Long before there were cell phones I rarely knew where my wonderful, carefree, free-spirited husband was. Time did not matter to him, people did. He always stopped to help the one and still does. But when he didn’t turn up for dinner, supper or bedtime, where was he? Was he alright? Did he know he was late? Was he concerned that I wouldn’t know where he was?
I had allowed myself to develop a cycle of anxious thoughts. I believed the worst, panicked and got very upset every time. I couldn’t relax or go to sleep and I was mad at him for putting me through it all. To be honest, I ended up being more furious about his disappearance than not knowing if he was ok.
Looking back now, he came home every single time even though it was often numerous hours after the expected time. As soon as he came in the door, I was ready with my pent-up, highly emotional speech on how unthoughtful he was. Back then, I did not understand that I could be at peace in any and every situation.
Deviation from trust in God
Proverbs 3:5-6 tells us to trust in the Lord with all our heart and lean not on our own understanding. One of the definitions for the word ‘lean’ or ‘leaning’ is ‘the act of deviating from a vertical position.’ This is what it is like when we deviate from our trust in God to trusting in our own understanding. Another definition for ‘leaning’ is ‘an attitude of mind, especially one that favours one alternative over others’. So, leaning can mean inclination or tendency.
When I was struggling with fear and anxiety, I was inclined to negative thinking. By choosing to allow these thoughts to incessantly cycle through my mind, I gave them permission to rule and reign. I had deviated from trusting God and leaning on his wisdom to favouring my own understanding instead. I may have told God my requests and concerns, but I did not give him room to work on my behalf. I did not trust him to come through for me.
Coping with emotional pain
When fear is ruling we are in severe emotional pain, life is hard and there are no painkillers like there is for physical pain. Desperation for survival kicks in and we create our very own pain management strategy—a string of behaviours to numb the pain.
Let’s compare traditional painkillers with our behavioural strategy. We take pills to mask physical pain and to provide relief while our body is healing. Painkillers are not the cure in themselves; we take them to help us get through the days we suffer with aches and pains of some kind. These pills will help us short term, but if used extensively over a long period of time they can have a detrimental effect on our health.
Fear produces emotional pain, so we adopt certain behaviours to help us deal with this pain and to get through the day. The behaviours are not the cure in themselves; in fact, they are detrimental to us long term and they do not help the situation short term, we just think they do. The behaviours we adopt are opening doors to more issues and these issues are detrimental to our character.
Fear’s many friends
When fear rules in the house of your mind, it will host a party and invite many friends. The door is wide open, and you may hardly notice the many guests arriving. Fear has countless friends, but here are a few: unforgiveness, jealousy, control, anger, self-seeking, impatience, unbelief, poor-spiritedness, small-mindedness, addiction, shame and confusion. Once these friends have been hanging around for a while, we accept them as part of the furniture in the house of our mind. We begin to excuse ourselves when we behave badly, saying things like, “This is just who I am,” or “I don’t know any other way.” We need to be careful who we invite into our mind’s home because who you spend time with is who you become.
The journey to freedom
When I asked God to set me free from fear, I had no idea what the journey to freedom would entail and I didn’t realise how many fears I had. Over time God exposed each individual fear, the root cause and the behavioural patterns that I had adopted to manage the emotional pain. I was controlling, small-minded and jealous. I took offence, was easily angered, impatient and selfish. I had adopted these behaviours to protect myself, build myself up, keep myself safe and prevent things from getting out of control. Notice it was all about me! These behaviours are sin and need to be called what they are.
I was keen to do things differently and get the freedom the Lord had promised me. After all, God did not give us a spirit of fear; what he did give us is love, power and self-control. So, at my own request, the Lord empowered me to break free from fear and change the way I behaved, and then I began to walk in freedom.
Fear is embedded into our minds over time by lies that are spoken over us, or it is inherited through family, or it is entrenched into our spirits through traumatic experiences. Christians should be the ones who are free, but the problem is common to all. Fear is a weapon used by the enemy to prevent us from being all that God has created us to be. Just imagine how powerful the church would be without fear; we would achieve so much more for the kingdom of God.
It’s time to restore our trust in our heavenly Father, humble ourselves before him, turn from our sin and allow him to make us more like him.
Story: Janene Forlong
Janene is an author, speaker and worship leader. She and her husband Michael have pastored and ministered together for more than 25 years. Most recently, they served at Hamilton Central Baptist Church for 16 years. Read a review of her book Where Fear Rules.