something that is filthy and then sticking your fingers in your mouth or eyes, laughing haha, I’m not afraid to get sick! Because you just might come down with a big case of stupidity. Or the flu.

Don’t jump off the bridge. Dumbass.

I’m talking about fears that are emotional.

Let’s say you’re afraid of flying.
Being afraid of it does not keep you safe.
Being afraid of it means you may not fly. And you will then miss out on lots and lots of good fun things you could have done. And you will teach your children to be afraid to fly. And fear will grow in power in your life, and then take more and more things away from you. The ability to drive over bridges. The ability to climb hills.

It will cut you down to nothing, and it will control you utterly – if you let it.
So do not let fear tell you that it is protecting you, when its intention is to ruin you.

I know what I’m talking about. Ask any family member how much work it took me to get over an irrational fear of flying. Twenty frickin’ years, it was so deep in me. That’s another story. But I fly just fine now. And so do my kids.

The Second Lie:
Fear will tell you want to do to protect yourself from being hurt.
That is a lie too.
Fear will make you do the very thing that will cause you to get hurt in the very way you don’t want to be.

For example, think of a couple having a fight. He thinks that she’s taking advantage of him, and he’s afraid he’s going to get hurt. So Fear tells him to put up walls, to shut her out, to be cold.

Um…what’s that going to do?

She’s going to feel shut out and rejected, and pull back, maybe even leave him…and then he’s going to get hurt.

So Fear’s advice caused exactly what he didn’t want to happen, to happen.

Think about it the next time you find yourself afraid of an emotional test, a feared loss. And then test out what happens if I ignore the fear and go forth bravely with the truth and hope and honesty?

You might find some shocking results. I mean it. Test it.

Fear will tell you it is your friend.
It isn’t.

It is your worst enemy.

So what’s Fear been saying to me? I’m going to type it out exactly the way it is. I may look overly emotional, I may look stupid, but I don’t care. Telling the truth makes me stronger, so I’m not afraid to tell the truth.

Here’s the big truth, that Fear does not want you to know:
Telling the truth about fear diminishes and destroys it.

It doesn’t mean a bad thing will never happen.
But it means the bad thing loses its control over you.

At the root of all fear is this little sentence:
I’m afraid I won’t be happy.

If I don’t get picked for the team, I’m afraid I’ll look stupid… I’m afraid I won’t be happy.
If I don’t get that guy, I’m afraid my heart will break… I’m afraid I won’t be happy.
If my child is hurt, I’m afraid I will not be able to live… I’m afraid I won’t be happy.

That’s the powerful little splinter in the middle of the pus of fear.

But if the fear is destroyed instead, it cannot twist your life around and diminish it.
It means you can survive, anything. It means you can be happy, no matter what.
I am staring fear in the face, unblinking, while I type that. It was hard to type that. But I will not kow-tow to Fear. I will call it out and tell the truth about it.

I will be un-afraid.

Fear started in slow, as he always does. Telling me that the first month of deployment was over. Something about that first-month mark passing opened the door, and in he came. Just a whiff, at first. Just a little tiny tiny voice saying, one month passed…and then he hissed six or seven to go.

Little by little, the thoughts came more often. A bad dream. A scary image. I pushed them back, but they added up.

Yesterday, I had occasion to call Robyn Anderson for a quote on an article I’m writing for a local magazine.

Robyn is a beautiful person whom I respect and admire. A strong and compassionate and courageous woman. She is the mother of a remarkable young man, Marine Lance Corporal Norm Snyder, who was killed in Iraq in 2005. His good friend Corporal Josh Snyder was killed in Iraq the next month. Both boys were from Hereford High School.

You can see why fear finds an opportunity to creep in here, with two more boys from Hereford who are friends deployed over there.

I am sweating profusely just writing about it.

But let’s be logical.
There are other boys from Hereford that I don’t know who are deployed now too. So fear is tempting me to be afraid when it’s just a coincidence and not a very similar one at that.

So there, fear.

Robyn shared with me her worry that something she said had in some way tempted fate.
Boy, do I know that one.
I am afraid to say lots of things, as if somehow uttering them out loud will cause them to come true.

Does it?

Do our words somehow reach out into the chaos of the universe and call up malevolent forces that converge to wreak havoc and pain on someone we love?

Oh, for heaven’s sake. No.
When I say it that way, it sounds ridiculous.

But my companion inside, Fear, whispers…is it?

If prayer works to create good, does fear work to create bad?

I don’t know. I just do not know. I don’t think so. But Robyn and I understood each other, how carefully we word things sometimes, what we say aloud easily and what we don’t, and why. I don’t know how things are connected.

So what do we do when we have something that makes us afraid?

My one big rule is speak the fear out loud, and it loses power over you.

This one is terrifying. My fingers are flying over the keyboards, and I don’t know how when I get to the sentence that I will have the ability to do it…but here, fk, fk, fk, here we go:

I am afraid that Zach could get seriously hurt or die serving in Afghanistan.

There. I said it.

If you were sitting here watching me type, you would have seen how long it took to type each individual letter of that sentence. You would have seen me put the period at the end of it and bury my face in my hands and weep.

Fear makes me afraid to say out loud what I am afraid of.
Guess what: I just took on the fear, a little bit. I did what it told me not to do.
And I won.

And now, that place in my heart where that little bit of fear used to live is cleaned out.
There is a new bit of room there, for me to put something good in.

I think I will put faith in there. I will put in faith in goodness. I will put in faith that my son is not only extremely lucky, he is trained well. I will put in faith that the whole team is a GREAT group of guys who joke around a lot and maybe fight sometimes, but all care passionately about doing their jobs well. I will put in faith in statistics. The odds are WITH all of them coming home safe and sound, and they will help each other do it.

I will put in the absolute certainty that I have had that he will come home just fine, proud and happy and smiling and strong and healthy. I have had that certainty about their whole squadron. Fear has tried to take it away from me, but I know it to be true now that I have cleaned the windshield (as one of my dear friends says).

And I what I will put there is one more thing. I will love the fear. I shower it with all the goodness of my heart. Because it is, in the end, once you strip down all of its power and ugliness, just a little scared kid inside me, wanting to be okay.

Love yourself. Be honest about where you are weak and struggling. Trust in faith in goodness, not in fear.
You will be stronger, your loved ones will be safer, and you will all be okay.

And then…give yourself the freedom and celebration of laughter. You are free, you are safe, you are stronger, you are happy, and your loved ones are and will be too.

I believe that my son Zach will be fine. I believe that the whole squadron will be fine. Better than fine; they will be great.

Thanks for checking in,

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