Sunday, June 1, 2014

3. Uncovering Fears

(This is a series that was adapted from my life-story, Child of Mine, which is at  On this blog, it starts at the bottom of the June posts with “Like a Child.”)

            As I said last post, I knew God too well to turn my back on Him, even though He was leaving me in silence for so long, not answering our prayer for a home.  And so I had to do the only thing that I could do - I lamented my woes in prayer again.  But unlike previous prayers where I complained about my situation and reminded God about the mess that we were in, this one went much deeper.  When I couldn’t do anything but wait and continue writhing in internal pain, I sat down and poured out my heart.  And, honestly, this was new to me.  I have always been so concerned with “doing it right” that it was new to me to just dump it all out there.
            But I was tired.  I was so tired of trying and trying to “pray right” and getting nowhere that I just couldn’t “pray right” anymore.  And so I just prayed honestly.  And I didn’t realize it at first, but this particular night of prayer would end up being the first (of two) life-changing prayer times.  While the kids were downstairs, I was up in my room sitting on the edge of my bed in the dark.  And I don’t cry often, but I was crying as I prayed.         
            “Lord, I don’t really deserve a house anyway.  I cannot even keep up with this one.  I have failed to bring You glory by not making do with what we have, by not keeping it clean and orderly.  Why would You ever bring us one of our own?  I’m just such a failure.  I’ve let You down so many times!  I don’t deserve Your blessings. 
            Plus, I lose my patience easily at times.  I can be prideful and smug.  Self-centered.  Judgmental.  And I selfishly went out and got a Master’s degree.  And now I can’t work because I’m staying home with the kids (which I love doing), but so much of our money is going to pay for a loan that I’m not even putting to good use.  I’m such a burden to my husband and the family.  And now, he has to work so hard just to keep us afloat.  And he feels like he’s not a good provider, even though it is my fault that we are hurting.   Why should You have to bail me out of that? 
            And we didn’t even ask for Your guidance years ago when we rented the first house.  We assumed it was Your Will because it came so easily, instead of asking You for Your wisdom.  I think we are paying the price for that decision.  A natural consequence.  It’s our fault; You owe us nothing. 
            And You have been so faithful to give us food and a roof over our heads and healthy kids.  I don’t have a right to ask for more.  There are so many other people out there with worse problems than just finding a house.  And You need to help them more than me.  I’m just too selfish! 
            I’m sorry that I’m not more grateful.  I’m sorry that I’m not more brave and bold, that I don’t just get out there and find a house myself.  But I keep bugging You with this request over and over.  How could You even stand listening to me?  I can’t stand listening to me anymore.  I don’t even know how You can really care about me.  I’m really not worth it.  I’m so selfish.  No wonder You don’t answer me.  I don’t deserve it.” 
            And on and on it went.  I was hurting!  I didn’t like admitting these painful things.  I felt like a fool in life.  I felt like a failure.  And I felt like I was talking to the ceiling.  When would I take the hint and just give it up?  Why did I keep pestering Him about this in prayer?  He wasn’t listening anyway.  Why couldn’t I just do what I had always done, which was just accept it and move on?  Water off a duck’s back! 
            And while I wanted to give up, I was driven to wrestle with this in prayer, to hang on until I got an answer from Him, until He showed up.  And I hated that!  I wanted to give up the wait and move out on my own.  I wanted to say to myself, “Well, I tried my best to pray and wait.  Now, I guess it’s up to me.”  But something wouldn’t let me.  I just had to stick with it for some unknown reason.  Stubbornness?  Denial?  Helplessness?     
            Well, as the words of my prayer bounced off the ceiling and back down to me, in a seemingly one-way conversation, I slowly began to realize that there was something deeper behind those things that I was praying.  And it all felt so familiar, so distantly familiar.  And painful. 
            And suddenly, I recognized fears from my childhood, fears that come with broken homes:  the fear of abandonment, the fear of rejection, the fear of being a burden, the fear of not being worthy, and the fear of not being good enough!  Everything that I admitted about myself in that prayer stemmed from one of those fears.  Fears that I thought I overcame long ago. 
            It was a shocking revelation to me . . . I still had those deep fears and insecurities about myself, no matter how confident I looked or acted on the outside.  And just as I once had walls (and still do) to protect myself from getting hurt in relationships, I now had walls between the Lord and me that stemmed from those fears.  Well, not just now.  My whole spiritual life, I guess.  All this time, I had no idea that they were there.  But I was beginning to realize that my relationship with Him was not as good or as close as I thought it was, despite all appearances and all my efforts.   
