Sunday, May 30, 2010

What are you afraid of?

Earlier this month I was hospitalized for 3 ½ days for severe inflammation in my legs and feet. While I was in the triage portion of the ER experience that first afternoon, at least two nurses and an EMT trainee poked me with a lot of needles in a lot of places, trying to draw blood and place an IV, all without success. When it was finally my turn to be seen by a doctor, I was “needled” more times – unsuccessfully – until finally a viable vein was found ... in the neck. It was not a pleasant procedure.

During the first six hours or so after I was actually admitted into the hospital it seemed that every time I opened my eyes there was a new person looking back at me, wanting to poke or probe or do something to me that I didn't want to have done. When it got to about the fourth person I remember looking at a young woman and thinking, I don't know you, but you scare me, because you want to do something to hurt me. Now, that statement had no foundation of truth, but the fear was real. I don't “hate” needles. I'm not “afraid” of them either. However, if you are out for my blood and I don't have complete confidence and trust that you can get it from me on the first stick, well, let's just say we won't be the best of friends.

I had fear when the lab tech walked in, not because I feared the procedure but because I lacked confidence in her skills. But the next person who woke me when he entered the room was someone who I had no fear of whatsoever, despite the fact I had never met him. I somehow instinctively knew that this was someone who had a great deal of authority and control over the situation. I could place my trust in this doctor, because I knew that he had the answer to what would defeat what was holding my health hostage.

Since this week's Topical Blogfest topic is about fear, I decided to look in Webster's to see what it says on the concept:

A painful emotion or passion excited by an expectation of evil, or the apprehension of impending danger.

Fear is accompanied with a desire to avoid or ward off the expected evil. Fear is an uneasiness of mind, upon the thought of future evil likely to befall us.

Fear is the passion of our nature which excites us to provide for our security, on the approach of evil.
(Allow me to clarify: Medical professionals go into their respective fields from a desire to help people. Without their daily tireless efforts to save lives and stamp out disease, we would be one sad, sorry, sick society. These men and women are not “evil”. The “evil” in the above story was the expectation of feeling pain.)

According to these statements, fear is essentially our reaction to the expectation of evil. By definition, evil is bad. But in and of itself, fear is not a bad thing. We should never allow ourselves to be paralyzed by fear. When properly acted upon, it can actually be proactive. Fear of disasters can cause us to take precautions such as preparing disaster kits, with food, water, etc. to sustain an individual for three to seven days. Fear of losing everything we've earned can be turned to a positive by diversifying investments so that we don't have “all of our eggs in one basket.” Fear of speaking to a group of people can be overcome by becoming confident in the subject matter or learning about our intended audience.

But often we find ourselves in fearful situations where it's a little too late to prepare ourselves for the expectation of evil. For example, being in an auto accident on a remote highway with no cell phone. Maybe a loved one's safety has an immediate threat and you cannot get to him. Or maybe you are facing a medical diagnosis where your life may be on the line. What do you then?

Well, that depends on where you place your confidence. If you place your trust in your own ability, you're pretty much at the end of your rope, with very little to hold on to. If you are not careful, this could lead you to panic, which can make your situation worse.

Or you can try another option.

There is an ancient book called Proverbs, written by a man of great wisdom. It's tucked just to the right of the center of a larger library of books, collectively called the Bible. Perhaps you've heard of it? Anyway, among the valuable nuggets of wisdom in Proverbs is one particular nugget that says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.”

“Trust in the Lord.” That may sound trite when your world is falling apart. But if we think we know everything about our circumstances we would also know with absolute certainty what would happen next, as though we had an infallible crystal ball that could see the future. We'd choose the options in the present moment that would bring a favorable outcome five minutes from now, and we'd have no need for an omniscient, omnipotent God. But, alas, I have no knowledge of where to obtain such an object. Which means we do have need of a God who holds control of the future.

Let's recap what we have so far. My personal hospital experience doesn't quite measure up to the leel of fear I'm referring to, so I'll use a recent experience of one of my Julie friends. (There are six “Julie”s in my cell phone, plus several others I know that don't have speed-dial privileges, so I figure this is anonymous enough.)

Julie was recently diagnosed with cancer, and it was not in an early stage. This meant that she would have some radical surgery, and a nasty course of chemo to follow. Life-changing stuff, and she was afraid. I had the opportunity to talk with her before the surgery, and knew that she believed that God is ultimately in control of her life. We talked about how 80% of what we fear doesn't happen, but these were circumstances where the 20% of what could is pretty bad. To help her trust in the Lord, to lean on His ability instead of what she feared, I shared with her an observation that I had made many years ago:

It's really hard to be afraid when you sing praise songs.

And the song doesn't have to be complicated – the children's song “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so...” is perfect.  Julie tried it, and it works! She sings it whenever she feels anxious about her treatment or prognosis.

Singing is only one way to call upon the Lord when we are faced with “impossible” situations. Prayer, either alone or asking others to pray with you and for you, is effective. So is memorizing Scripture, such as the verse Proverbs 3:5 above, Jeremiah 29:11 ('For I know the plans I have for you” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future), or Matthew 28:20, where Jesus promises, “I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.”

Fear is our reaction to the expectation of evil. No one overcomes evil better than Jesus can. He did for us on the cross, and he'll do it again, whenever we place our trust in him.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thank you for that, Mary!