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Managing our fears

Did you have a relationship with any grandparent when you were a child?

If you did, I wonder if you were afraid to go there for a visit. Did you fear being with your grandparent(s) when you were young?

I ask this because as a therapist for hundreds of different persons over the years who were suffering from anxious or depressed moods, I rarely encountered any who recalled being afraid of Grandma or Grandpa. I say rarely because there are always occasional exceptions to any rule. But as a rule I found that, if there was any real grandparent relationship at all, it was usually considered a safe place to visit. Memories of their home most frequently brought feelings of comfort or relaxation and trust. And in many such cases, this was so even if relationships with Mom and/or Dad produced feelings of discomfort or tension and distrust.

There is a reason why I bring this up as together we face the very global threat of a viral pandemic and financial recession.

Any type of crisis in today’s world, or in today’s family, will predictably trigger a fear response. How intensely fear is experienced on, say, a 1-10 scale reveals far more about the person in this world or this family than it does about the crisis itself. Some persons experience a 10 while others, whose crisis situation itself carries much greater danger and risk, are experiencing only a 5. Fear tolerance, like pain tolerance, varies considerably from one individual to the next no matter the precipitating crisis.

So far I’ve not surprised you, have I? But it might actually surprise you to hear that my counseling experience over the decades in treating feelings of anxiety and distress was that high fear most frequently, if not always, correlated with low love. By that I mean low availability of a visit to Grandma’s house, whether mentally or physically.

There is something about the love of grandparents that helps to lower fear. Even something about memories of Grandma’s “safe” house that triggers what I’ve come to call “faith in love and doubt in fear.” For lack of such memories of a “safe” place to visit, we too often experience faith in fear and doubt in love. Anecdotally, my professional work among unhappy individuals has been that anxiety symptoms involve a strong faith when it comes to fear, depressive symptoms a strong doubt when it comes to love. In such cases, past experiences and memories trigger future expectations and fantasies, which is what “faith” itself always amounts to.

So let’s talk about fear and love in relation to “faith.”

Some of you are aware that after three decades or so, I left the active practice of psychotherapy to study theology and become a Christian pastor at the local church level in hopes of speaking to peoples’ experiences of anxiety and depression from the perspective of faith. I’m still operating pretty much out of this same perspective even in retirement as I focus more upon the challenge of writing and, if ever invited, speaking.

Faith in love, as correlated with doubt in fear, requires a relationship most akin to that of a grandchild and grandparent. Not that a strong child and parent bond cannot produce such a faith, but there’s something special about having access to a loving grandparent. Parental relationships carry an affect of fear that doesn’t typically exist with grandparents. Parental love often appears conditional, while grandparents seem to love unconditionally. And the latter is what most often triggers faith in love and doubt in fear.

If you’re following me so far, perhaps you’re now waiting for the other shoe to drop. The one having to do with our relationship to God. And knowing how well I like to ask hard questions, you’ve probably guessed that I’d be asking you to rate your fear level where your relationship with God is concerned, assuming you have one.

Should you have no relationship with either a grandparent or God, I’ve probably lost you by now. But if you do, and if you’re staying with me here, please hear my answer to my own question about fear levels in relation to God.

As I write about in my own spiritual autobiography, “Love’s Resurrection: its power to roll away fear’s heaviest stone,” I was raised to fear God. God, as presented by the evangelical church I grew up in, was something of a critical parent. A punitive judge. A perfectionist. Actually, he was more on the order of my own earthly father, who was my fiercest critic in all the world, the one I feared I’d never be able to please. It wasn’t until I experienced what I reference in my book as my Third Great Awakening in my early 60’s, age wise, that I was able to doubt my fear of God. And it was only then that my faith was transformed. Meaning this: where my relationship with God was concerned, my faith was 100% in love and 100% doubt in fear of God. I came to be totally in love with God only at the point where I totally gave up all fear of God. I experienced it as liberation from captivity. (Isaiah 61:1 and Luke 4:18 for those evangelically inclined.) A 1-10 rating on the fear scale where my relationship with God is concerned, then, became and remains a zero. Less than 1.

I also write in my book that my own evolved or re-awakened (some would say re-constructed) image of God is that of a person with three parts: a body (Jesus the Son, the Christ), a mind (Father), and a soul (Holy Spirit). Being created in God’s image to me means we, too, are single persons but with the same "trinity" of parts: a body (I now refer to as my inner child), a mind (I now refer to as my inner parent), and a soul (I now refer to as my inner grandparent). My own 3 in 1 relates in union with God’s own 3 in 1 through my prayer life.

Here, then, is how I manage my own fears within my own body, mind, and soul. And how I manage to lower my fear level to 0 even amidst today’s threatening pandemic and recession, even at the age of 73 when my very safety and security is at heightened risk from such.

Prayer, for me, is something I call “self-talk with God.” I speak, or since I do daily prayer journaling, I write to God’s mind using my own mind. And I write about my body, my inner child. I come into God’s Kingdom as a child. A child with a full range of emotions and impulses. And questions. Every child has questions, whether spoken or unspoken. And requests. Every child has requests, again spoken or unspoken.

Whenever I talk to God about my own inner child, I hear God saying back, in effect, “I understand, because I’ve been there and done that when I was there in the body of Jesus, my own inner child. I remember those feelings. I remember those questions. I remember those requests. They are normal and understandable.” This is what praying through Jesus means to me.

That alone reassures me enough to manage my fears.

But do you know what empowers to drop my fear level down to an absolute 0?

It’s when my own mind (parent) hears God’s mind (that I call Heavenly Father) say, “let’s get your child together with Grandma (that I call Holy Spirit) for a visit and let them spend the day, or night, together.” At which point I mentally transport my body into my soul (God’s indwelling Holy Spirit) for their mutual time of delightful babysitting. God then invites me to tell him (mind to mind, parent to parent) tomorrow how it all went. This ends our conversation, or my “self-talk with God” for that particular time and place. And I’m liberated (thank you, Jesus) from the captivity of any fears I might have had to start with that day.

Never, upon the next day, have I reported back that my inner child, my body, came from Grandma’s place with any fears still bothering.

If you’re reading this then consider this: my doubt in fear and faith in love is the very thing that has led me to post today’s blog. I consider you my brother or my sister as you read this.

I don’t know what your relationship with the family is like. Dad? Mom? Grandma? Grandpa? I don’t know where your faith is at. Don’t know where your fear, or your love, even is. All I know is that I love you as a sibling with Jesus Christ. I also know our same parent and our same grandparent, loves YOU just as much as they love me. And I pray this will help you manage your own fear today amidst the turmoil of the crazy world we are all now living in.

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