            One of the first fears that I recognized was that (my whole life and unconsciously) I was afraid of truly needing anything from anybody.  I didn’t like being inevitably let down.  I didn’t like getting my hopes up and having them crash down around me.  It was safer to rely on myself than on anyone else.  And it was safer to never hope for much.  So I wouldn’t ask for things and I wouldn’t “need” anything that I couldn’t do for myself. 
            And, unbeknownst to me, this was my pattern for relating to the Lord, too.  I think somewhere deep down, I feared that if I needed Him and poured my heart out to Him, He could let me down, too.  It wasn’t so much that I feared Him saying “no” to a request.  I could handle a “no.”  What I really feared was being set aside.  I feared having my hope in Him dashed to pieces.  I feared leaning on Him, only to have Him pull away and let me fall on my face.  I could open up my heart to Him about hurts and needs and fears, and He could just leave me in my pain . . . forgotten.  Honestly, what it really came down to was that I feared being abandoned by Him.  So I tried to never really need Him.  (And funny how He had to let me feel this exact way – abandoned - before I could discover that I had this fear deep down.  But I’m learning that this is how He works.)   
            Hot on the heels of that fear, I saw another one.  As I petitioned Him over and over again about a house, I was forced to do something that I really, really hate: I was forced to be a burden to someone.  I would rather settle for “whatever” than become a burden!  But asking over and over again - and needing something from Him that I couldn’t provide for myself - meant burdening Him with my “petty” needs and desires.   
            And I just didn’t feel worth the fuss.  (Ah, there’s another one!)  Who was I that I should matter to Him?  Weren’t there much greater needs out there that He had to meet, a world of people who were hurting and needed Him?  Many more worthy people who would glorify Him way more than I ever could? 
            I was way at the back of the line with my greedy, little requests.  Famines.  Wars.  Earthquakes.  Illnesses.  The four horses of the Apocalypse are running rampant over the earth, and I was crying about a house?  How selfish!  Besides, I didn’t do anything special to earn His attention and His time.  I just wasn’t good enough (Yep, there’s another!) in any way to earn His blessings or deserve an audience with Him, no matter how hard I tried. 
            And while I struggled that night with the uncomfortable words that I was praying, I began to realize that just talking to God had always been mentally exhausting to me because I was so concerned with “doing it right.”  Say it right or don’t say it at all.  It’s gotta be pleasing.
            Apparently, I didn’t like being honest with Him, admitting painful things or negative things or doubts or fears.  Somewhere deep down, I think I feared that if my prayers weren’t just right - according to some approved formula or done in the right attitude - He would reject them and I would get punished.  He would reject me for just not being good or worthy enough!  (Ah, rejection!  The last of the familiar, old fears!) 
            In my prayers, I had to demonstrate faith, be grateful, be joyful, be thankful, be humble, never waver, never doubt, be persistent and yet not whine or complain, not be double-minded, not be disrespectful, not sin, not be angry, not be greedy or covetous, not be selfish, and not question the God who knows what He’s doing.  And yet, somehow, be honest? 
            No wonder I was scared of what to say and how to say it.  I couldn’t just tell Him what was honestly on my mind.  That wouldn’t be pleasing or appropriate.  I couldn’t tell Him that I was upset that He didn’t seem to be listening and that I was in pain because He kept me waiting.  That wouldn’t show faith!  I couldn’t tell Him that I was beginning to doubt everything I ever believed about Him.  That wouldn’t be trusting.  I couldn’t tell Him that I just couldn’t do it anymore.  That would be weakness and failure!  And I couldn’t tell Him that I was feeling abandoned and that I didn’t like it.  What would that say about what I really thought of Him? 
            I mean, He is God . . . He had lightning bolts ready!  Sure, King David could be unashamedly honest.  He was a king!  (And an exceptionally emotional kind!)  He was in the Bible and he was special.  And he was a man after God’s own heart, near and dear to God. 
            But I was just me.  And if my prayers weren’t good enough or pleasing enough, if they sounded disrespectful or untrusting, then . . . ZAP!  He wouldn’t bestow His grace or mercy on me.  I would earn His wrath instead.  And I feared His wrath.  So I analyzed all of my responses and prayers to death. 
            Some people can just sit back for the ride, knowing God is in control and just seem so . . . relaxed.  But I was afraid of being too content or too relaxed in the Lord.  If my attitude was, Oh, I don’t need to worry about anything.  God is in control, then I feared that God would allow something bad to shake up my lackadaisical attitude and make me more alert and involved.  As if there is a prerequisite amount of nervous sweating involved in proper prayer to show God that I wasn’t taking Him for granted. 
