Facing Fear

My four year old son just visited Disneyland for the first time, and it turns out he is deathly afraid of Goofy.

Something about that oversized goon with a big floppy hat, skipping around Toontown, just rubbed Shiloh the wrong way. Now I can’t say I am all that surprised, as he has not been the biggest fan of the mascots he has previously encountered (Mr. Beacon was downright villainous in our house for months after his first NCU basketball game), but I did have hopes that our weeks of preparation for this trip might have been sufficient for Shiloh to overcome his fears of larger-than-life cartoon characters.

Shiloh’s apprehension about the Disney characters proved to be the theme of the day, sparking numerous conversations about bravery. Don’t get me wrong, he had the time of his life and will surely be talking about Dumbo, Cars Land and “It’s a Small World” for weeks to come. But these thrills were sandwiched between pep-talks from Mike and I, reminding him that the rides were constructed with safety as the top priority and the characters would really only approach him if he initiated it.

Over the course of the day, we revisited a discussion that Shiloh and I have had many times in the past: you can be scared but still choose to be brave at the same time. Those feelings are not exclusive. In fact, bravery resembles love in a way, as it’s a proactive emotion that one needs to choose.

For Shiloh, he had the choice to acknowledge his fear and live in it, which would have likely resulted in a fairly disappointing Disney day. But instead, he noticed his fear, and then allowed his excitement and curiosity propel him toward courage. These moments of watching him stand in line for a “big-kid” ride were undoubtedly the highlights of the day for this momma. I knew how his heart must be racing while his determination moved him toward the front of the line. And the pay-off? Laughter and smiles from ear to ear, with building anticipation for the next thrill.

Choosing to brave the bumper car ride at Disneyland is significantly less consequential for the average adult, but we too have daily opportunities to press into courage rather than settle into fear.

My beloved state is currently being devoured by forest fires at this very moment. Recently, large populations in our country were destroyed by the power of a hurricane. Globally, wars are waged daily, innocent lives are lost, and evil persists. There is truly a never-ending supply of sources of fear that can beckon us to live in a state of constant anxiety.

And as human beings who are wired to feel and have functions in our brain designated to trigger fear as a protection mechanism, it’s natural to experience fear. Shaming ourselves or others for experiencing and acknowledging fear is not the solution. Like any other emotion, the significance lies in how we respond to this fear.

Our gracious God provides ample instruction for what steps we ought to take in response to fear, with urgings to take heart, for he has overcome….to allow his perfect love to cast out all fear….and to not choose to live in fear as he has redeemed us, summoning us by name and calling us his own.

God calls us to choose courage, being motivated by his love and by trust in his power and faithfulness. It is the same God stirring in Shiloh’s little heart to grant him the strength to face the ride with the twists and turns who also provides us with a deep well of love that sparks courage for the painful twists and turns in this life. He beckons us by name to join him and find our footing in his presence, that we may choose courage in the face of fear.

John 16:33 (NLT)
I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.”

1 John 4:18 (NLT)
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.

Isaiah 43:1 (NKJV)
But now, thus says the Lord, who created you, O Jacob,
And He who formed you, O Israel:
“Fear not, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by your name;
You are Mine.

Confession and Community

I have to confess, today this devotional is something I really just need to write for myself. Of course, my prayer is that you may find encouragement, resonance or divine revelation as the Spirit moves through these humble words…but I just need to be upfront about where it’s coming from. Because we are family, right?

These last few weeks I have found myself feeling distanced from the Father. I’ve heard his gentle whispers, and found myself turning instead to the senseless noise of the busyness around me. I’ve caught glimpses of his goodness and hope, yet chose to remain in the somewhat satisfying despair of more bad news and disappointments that the world offers.

Living in my little corner of self-pity and exhaustion has not produced a wealth of inspiration to draw from in writing a devotional blog. But it does allow me to be honest and to expose a season of struggle. On top of that, by forcing myself to sit down and take inventory of how I’ve spent my time and where I have let my thoughts wander as of late, I can call that out and invite the Spirit to come in and renew, transform, and refresh.

So thank you, for (likely unknowingly) functioning as my plumb line of accountability. Thank you for functioning as the Church: a space for people who are broken to come find God’s healing in form of connection and relationship. Brené Brown, a favorite author of mine and familiar to many in the City Salt clan, describes this so beautifully: “Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity. It is the source of hope, empathy, accountability, and authenticity. If we want greater clarity in our purpose or deeper and more meaningful spiritual lives, vulnerability is the path.” And we know that the Church is meant to be the ideal environment to practice vulnerability, as we come together to kneel before the Cross.

