Monday, March 2, 2015

F.E.A.R. and Fire Walking

“Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.” – Deuteronomy 31:6

One of the most poignant images that remains in my mind from my childhood years in Asia is that of a scene from an Indian temple: thin, dark skinned men dressed only in loin cloths, walking barefoot across a bed of hot coals. Looking straight ahead, barely even blinking, they kept their focus on their destination, rather than on the scorching fire under their feet. How they made it across without third degree burns, I have yet to understand, but somehow they did.

Today, some 40 years later, I opened up my Bible and happened across the story of Peter, whom Jesus called out of his fishing boat in the midst of a storm and, much to the amazement of the other disciples (and even himself!), found himself walking on water. Unlike the fire walkers I witnessed as a child, Peter quite didn't make it to his destination, though. Why? Midway to Jesus, he lost his focus and succumbed to something we all struggle with: F.E.A.R.

One of the best definitions I know of this deadly emotion is “False Evidence Appearing Real.” How often do we face situations with dread, not because of how bad they really are, but of what we fear they may be? And despite statistics that tell us at least 80-90 percent of what we worry about never happens, we worry anyway.

The source of our dread varies. Sometimes, it’s based on our past. “I've been hurt before…what if I get hurt again?” is a common response to emotional pain and can prevent us from giving ourselves fully to a new relationship, even of the best kind. We build a wall of isolation around ourselves, and then wonder why we’re lonely. Or perhaps we've lost a job or two, and let our failures define us, never again daring to pursue something we were once passionate about, for fear that we will be rejected one more time. Maybe we've given up trying to lose weight, quit smoking, or quit that addiction that is keeping us in bondage, all because we haven’t succeeded yet. We get so wrapped up in the False Evidence Appearing Real – that our past is our future – that we can’t move forward. Not when we’re bound in F.E.A.R, anyway.

Other times, the F.E.A.R. isn't based upon our own experiences, but rather what we hear about those of others. A lot of racial tensions could be avoided if we didn't let the experiences of a few influence how we perceive many. Rather than leaving it at “he did…” we let our emotions tell us “they will…” Yes, False Evidence Appearing Real. When we see members of our family succumb over and over again to the same illness, we often assume that will be our fate. Or perhaps we hear stories of people who have the same disease we already have, and the wheels start turning in our heads. We cry out, as if we are already experiencing the pain of a future not realized yet, “Oh my gosh…will that happen to me?” F.E.A.R. at work again.

Regardless of the source of our fear, there is one reality that is always forgotten in the midst: God is with us. There is hardly a chapter in the Bible that doesn’t contain the reassurance that He will not leave or forsake us. He not only tells us that it’s foolish to worry, but as in today’s verse from Deuteronomy, He actually commands us not to fear. Perhaps He repeats it often, because He knows we are so prone to it. 

Fear reflects a lack of faith, as Jesus points out to Peter in that water-walking lesson. As long as Peter walked in faith – believing in the power and presence of God, keeping his eyes on Jesus – he walked across that stormy sea. What caused him to start sinking was all that “stinking thinking” as he looked around and focused instead on his circumstances, his emotions, and perhaps even what the other disciples in the boat were thinking: the False Evidence Appearing Real. What happened next is what God does every time with all of us. Jesus reached out His hand to Peter, catching him as he fell, and asked the obvious, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” Why did you doubt you could do something you've never done? Did you doubt I would give you the power? Did you doubt I would keep you safe, every step of the way, no matter how big the waves crashing around you? Why, after all you've seen me do in your life and for others, did you doubt my love?

Tomorrow morning, I will undergo surgery for the first time in my life. For those who have been through multiple surgeries, it probably doesn't seem like a big deal. After all, it’s on my shoulder, not any of my vital organs. I wish knowing that is all it took to keep me out of F.E.A.R. but I’m not immune to that four-letter word. Normally confident in my ability to get through and rise above just about any situation in life, I lay in my husband’s arms last night and whispered in the dark, “I’m terrified.” Taking from my own past of bad reactions to medications, to a close relative’s near-death experience with anesthesia, I had let my mind go into full “worst case scenario” mode, brimming over with False Evidence Appearing Real. There was only one thing that could calm my anxiety: the key fact that my husband gently reminded me of - that when I go into the operating room, God will be there. He will never leave nor forsake me. Yes, I hear Him whispering to me now in His still small voice, “Oh, my child, why did you doubt? Do not be afraid or terrified, for I, the Lord your God, who loves you beyond measure, goes with you!”

What do you do when you encounter fear? Are you able to recognize it as False Evidence Appearing Real? Can you push it aside in order to focus on the One who is leading you to something better, if only you will trust Him, step by step, to get you to the other side of what you’re facing?

For more encouragement through song, listen to Chris Tomlin's song "Faithful."

F.E.A.R. and Fire Walking originally appeared on Spring Sight blog, by Linda W. Perkins.  Get even more encouragement by following me on FacebookPinterest, and Twitter.

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1 comment:

  1. Linda, what a great post on fear. I've heard that definition and think it's such a great one for FEAR.

    I've learned that when I'm dealing with FEAR, I pray and focus on the verses that address fear. Some of which you mentioned.

    I hope your surgery went well, and that you've had time to recover. I never had surgeries before I turned 36. Since then, I've had a few. They never get easier for me. But, God is always with me through them. He always calms the flutterings in my empty belly before I "go under."

    I'm your neighbor at Kelly Balarie's #RaRaLinkup (4/12/16). It's so nice to "meet" you!