I used to have a serious problem with fear. I’ve always struggled with fear…to the point that as a child, I actually was so paralyzed by it that I had to go to counseling for a season. That counseling did a lot of good, but it didn’t by any means cure me from the disease that plagued me every day, and as the days went by, the sickness grew in my mind and my heart. I call it a sickness because it’s what it felt like. I woke every day worried or scared of something. And 90% of the time, it was something that was entirely out of my control. Looking back over my life, I can see where God has used this struggle to shape me and to bring Him glory, and I wanted to share my story today for that reason. I want to show what God did in my life with the fear that crippled me for years and years.
When I was a child, I feared everything. If my mother wasn’t sitting in the pick-up line waiting for me when I got out of school, I panicked. In my mind, she had been in a terrible car accident, had been med-flighted to a hospital in Little Rock and was on life support. In the chaos of it all, everyone had forgotten about me, and I would be left all alone at the school, left to wonder what had happened. Now, I know how ridiculous this sounds. And every time I had a panic attack just to see my mom drive around the corner, I thought how ridiculous it was for me to think such thoughts. I mean, seriously who makes up such elaborate stories in their minds? Believe it or not, more people than you may think. So many people struggle with crippling fear every day. I see it now with children more than ever before, and it breaks my heart. I know what it was like living in the prison of fear as a child and as an adult. It’s no fun. Not only that, but we live in a different world today than we used to. Our kids today have much more to add to their imaginations than I did. I can only imagine what I could have come up with in my mind if I had known about terrorism and September 11th.
I remember one evening not long after Tim and I had married, we were driving back from his parents’ house in Bee Branch, and we drove by a camper sales place, and Tim commented that we should start saving up to buy a camper so we can go camping on Mt. Nebo. I casually agreed, but in my heart, I was busy imagining the worst possible situation. In my mind, we had set up camp at Mt. Nebo and didn’t set the block behind the tire properly and our camper was on its way down the side of the mountain with us inside. Now, I had come up with these scenarios my entire life. But this night, something happened, and I realized that I didn’t want to live like that anymore. I hated not being able to truly enjoy things. So I did something that I had never done before. I asked Tim to pull the truck over, and I shared with him my entire thought process and I told him that I didn’t want to live like that anymore. I figured that he probably would wonder what kind of crazy lady he had married, but he was so good and he prayed with me, and we talked about a course of action that I needed to take to retrain my mind.
And over the next few days, I began to do just that. With the help of God, I retrained my mind. I wanted to share with you some of what I did in hopes that it might be helpful to someone else.
- I began to memorize scripture. If you know me, you probably know that I’m big on memorizing scripture. This is where it began. Memorizing scripture was so important in this stage of my life, that I made it a life-discipline and it has been so good for me. The day after my camper fiasco, I went home and searched my Bible for scriptures that talk about fear. A couple of my favorites are 2 Timothy 1:7 and Psalm 4:8. I wrote them down on index cards and began to commit them to memory. I said them over and over and over and over to myself. Those scriptures were the first thing I thought about when I woke up and the last thing I thought about when I went to bed.
- I learned to stop imagining things. An imagination is one of the greatest things a person can have….until it begins to work against you like mine did. I had to learn to recognize the thoughts that did not line up with God’s word and I had to learn to stop those thoughts before they festered into full blown fears. This took a while and a lot of mental effort, but each time I had a thought that seemed irrational, I would tell myself to stop, and I would replace that thought with scripture. I thought about this scripture often during this training period:
“Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity
Every thought to the obedience of Christ.”
-2 Corinthians 10:5
- Pray, pray, pray. I prayed a lot. And, I prayed specifically that God would deliver me from fear. I prayed that he would give me specific things that I could do to retrain my mind. I prayed that He would teach me to trust Him completely.
- Be open. Talk about it. Tim was a great partner for me during this. Even though he could not relate (I don’t think Tim fears anything!), he was a great coach. I used that often. Sometimes, when I was really struggling, I would share that with him and he would help me to see the irrationality of something in a really kind, thoughtful way, and he would bring me back to a more sound way of thinking. I think it’s great for people who struggle with fear to have people in their lives who are a voice of reason.
- Guard your heart. The eyes and ears are the door to the heart. And that is serious stuff. There are several places in the Bible that talk about guarding your heart. My favorite is, “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.” -Proverbs 4:23 Above all else. For me, fear is a real, daily struggle. Even now, ten years later, though I consider myself free from the life of fear, I can still easily fall back into it. A crime show, even a particularly violent commercial can plant thoughts in my mind that will fester and grow until they are full blown. So, I have to constantly stay on guard. Because of this, I’m very selective about what I watch on television and what I read. I don’t read mystery fiction. There are just things that I don’t do in order to protect my fragile heart. I think it’s important for us to identify those things that we should guard against. And what may be a stumbling block for me is not necessarily for someone else. If you struggle with fear, I would encourage you to take time to identify the things that can cause you to stumble and begin to take steps to guard your heart against those things.
If you have a child who struggles with fear, I believe that these same steps will most definitely help. They certainly won’t hurt. Being that voice of reason for your child without making them feel like they are silly is important. Talking them through rational thoughts is a good thing too. I would also suggest, for children who struggle with fear especially, that you shut off the television either completely or be extremely selective about what you watch. At our house, we rarely watch the news. Tim and I read our news. Sometimes, we aren’t always up to date, but we try, and we’ve noticed a huge change in our kids since we stopped watching the news. Also, for a fearful child, even commercials are disturbing. To this day, I still have to be careful what I watch. It’s just a stumbling block for me-an open door to let fear back into my heart. See point 5 above. 🙂 So, Tim and I have an understanding that crime shows and heavy violence just have no place in our home.
I’m so thankful that today, about 10 years later, I can say that by the Lord’s help, He has brought me a really long way. I still have some irrational fears. But, I can’t imagine being a mother and living with the multiple, irrational fears that I used to have. At the same time, I am so thankful for that time and for that struggle, because I’ve learned so much from it. I am sure of the fact that God does not want us to live in fear. He wants us to live to glorify Him in every way.