My prayer and hope is that my confession and transparency may not simply function as a story about me. May you be reminded that the divulging of our struggles and burdens is what allows us to find others who have an extra hand to help us carry them to the feet of Jesus. May you reflect in gratitude on the beauty of being a part of a body that breeds connection and safety. And may you find healing and sweet grace when bring yourself back to the faithful forgiveness of our Lord.

Hebrews 10:19-25 “Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”

"Drawing Near" by Britni D'Eliso

I’ve noticed a recent trend in parenting articles (my go-to leisure reading in this season of life) that something parents can do to help support the development of boundaries early on in their children is to resist the urge to “force” their kiddos to hug or kiss friends and family members before they are ready. Naturally, some children are wired to be more physically affectionate than others and take no issue with handing out hugs like candy. My son Shiloh falls into a different category of being more hesitant to make physical contact with others, often even with people he knows. It has been a learning curve for us as parents to respect his process of establishing safety and to encourage him to continue observing his own feelings and perception of his surroundings before conforming to the norms of what might unfairly be expected of him. And of course, as a three year old, he can also demonstrate some defiance in refusing to give a hug to someone he knows as safe, just to be a stinker.

Our tender Father is the one who designed us with these boundaries and emotional safeguards with the intent that we are prepared to protect our fragile hearts in this often treacherous world. And He follows that design so beautifully by giving us that same respect and time to acclimate before we are ushered into his arms. He remains available, with a posture open to us pressing near, while allowing us to enter his embrace as we feel safe and ready to be vulnerable. 

He knows that some of us have been wounded, and our sense of safety has been skewed, while others of us are wired to be cautious and contemplative before diving into the depths of the relationship he has intended to have with us. And for those of his children, he understands that forced proximity might more resemble restraint and suffocating rather than intimacy.

When we are ready to surrender our qualms and receive the embrace that he offers, we find a source of endless revelations and the deep calling out to deep. Beyond that, we have permission to be still. In the arms of the Father we experience complete peace, as his arms wrap around us and calm the fidgeting of our anxious thoughts and restless hearts.

He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart. Isaiah 40:11

"Choosing Hope in the Midst of Turmoil and Darkness" by Britni D'Eliso

One might say our nation is experiencing a bit of unrest at the moment.

With demonstrations stretching across the globe, political parties standing staunchly in their opposing views, and a social media platform that allows for endless disparaging comments with little accountability, our milieu can feel pretty grim.

This reality is one I can’t overlook or ignore as I sit to reflect on what God has been speaking to my heart and what He is prompting me to share. Interestingly enough, this song sounded a bit familiar, so I went digging through City Salt blog posts and discovered I had written on a fairly similar topic months ago.

At the risk of sounding redundant, I feel compelled to continue this message. One of choosing hope in the midst of turmoil and darkness. The Holy Spirit has been impressing upon me the dire necessity of the Church to not shrink away from the strife and the tension of this world.

I’d venture a guess that the majority of us prefer to avoid conflict. I certainly find myself in that boat. However, it is the very silence and reticence of the Church that cultivates a breeding ground for darkness to flourish. We can see in the words and actions of humankind that our world is crying out for proactive peacemakers to stand up and stand out.

In the book of Jonah, we read of a man who is mandated by God to bring the Truth of the Gospel to a broken people. And, we see that same man resisting obedience to that call. Now clearly, the context of the account of Jonah doesn’t quite mirror our experience in 2017 America, but there are some significant convictions to glean.

The Lord gave this message to Jonah son of Amittai: 2 “Get up and go to the great city of Nineveh. Announce my judgment against it because I have seen how wicked its people are.”

3 But Jonah got up and went in the opposite direction to get away from the Lord. He went down to the port of Joppa, where he found a ship leaving for Tarshish. He bought a ticket and went on board, hoping to escape from the Lord by sailing to Tarshish.

4 But the Lord hurled a powerful wind over the sea, causing a violent storm that threatened to break the ship apart. 5 Fearing for their lives, the desperate sailors shouted to their gods for help and threw the cargo overboard to lighten the ship.

But all this time Jonah was sound asleep down in the hold. 6 So the captain went down after him. “How can you sleep at a time like this?” he shouted. “Get up and pray to your god! Maybe he will pay attention to us and spare our lives.” Jonah 1:1-6

Not only was Jonah avoiding the call of God on his life, he fell asleep during a time of danger and unrest in the life of the broken people around him. We see them cry out in desperation, made vulnerable by their fear of impending death and destruction and thus primed for the beauty of the Gospel to bring hope and life to their hearts. 

And after Jonah awakes, apprehends the situation and the danger his boat mates are in and acknowledges the God of the sea and storm, the crew’s cries turn to ones of praise and surrender to that one true God.

