Tag Archives: fear

97. Cowardice (Empathy, Lent 38)

cowardly lion

Today is the day everyone except the women fled from Jesus. Today is the day that he was kissed by a dear friend in betrayal. Today is the day to admit to cowardice, because the best of the best are capable of it. And so, I turn to my own cowardice, which has many facets, and look on it with compassion. I am terrified of getting it wrong and of public speaking, and of great white sharks (and small white sharks, if I’m honest) and yet all that fear does is stand in the way of things.

Yet, fear is a perfectly natural thing to feel. Standing up in front of lots of people, all waiting for you to say something, is terrifying to someone like me who hates being the centre of attention. So, I’m guessing fear and cowardice are not the same thing. What then, is my cowardice, the thing that makes me flee from what I should be doing? The obstacle that turns my stomach to water for selfish, no-good reasons? That would more likely be the voice that says, “Don’t do that for them, they wouldn’t do it for you” or “If you listen to them today they’ll always expect it,” or “If you say that thing you know is true, they will all think you a fool.” So, maybe it makes sense to run (or swim) away from some things, even if it is to save the fight for a better day, as we could argue the male disciples did, but when we are running from the best of ourselves, or the truth, especially God’s truth, or from something that we know is the right thing but will cost us, that is real cowardice. It is hard to have compassion on that, but perhaps we are better off acknowledging our faults and weaknesses, and asking God into them, rather than berating ourselves or blaming and shaming ourselves for our failures.

Perhaps the real price of cowardice is paid when we refuse to look at the unseemly parts of ourselves, so that change cannot happen. Only when we can be compassionate with our own shadows can we be truly merciful with the perceived faults of others.

text © Keren Dibbens-Wyatt 2017 photo from memecrunch.com

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Veil of Tears 109: Daunted

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Pardon me, my lord,” Gideon replied, “but how can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family.” Judges 6:15 NIV

 

When God first hints at something he wants us to do, and we hear the command, or the whisper, or the suggestion, however it may come to us, there is first a feeling of exhilaration that the Lord wants us to do something for him, and quick as a flash on the heels of that joy comes the blinking into the bright light daunted-ness of, hang on, you want ME to do WHAT? And then comes the clammy hand of fear on our backs and our feet, light as air a minute ago, now feel like someone poured concrete over them, and we are stuck fast in the mire of doubt.

But God speaks the same words over and over to his people when they feel daunted or uncertain of the way forward. “Take heart,” “Be courageous,” “am I not sending you?” for the cure for feeling daunted is obedience in faith. As long as we understand who is doing the sending, we can go. As long as we know that it is God’s work and he is the doer of it, we can move forward.

Gideon had no hope of victory with his tiny army. And yet when he expressed doubt, God reduced it still further. He sharpened the tools Gideon had, and paid no attention to quantity, only quality. And Gideon had the sense to see that he was being used of God. When that is happening, we can be confident the outcome is entirely in God’s hands. The Living God loves using the poor, the weak, the helpless for his causes. He does it to show us that he is in charge. It doesn’t mean that the work is necessarily easy, or that we won’t falter somewhere along the way, but it does mean that we can be assured that we are weapons being wielded by a higher power, with no need to rely on our own strength.

In the Bible we see this over and over again with Joseph, David, Joshua, Rahab, Elijah and Elisha to name just a few. Like Moses before the burning bush, we may stammer and be full of excuses, but if we are truly called, we will be unstoppable. Not because of our greatness, capabilities or strength, but because, like the five small stones in the pouch of a shepherd boy-king, we are going to be fired by his mighty hand.

 

 

©Keren Dibbens-Wyatt

Photo from Pixabay

Veil of Tears 97: Frozen

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Terror and dread fall upon them; because of the greatness of your arm, they are still as a stone, till your people, O LORD, pass by, till the people pass by whom you have purchased.” Exodus 15:16 ESV

Fear and terror can be numbing. We use the word “petrified” meaning turned to stone to describe that feeling of being so frightened that we can’t even move; we say we were so scared that we were frozen to the spot. Like a rabbit in the headlights, the fear overpowers us and although our only hope is to move, we simply cannot do it.

There is a phenomenon called sleep paralysis which is surprisingly common. This is where we wake during the night to find that we feel weighed down and unable to move. It is very frightening, but is a neurological paralysis caused by the body’s own self-defence mechanisms. It is put in place to stop us acting out the dreams we are having during REM and actually is quite normal. It is just frightening when it carries on over into waking. But it does pass and is usually nothing to worry about.

Likewise, the frozen reaction to fear happens for a reason. It is an age old response to overwhelming danger, the third option after the well-known “fight or flight.” If neither of these options is possible or credible, we may freeze. It is a lot like playing possum, a way of trying to convince the threat that we are not there, or not alive, or not worth chasing. Victims of violence often feel ashamed that they froze when attacked, but in actual fact, they were beyond their rational selves and only doing what the ancient survival programming was telling them to do. Sadly though, the frozen experience can become an ingrained part of the trauma.

Thank God that we serve the Lord who knows all this and made us just as we are. He understands the parts of us that need healing and knows that there are times for keeping still, things too scary to be faced, parts of ourselves and our histories we need to protect ourselves from, things that cannot be outrun. Gently he will lead us to the cure.