            But on the flip-side, if I was too concerned about something - if I tried too hard to control things and sweated too much about it - then something bad might happen to make me realize that I was not in control after all, and that I should’ve been more thankful when things were good. 
            It’s a double-edged sword.  If I’m too content and happy about my situation then something bad might happen to wake me up out of my stupor; but if I’m overly anxious about something, it will happen just because I didn’t have enough “faith” in God to handle it.  If I expect the worst, it will happen as a sort of punishment for expecting it, but if I don’t expect it then it will happen because I was foolish enough to not see it coming.  Can you see why it’s exhausting?     
            I used to go round and round with this, never really able to be content with my performance in prayer.  Always fearful that my response would be the one that led to disaster.  I was always walking on eggshells, sure that something bad was just around the corner because my prayers just weren’t worded properly or done in the right attitude.  Because I just wasn’t good enough! 
            And I never really overly enjoyed anything that He gave me because I felt like it would challenge God to test me.  If I smiled too much at my children and thought about how much I loved them, I feared that the Lord would test my faith in Him by taking one of them.  But then I feared not enjoying His gifts and blessings because that would look like thanklessness and would be displeasing to Him.  So I didn’t know how to really pray or how to express my thanks and joy without feeling like He might test it with trials.  Life was exhausting!  A tightrope act.  And pain was inevitable.  No matter how hard I tried, I felt doomed.  I lived in fear!  (I wish I didn’t see things this way.  I’m working on it!)
            Sometimes, I find myself just wanting to hunker down in a little bunker and not go to either extreme of too happy or too glum so that I don’t rock the boat.  Stoic, immovable!  I probably miss out on a lot because of this way of thinking.  I’m sure I miss seeing many blessings and really feeling His love because I’m more concerned with what it will “cost” me.  You know the old question, “Would you rather get a blessing and then pay dearly for it, or never get a blessing at all?”  (Or something like that.)  That’s easy - never get a blessing.  Just be content with what is, and never want for more!  In so many ways, I work so hard to protect myself from pain (and hope).  Even from God, I’m beginning to realize!   
            I mean, He’s been so good to us in so many ways!  I had food and shelter.  Wasn’t that enough for me?  Shouldn’t I just be thankful for that and accept what He gave me, without expecting more or something else?  I mean, He knows what’s best.  Did I have the right to want for anything different than what He gave me?  If I asked for more, did it mean that I wasn’t grateful for what I already had and that I didn’t trust His providence and wisdom?  But we are told to ask.  “Ask and it will be given to you. . .” How do you balance the two: gratitude and asking?
            Maybe this is a first-born, perfectionistic tendency or maybe it’s just a “fallen sinner” tendency, but I felt like I was supposed to be “better” somehow to warrant His time or attention or blessings.  Yeah, I know the Bible says that He likes to give good things to His children, but that’s talking about His “special children,” right?  The ones who deserve it?  I was just me.  And if I asked and didn’t receive, what was wrong with me?  I tried to ask in faith and not doubt like I was supposed to.  Why wasn’t it working?
            Why would God want to help me out with this mess I got myself into anyway?  I got a Master’s Degree which ate up a lot of our money.  And now it was just rotting there, unused.  We didn’t pray about the first house we rented to see if it was His Will.  Maybe this was just the natural consequence of that.  We had four kids before we could afford a house to keep them in.  Maybe my father-in-law was right, How the **** do we expect to get a house when we keep having kids?  I have failed God in many ways.  I wasn’t the light I should be.  I was self-centered.  I worried too much.  I was faithless and weak.  I couldn’t even pray right!  What did I do that was really worth His attention and His time, that was special?  I was just me!  How could He love . . . me?   
            After that night of prayer, as these thoughts and questions swirled around in my head, I began to realize that God wasn’t holding back all this time; I was holding Him back.  I just never knew it . . . until now.  I wasn’t waiting on Him.  He was waiting on me.  He was waiting patiently for me to see the fears and the walls that were interfering with a completely honest, utterly transparent, and wholly trusting relationship with Him.  He was waiting for me to hear the things that I had been saying (or not saying) to Him before I could hear the things that He wanted to say to me.  He was waiting for me to see the mess that I was inside before I could reach out for His healing.      
            Because no matter how I felt or acted all these years, it didn’t change the fact that I was broken on the inside and that I had walls of fear surrounding my fragile heart.  Acting strong didn’t change the fact that deep down I felt insecure and insignificant.  Acting confident didn’t change the fact that, at the very heart of it all, I just never believed that Someone would be there, always be there, loving me . . . for me!  My acting may have fooled everyone else, including myself.  But it never fooled God!