15 Then the sailors picked Jonah up and threw him into the raging sea, and the storm stopped at once! 16 The sailors were awestruck by the Lord’s great power, and they offered him a sacrifice and vowed to serve him. Jonah 1:15-16

The people in our spheres of influence, those that are on the boat with us, are desperate to survive this storm that faces our nation and our world. But many of them are lacking the hope that we hold so tightly, and are scrambling for something secure to grab ahold of.

God has so graciously chosen to include the humble people of his Church to be the ones to offer a life saving hand of hope. Those of us who are able to trust in the unwavering goodness of God and have tasted it firsthand must wake from our slumber and fiercely contend for those that are slipping away, unaware of the Source of true life.   

“Awake, O sleeper,
rise up from the dead,
and Christ will give you light.”

Ephesians 5:14

 

"We Have a Choice" by Britni D'Eliso from Coalescetribe.com

11 “This command I am giving you today is not too difficult for you, and it is not beyond your reach. 12 It is not kept in heaven, so distant that you must ask, ‘Who will go up to heaven and bring it down so we can hear it and obey?’ 13 It is not kept beyond the sea, so far away that you must ask, ‘Who will cross the sea to bring it to us so we can hear it and obey?’ 14 No, the message is very close at hand; it is on your lips and in your heart so that you can obey it.

15 “Now listen! Today I am giving you a choice between life and death, between prosperity and disaster. 16 For I command you this day to love the Lord your God and to keep his commands, decrees, and regulations by walking in his ways. If you do this, you will live and multiply, and the Lord your God will bless you and the land you are about to enter and occupy.

17 “But if your heart turns away and you refuse to listen, and if you are drawn away to serve and worship other gods, 18 then I warn you now that you will certainly be destroyed. You will not live a long, good life in the land you are crossing the Jordan to occupy.

19 “Today I have given you the choice between life and death, between blessings and curses. Now I call on heaven and earth to witness the choice you make. Oh, that you would choose life, so that you and your descendants might live! 20 You can make this choice by loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and committing yourself firmly to him. This is the key to your life. And if you love and obey the Lord, you will live long in the land the Lord swore to give your ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” Deuteronomy 30:11-20
 

Sometimes, it feels like evil is winning.

When we take the time to pay attention to international news and allow ourselves to be inundated with sobering statistics of genocide, war, human trafficking, and poverty. Or when we open our eyes to our own backyard and witness accounts of racial unrest, shooting, rape, and neglected children.

God, where are you now?

While walking the streets of Phnom Penh, Cambodia after dusk a few years ago, I encountered this overwhelming sense of defeat firsthand. As I watched middle-aged, caucasian men whisk young, Cambodian women down dark alley ways right in front of my eyes, I couldn’t help but wonder, is God really the Victor here?

And I know I’m not the only one to have asked this question.

David questions “O Lord, how long will you forget me? Forever? How long will you look the other way? How long must I struggle with anguish in my soul, with sorrow in my heart every day? How long will my enemy have the upper hand?” (Psalm 13:1-2)

For all of time, men and women have suffered moments of broaching their breaking point, and are left with only enough breath to utter a feeble “why?”

And for most of those men and women, there is eventually a season where they begin to catch their breath, regain their strength, and press on. What is it that equips humankind to survive these moments of intense oppression? And how to we access that momentum in our place of deepest despair?

What God reminds His people of, through the powerful commission given by Moses before they seize their promised land, is that we are given a choice.

Each and every experience we have as His children presents an opportunity: a fork in the road. Give into despair, resign to your last breath, and choose death,

or

take another step forward and choose life. Our God is a God of hope (Psalm 65) and as His heirs, we have access to that hope. The key to unlocking this hope, and the subsequent will to keep living, is to make a proactive choice. We are mandated to choose life, choose hope, and to choose to believe that he is indeed Victorious–then, now and forevermore.

Viktor Frankl, a well-known psychiatrist and neurologist who survived three years in Nazi concentration camps, derived a surprising message of hope from his time of extreme suffering during the Holocaust. He concluded that despite losing family, health, and basic human dignity, there is still one thing that will always remain: man’s ability to choose. He stated that “everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” ― Viktor E. FranklMan’s Search for Meaning

And for those of us who have tasted and known the hope of Christ, that means we will eternally have the choice to choose to believe in the promises of the God we follow. He has promised us life, a future, and a life one day marked by beauty and the absence of tears.

Join me in choosing, for today, to cling to the hope found in his promises, in the midst of the evil and darkness that is all too familiar in this world.

Then your face will brighten with innocence.
    You will be strong and free of fear.
You will forget your misery;
    it will be like water flowing away.
Your life will be brighter than the noonday.
    Even darkness will be as bright as morning.
Having hope will give you courage.
    You will be protected and will rest in safety.
You will lie down unafraid,
    and many will look to you for help.