Like Aslan breathing warm life into the statues frozen in front of the White Witch’s palace, he comes with a gradual freedom that will enable muscles to move again; hope that will help us find the determination and courage to stretch, and an abundance of grace and mercy that as we take it in, will enable us to forgive, to begin again, to come back to life.

 

©Keren Dibbens-Wyatt

Photo from Pixabay

66: Timidity

66 Gill blue tit

For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.” 2 Timothy 1:7 NIV

Timidity is a difficult subject for me. I seem to have a great gifting for it. I can timid with the best of them. I know how to avert my eyes, melt into the background, stare at the floor as if it held all the secrets of the known universe, and generally disappear from view. I am happiest when no-one notices me, and I can just get on quietly with my own thoughts. I prefer to sit at the back of church like a good Anglican on those rare occasions I’m well enough to go, and I don’t have the nerve to do or say very much in public. As an introvert with an energy-stealing chronic illness, small talk and chitchat exhaust and upset me, and even conversations with dear friends and family wears me out.

And yet, there is a courage deep within that means I am, despite these social failings, unafraid to fall deeper and deeper into God, able to stand the necessity for deceasing and letting bits of ego crash to the ground, and to speak my mind, and even God’s mind when he grants me the honour of a prophecy or a piece of wisdom. I have the courage to not care very much what people think of me, and I know I would die for my Lord. Just as long as he doesn’t ask me to read the lesson at Christmas.

So perhaps there are different kinds of timidity, just as there are different kinds of courage. It is early summer here in the UK and the birds are fledging. They have to somehow find the courage to leave the nest for the first time. It is the beginning of an exciting adventure, and yet also terrifying. They have to launch themselves into the air, with no idea what will happen. And the nest is so warm, cosy and familiar, why should they leave it? Something compels them. They are growing too big and there is a world out there to explore. Yes it contains acres of sky, beautiful trees, birdseed, puddles and berries, and yes, also cats and weasels.

I’m feeling a lot like one of those chicks at the moment. Used to being ensconced in my small house, hermitted by my illness and need for quiet, I am starting to find my life of prayer and creativity is being noticed. I have a book out soon, and a few pieces of my art are going into a local exhibition in July. Part of me feels like I’m being pushed out of the nest, part of me feels like I should be aiming at the sky and jumping. It feels scary and uncomfortable and yet, inevitable at the same time.

When we are sat in the nesting box, half in, half out, perhaps that is a good time to remember that God will give us the strength we need, and that, like Joshua about to cross into the Promised Land, we are encouraged to “be strong and courageous” (Joshua 1, verses 6 and 7) where there is a need to move forward. God will honour the weak places where we have a natural timidity and help us with them, and he will certainly take care of us physically, if we only ask. But there is a point where we understand that we must jump into flight, however far down that ground looks.

 

©Keren Dibbens-Wyatt

Photo by Gill Fuller, used with permission.

 

180: Minefield

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Cautiously, tiptoeing through the tulips, dancing in slow motion on eggshells, we might attempt to cross. But the skulled signs are everywhere and the risk is known. This emotional no-man’s land is well mapped. The wounded have come back time and time again to warn us. Don’t tread there, where angels fear to meet the unholy ground even with bronzed sandals shaking off stardust. There are some things which must not be said, even in a worried whisper, not in this house of cards.

No, instead, we must let fear prevail, and sidestep every accusation, lest the harpies swoop down, talons at the ready, shrieking in artificial hurt. And might we beat them away and continue, and find that, bloodied and forlorn, we reach the centre and see a creature to be pitied, encircled by explosives, and not so very different from ourselves? Might the ceasefire then be sounded, and a hand reached out, expecting to be bitten, breath held, as seconds pass and hopes rise, and a touch is begun, light as air and wanting, somehow to connect?

© Keren Dibbens-Wyatt 2016

Photo from morguefile.com

175: Rope Bridge

175 wedhatted ropebridge MF

Dare I take the first step? Dare I lean, let my weight fall forward onto so much air, with only a board between us? Is there enough courage, enough momentum to cross this way? I do not know. Holding the twisted hemp, eyes closed, inching onwards, knowing the two islands must meet somewhere in the middle, over nothing. I keep on and shuffle, mindful of nothing but the movement, and the wind determined to shake my already faltering heart, limp limbs desperate to buckle, tears welling, only grim purpose and angels pushing me now.

Who hung this pendulum, this swaying, swinging cobweb thread? Who fastened each plank and took the leap of faith into calling this a bridge? What is so great about the other side anyway, that I must garner every molecule of bravery and swallow my faith so it pounds in my lungs? And will that other clifftop soon meet me with outstretched hand, coaxing me into its palm, promising me safety? Yes, it was that voice which beckoned me, that soft, still call of love. I slide my petrified feet and move ever closer to home.

© Keren Dibbens-Wyatt 2016

Photo from morguefile.com

124: Hill

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The view was worth the climb perhaps, but that is not why you are here. For the purpose of reaching heights is to learn how to fall. Fall disgracefully then, Franciscan tumbling over your own free-flowing limbs, nursery rhyme rolling, shrieking with joy-fear, feeling the bumps and stones and collecting straw and goose grass orbs on your woollens and the memory of unfamiliar leafy aromas in your nostrils. Come to a full stop, breathless and delighted, bedecked in Gummidge-gear. Your straw woman cries, “Again, again!” as she heads, child-like, to run up the slope, neither the top nor the bottom able to hold her.

Keren Dibbens-Wyatt 2015