Controlling Fear

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I was talking with friends the other night about fear and the way it affects our lives. I grew up in what might charitably be called “a funky family,” and I was left with some behaviors and beliefs that aren’t helpful. Over time, I’ve discovered that most of these unwanted character traits are fear-based.

This makes sense, because when you are a little kid and there’s yelling and door-slamming and incomprehensible behavior that is later denied, you do not feel safe. And there’s no sense of degree when you’re little. When you don’t get breakfast, you fear you might starve, and when your father forgets to leave the bar and come home to dinner, you fear he may never come home again and your whole family will be on the streets.

You learn the fine art of “catastrophizing” and spend hours lost in the dreaded land of “what if?” which, if you’re like me, will turn you into a control freak. No matter your age, at some level your inner child believes that if you are not in absolute control of absolutely everyone and everything, terrible things could happen.

You could die.

Managing, Manipulating, and Mothering

Your body is grown-up, but your emotions are stuck in childhood, over-reacting and trying desperately to control things you can’t control and have no business trying to control.

We are all familiar with the manager type, the one who knows just how everything should be and who insists on having everyone meet her demands. If she doesn’t get her way, she usually responds with rage. Anger is a great way to manipulate people. Also useful are shaming, guilt-tripping, and enabling — doing for others what they can do for themselves so that all are dependent on the “mothering” manipulator.

Such people can be unpleasant to be around. They haven’t healed  their childhood wounds and they are bleeding pain and fear all over everybody. Look at the man-child in the White House. A perfect example (if a highly pathological one).

Fear of Self-Care

At any rate, ever since my friends and I had this discussion about the ways that fear can mess us up, God keeps putting more examples in front of me. Today I realized that I’m afraid to take care of myself. Wow.

I was reading Frederick Buechner as follows:

“Love your neighbor as yourself is part of the great commandment. The other way to say it is, ‘Love yourself as your neighbor.’ Love yourself not in some egocentric, self-serving sense but love yourself the way you would love your friend in the sense of taking care of yourself, nourishing yourself, trying to understand, comfort, strengthen yourself . . . “Mind your own business” means butt out of other people’s lives because in the long run they must live their lives for themselves, but it also means pay mind to your own life, your own health and wholeness, both for your own sake and ultimately for the sake of those you love too. Take care of yourself so you can take care of them. A bleeding heart is of no help to anybody if it bleeds to death.”

I knew I struggled with self-care because of low self-worth — I mean if you don’t consider yourself of much value, why care for yourself, right? But I hadn’t thought about it in the context of fear and control. I mean seriously, if I am concentrating on myself and my own well-being, who is going to run the rest of the world? Who is going to make sure that something dreadful doesn’t happen?

Recovering from Fear in These Fearful Days

It may seem counter-intuitive, but the election of the man-child has helped me cope with my fears. I know I can’t control his madness, and so I have to “let go and let God,” as the twelve-steppers say. For my own sanity, I am allowing God to pry my clutching fingers from around the globe. I cannot save the world. I cannot control this.

“One day at a time” is another bit of twelve-step wisdom that helps me. Here again, the rise of the man-child has been a lesson for me. Catastrophizing about tomorrow or next week is entirely unnecessary when the president of the United States may daily taunt an unstable nuclear-armed dictator, purposefully escalate religious violence in the Middle East, intentionally increase global warming emissions, and attempt to undermine the free press or the justice system.

The words of Jesus are a lifeline for living in the age of trump: “So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today.”

The upshot of releasing fear and control to a higher power is that I don’t have to spend my days fretting about tomorrow and trying to control the uncontrollable. Instead I have time to focus on my own self-care.

I think I’ll put on some Christmas music and cook up a pot of healthy veggie soup on this snowy afternoon.

Practicing self-care

“Peace is what I leave with you; it is my own peace that I give you. I do not give it as the world does. Do not be worried and upset; do not be afraid.”    — Jesus







Lenten Question: What Does it Mean to Be You?



Today I’ll share some thoughts about Lent from one of my favorite authors. Even if you’re not a Jesus-person and you’ve never given Lent a second thought, this could be a useful exercise for you. Lent — which begins the day after tomorrow — is a traditional time for self reflection and re-centering, and Frederick Buechner gives us food for thought and prayer in his book, Whistling in the Dark.

† † †

“In many cultures there is an ancient custom of giving a tenth of each year’s income to some holy use. For Christians, to observe forty days of Lent is to do the same thing with roughly a tenth of each year’s days. After being baptized by John in the River Jordan, Jesus  went off alone into the wilderness where he spent forty days asking himself the question what it meant to be Jesus. During Lent, Christians are supposed to ask one way or another what it means to be themselves.

  If you had to bet everything you have on whether there is a God or whether there isn’t, which side would get your money and why?

  When you look at your face in the mirror, what do you see in it that you most like and what do you see in it that you most deplore?

  If you had only one last message to leave to the handful of people who are most important to you, what would it be in twenty-five words or less?

  Of all the things you have done in your life, which is the one you would most like to undo? Which is the one that makes you happiest to remember?

  Is there any person in the world, or any cause, that, if circumstances called for it, you would be willing to die for?

  If this were your last day of your life, what would you do with it?

