As the mother of an only child, I've been a bit on the overprotective side. Sending our sixteen-year-old son all the way to Colorado for three weeks of camp seemed like a big step. But this Christian leadership training camp offered a unique combination of high adventure and solid teaching, and Jason was excited about going. I tried not to be too emotional at the airport as we said our good-byes.
When our son returned home, he seemed m' ore mature. He began talking about the importance of having a "Christian world-view" in the midst of our changing society.
Guardedly, he said, "Mom, what would you think if I told you I'm interested in a military career?" I could feel a lump forming in my throat. Why would he even think of going in that direction? It could be dangerous?
Jason told me he felt God was leading him toward a leadership role in the military, to help bring our nation back to God. My eyes filled with tears. My little boy had become a man.
My silent prayer was more a desperate plea: Lord, please, he's my only son. Don't take him away from me. God, the military is full of rough language and danger and killing. What if his faith is weakened by peer pressure? What if he has to go to war? What if he gets wounded in battle? Please change the desires of Jason's heart to something safer and closer to home!
Worrying about the "what ifs"
Most of us have an amazing ability to imagine the "worst-case scenario," then convince ourselves it will happen to us or to one of our family members or friends. An old Swedish proverb states, "Worry gives a small thing a big shadow." And worry eventually gives way to anxiety.
In her book, Conquering Fear, author Karen. Randau writes, "While fear focuses on an immediate danger, such as an impending car wreck, anxiety is constant internal tension over something that may or may not occur in the future."
In the past ten days, I've heard the following comments from women who struggle with this type of anxiety:
- What if I lose my job? The company is going to lay off more people, and I just know I'll be one of them.
- What if I never get married? don't have a retirement plan and the Social Security system seems so shaky. What will I do?
- What if I can't get pregnant? I vvant a child more thartanything, and every month my disappointment is deeper.
- What if I'm a bad mother? How cant ever be sure r m raising my children properly?
- What if my husband gets interested in another woman? He's so attractive and I'm getting older, and his secretary thinks he's wonderful.
- What if I get transferred to another place? My whole world is wrapped up in this community. My family lives here. I have meaningful fellowship in my church. I just can't leave.
The list could go on and on.
Take a minute to write down all the anxious thoughts you've had this week involving things that haven't happened yet—and may never happen. For some of us, the fear of something that might happen slowly deepens into the feeling that we're totally unable to handle life, plan for the future, or provide safety and happiness for our children.
If we aren't careful, we can even wind up saying: "I give up.
The economic earthquake is coming. I can't do anything to stop it. My future is ruined. Fearful signs are everywhere. I'm going to quit trying!"
Five truths tol tame your fears
Whenever I'm tempted to feel hopeless, I find it helpful to remember a few basic truths,
1. Life is full of negative things that might happen. We can't escape bad news. It's on the front page of the newspaper, on the TV screen, in the conversations of people around us. The Bible states, "We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time" (Rom. 8:22). Life is hard, and it shouldn't surprise us that a fallen world will provide disappointment, painful losses, unfulfilled expectations, and sadness.
I no longer expect life to be free from things that will make me anxious. As well-known Christian psychologist Larry Crabb says, "We will groan until Jesus comes, or pretend we don't."
Jesus warned us about the trouble we'd find in this world. But He also told us to take heart, because He has overcome the world (John 16:33).
2. As long as I choose a path of personal growth, I will face fearful situations. The first time I was the keynote speaker at a large, out-of-state conference, panic swept over me as I approached the podium. All I could think was, What if I do such a terrible job that these people tell other groups what a failure I am?
Somehow, I lived through the experience, and three weeks later the organization sent me tapes of my messages. As I listened to my opening remarks, a loud, unnerving thump, thump, thump reverberated over my world. It was very distracting, but finally stopped ten minutes into my talk. I was wondering what the problem had been, when a slip of paper from the package fluttered to the floor, It read: "Dear Mrs. Kent, When we heard the recording of your first talk, we thought our equipment was terribly defective. But then we realized our sensitive microphone was just picking up the sound of your beating heart. Obviously, you relaxed after a while!"
It's been more than ten years since that experience, and as I've accepted other opportunities to speak, I've seen God transform my fear into faith. My anxiety has lessened, and now l actually look forward to speaking engagements!
The day nothing happens to make us feel a bit afraid, we'd better watch out—we may have quit breathing! But if we're making any progress in life at all—if we're trying new things and taking healthy risks—we will have concern about what might happen in the future.
3. Acknowledging my anxieties is a positive first step. As a Christian, I can share my anxieties with the Lord. In the New Testament we are instructed, "Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you" (1 Pet. 5:7). We can tell God anything and He won't be angry or surprised.
I've experienced tremendous peace through being honest with God about my fears. When I start worrying about Jason, l'm often reminded of the verse I memorized as a child: "Don't worry about anything; instead, pray about everything; tell God your needs and don't forget to thank Him for. His answers. If you do this you will experience God's peace, which is far more wonderful than the human mind can understand. His peace will keep your thoughts and your heart quiet and at rest as you trust in Christ Jesus" (Phil. 4:6-7, TLB).
It also helps to talk to someone who can give advice in a specific area. Dr. John Norcross, chairman of psychology at the University of Scranton, says, "The first smart response to fear is to face it. . . . Then, measure your fear against the odds of it happening. If you think your job is on the line, for example, ask your company management whether lay,iffs are likely—and check with personnel about severance packages, just in case. To help put things in perspective, discuss your concerns with someone you can trust."
4. An attitude of optimism will make today more enjoyable. One morning, I flipped on my radio and heard Chuck Swindon preaching. He quoted comedian Fred Allen: "It isn't good to suppress your laughter because it goes down and spreads your hips."
I can't remember what Chuck's sermon was about, but that one comment helped me forget for a whole day my fears over things that "might" happen. Every time I felt myself fretting over some "what if," I laughed out loud and felt my anxiety fading.
Best-selling author Barbara Johnson wrote, "Doctor and physical fitness experts tell us that laughter is just plain good for your health... I read about a medical doctor who calls laughter "internal jogging." He says that hearty laughter has a beneficial effect on most of your body's major systems—and it's a lot more fun than calisthenics." Barb goes on to say, "The best thing to do when feeling overwhelmed is to take a 'laugh break.' It can actually rejuvenate you."
Add one humorous thought to your life each day. It's impossible to be consumed with anxiety and laugh heartily at the same time!
5. I can decide to move forward in faith. It's important to ask ourselves if we've chosen to allow fear to paralyze us. We're in serious trouble if we start believing our first reaction to a frightening situation: I can't do anything. I can't handle this fear.
Soon it will be a year since my son became a midshipman at the U.S. Naval Academy. In that time, I've had to deal with my fears again and again. At times, I imagine future wars and international conflicts, and I'm filled with anxiety over where Jason will be sent as a military officer.
But l'm convinced that the opposite of fear is faith. When I find myself getting anxious, I make a decision to pray. When empty hours tempt me to imagine "worst-case scenarios" for my son's future, I get involved in ministry opportunities to occupy my thoughts and energies instead.
All women lace fears, although some women, due to past issues struggle with fear at a much deeper level. However, God created each of us with the ability to choose if we will stay frozen in fear and allow our anxieties to get out of proportion to the actual danger, or if we will move forward. As one person noted, "Though no one can go back and make a new start, anyone can start now and make a brand-new end." It's never too late!