To hear yourself try to answer questions like these is to begin to hear something not only of who you are but of both what you are becoming and what you are failing to become. It can be a pretty depressing business all in all, but if sackcloth and ashes are at the start of it, something like Easter may be at the end.”

flowers and Dayspring 039

Journal Snippets: Seeking Serenity


Journal Snippets: Seeking Serenity

I’ll keep it simple today and share a few snippets from my journal. You guys seem to enjoy that, voyeurs that you are, and I truly must wrap up my gentleness sermon.

The bizarre yin and the yang of my October consists of reading and writing about Saint Francis, the heart of gentleness and humility, and then blogging about DJ Trump. Sadly, my journal contains more of Donald than Saint Francis.

Oct 12

Today is a new day, a day in which I will not engage in Twitter wars, obsessively check political news and polling sites, Facebook, and my blog stats. It is 9:30 a.m. I have checked the Wash Post headlines and the polls — surprise! Same as they were when I checked them at midnight.

Here is something interesting: all this anxiety about the election. What appears to be happening is the dissolution of the GOP as we know it. The crazies have won . . . This could mean the Democrats taking the House and Senate for the first time since — when, Bill Clinton’s first term? Why am I not thrilled and overjoyed?

I guess because I no longer feed off of that part of myself, the competitiveness, spite, and power. At least less than I used to; it’s still in there. I worry for my nation. Having all the hate and fear and rage front & center is horrifying to see. And nothing can get done to fix our campaign system or slow climate change or stop the racial insanity and move towards any kind of reconciliation until we return to loving and caring for our fellow Americans.

Once the flag made me proud. Later, it made me mad. Now it makes me sad.

When I was in elementary school, the flag made me proud. During Vietnam, it made me mad. Now it makes me sad.

It all just makes me deeply sad. Perhaps, like Trump people, I am idealizing a past that never was. Social media makes it so much worse, though. Far from being a platform for discussion and airing of views, it is a place where like-minded people gather to mock people and policies that they disagree with and where you can occasionally make a foray into “enemy territory” and attack directly.

And I just don’t see how we fix it. If we don’t see more people centered in Love, we’re toast.

I guess I must start with me. My own centeredness and my own capacity and propensity for love. I must pray for myself to be a blessing and a part of the solution, and resist the urge to engage in negativity — something which fear makes it very hard to do. If I am open, loving, and vulnerable instead of on the attack like the rest of them, I risk hurt. But I am called to be a peacemaker. I want to channel the spirit of Jesus, not argue about his words or intent. I want to bring the fruits of the spirit into this world: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control. Let it begin with me.

love thy neighbor

October 13

Talking to some friends today about all this craziness and our roles in it. One of them said she was powerless to change herself, and I said if you can’t change yourself, you can’t change anything. And she said, yeah, that’s my point. How depressing.

I think she’s right, in a way. But for me, it is more that I cannot change myself *by myself.* I need to let go of my will and ask God to grant me the courage to surrender and let Spirit change me. I certainly can’t change my pettiness, my fear, my passive-aggressiveness without divine help!

Today I found out that there is a second verse to my beloved Serenity Prayer. Here is the whole thing:

“Grant me the Serenity to accept the things I cannot change,

the Courage to change the things I can,

and the Wisdom to know the difference.

Grant me Patience with the changes that take time,

Appreciation of all that I have,

Tolerance of those with different struggles,

and the Strength to get up and try again,

One Day at a Time.”

Amen, for sure.

Yesterday, I went for a drive in the fall colors, so I missed my daily blogging goal. Oh well. Day Seventeen, minus one.  

Admiring Humility


“Whom do you admire?” It saddens me that an answer doesn’t come easily to me. When I was young, I admired all manner of people – rock stars, teachers, politicians, TV actors, scientists, activists, writers, you name it.

Nowadays not so much.

I admire certain aspects of many people, but finding an admirable whole is harder, especially a person in the public arena. I do admire the heck out of Barack Obama. He’s one of a kind, a class act, and I’m so, so grateful he pulled us out the mess we were in after the Bush years. I’d vote for a third term in a flash.


Four More Years!

Other than Barack? Hmmm…

The virtue I most admire is humility, and it’s very hard to find. I am quick to identify a person’s need for approval, recognition, honor, esteem, or affection, and it turns me off big-time. The pathological version of this represented by Donald Trump utterly repulses me. Why? Because those needs are so very strong in me, and I can’t stand them! I want God to remove them immediately. But I fear the reason I long for humility in myself is at least partly so that other people will admire my humility. Which is probably why God lets me stew in my neediness.


Famous people aside, there are a number of humble people in my church that I admire, some suffering with disease or depression or physical pain, some teaching in troubled, low-income school districts, some caring for elderly parents, some carrying unimaginable grief, some sacrificing their time and freedom to adopt or foster or mentor needy kids. I am glad for these role models.

Thanks to WordPress for the word prompt: Admire, and I’ll leave you with Mother Theresa’s advice on cultivating humility:

To speak as little as possible of one’s self.

To mind one’s own business.

Not to want to manage other people’s affairs.

To avoid curiosity.

To accept contradictions and correction cheerfully.

To pass over the mistakes of others.

To accept insults and injuries.

To accept being slighted, forgotten and disliked.

To be kind and gentle even under provocation.

Never to stand on one’s dignity.

To choose always the hardest.”

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