Taking Out the Trash {a toolkit for fighting fear}

Here are some practical ways to fight fear that I’ve never shared publicly before. I talked about them during this year’s Velvet Ashes online retreat and wanted to post them here in the hopes that someone out there might find them helpful in their battle against fear. I’ve reprinted all the quotes and Bible verses for easy reference, or you can simply scroll to the bottom for the video testimony. ~Elizabeth

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I used to take my pulse to make sure I was still alive. Because the ability to breathe and move my fingers to my neck weren’t evidence enough of life?? Thankfully by the time I realized why I did that and could verbalize it, I could see the humor in it.

And it was mostly health reasons that made me not want to come to the field in the first place. I’m a recovering hypochondriac [read: I’m still a hypochondriac, but it’s not out of control anymore].

Living here still plays tricks on my mind sometimes, and I have to consciously choose not to follow the rabbit trail my fears are digging. But I’ve got more practice at it now, and someone to keep me accountable (my husband), so it doesn’t take over my daily life the way it used to.

My go-to passage on fighting fear was always Matthew 6:25-34. I even committed it to memory 13 years ago when I was pregnant with my firstborn and finances were uber-tight, and I’ve returned to these words of Jesus again and again throughout the years:

That is why I tell you not to worry about everyday life—whether you have enough food and drink, or enough clothes to wear. Isn’t life more than food, and your body more than clothing? Look at the birds. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly Father feeds them. And aren’t you far more valuable to him than they are? Can all your worries add a single moment to your life?

And why worry about your clothing? Look at the lilies of the field and how they grow. They don’t work or make their clothing, yet Solomon in all his glory was not dressed as beautifully as they are. And if God cares so wonderfully for wildflowers that are here today and thrown into the fire tomorrow, he will certainly care for you. Why do you have so little faith?

So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’ These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.

So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today.

But what really helped me several years ago was reading a book designed to help kids with OCD. It’s called What To Do When Your Brain Gets Stuck, and it teaches kids (or in this case, me) to identify “brain junk,” which is basically the thought patterns we have that are false and hurtful and don’t belong in our mind. After we identify the brain junk (the lies, the fears, the negative self-talk), we can throw it away, literally discarding it from our lives.

For me, following the advice in the OCD book has been a working out of the truths of Hebrews 5:14, which says the mature have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil, and Titus 2:11-12, which talks about the grace of God that teaches us to say “no.”

I had to practice distinguishing the good from the evil (or unhelpful) thought patterns. But I recognize that it is the grace of God that helps me to say no to those irrational thought patterns. And it all came about from a children’s book on OCD.

Another thing that helped tremendously was a section in a book that Cindy Morgan wrote, Barefoot on Barbed Wire, which was all about fighting fear. I “randomly” picked it up at the library when I was pregnant with my 3rd child (when the fears were the most out of control they’d ever been).

“Fear can have so many faces. We can never really escape from the things that cause us to be afraid. For everyone we secure ourselves against, there will be another waiting to take its place. The world is not under our control. So it all comes down to learning to trust God.”

Her book and this quote in particular really convicted me that fighting fear wasn’t about addressing my specific fears and trying to talk myself down from them and over-researching on the internet and reminding myself of the science.

No, my fear was actually something broken inside me. It didn’t come from risk factors on the outside. It came from within. The OCD strategies helped enormously in fighting my fear on a practical level, but I also needed this heart-level truth as well.

I talk about these things (and more) in my 10-minute testimony for Commune, Velvet Ashes’ 2016 online retreat, which is re-published here with permission. If you missed the retreat earlier this spring, Velvet Ashes plans to make the entire thing available again sometime in the future. And if you’ve been blessed through the ministry of Velvet Ashes, consider donating to them here

Jesus Loves Me, This I Sometimes Know {Velvet Ashes}

This article by Elizabeth was originally published at Velvet Ashes, and is reprinted here in full, with permission.

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I used to think trusting God meant trusting Him for the circumstances of my life. I used to think it meant trusting God for my future. But this past year God has completely overhauled my understanding of Trust.

I’m married to a man who has all the gifts. Seriously. You name it, he’s got it. And as he and his gifts have grown more public these past few years, I began to believe nobody valued my gifts or even noticed them. Nobody saw me, I told myself; they only saw him. I convinced myself the world didn’t want anything I had to offer; they only wanted what he had to offer.

I felt myself disappearing, fading into nothingness. Very soon, I told myself, I would be invisible. Am I important? Do I matter? Does anybody see me, truly see me? In agony I flung these questions into the cosmos, only to have them answered time and again with a resounding NO. No, you’re not seen; no, you don’t matter; no, you’re not important.

I was certain the problem was my marriage. If only I weren’t married to such a massively talented man, I wouldn’t feel this way. If only he would stop shining, I would feel better about myself. I accused him of erasing me and told him I wanted to die. We kept repeating the same irrational conversations.

Then one Sunday last fall I awoke with the sudden realization that the bitterness I held toward my husband was actually directed at God. None of this was my husband’s fault — it was God’s. He was the One who hadn’t given me the desirable gifts. He was the One who was withholding from me. This was no longer about my marriage: it was about my trust in God’s goodness.

Why does the Giver of gifts seem to pick favorites? Why are some people more highly favored? If God loves us all equally, why are His blessings so unequal? Since (by my reckoning) God hadn’t given me the good gifts, I concluded that He must not love me.

That sounds ridiculous, I know. Learning that Jesus loves us is one of the first things we do in Sunday school. When we belt out Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so, we’re supposed to believe it. Except here I was, and I didn’t believe it.

I prayed a half-hearted prayer: God, please, meet me at church today. I’m not even sure I meant it. Then at church the speaker began talking about how God doesn’t pick favorites. From my seat I remember hearing, “He doesn’t like Ernie more than Ann.” I looked up in astonishment and told God, I think You just answered my prayer.

God had spoken to my mind that morning, but my heart still had its doubts. My solution was to try grunting my way into belief. I thought if I just.tried.hard.enough, I could force myself to believe God’s love for me. But head knowledge has a hard time filtering down into heart knowledge, and I was groping in the dark.

A few months later I found myself in a counseling office to debrief my first few years overseas. Conversation soon came to a standstill. I was stuck. The counselor wisely handed me some colored pencils and asked me to draw. I’m an abysmal artist, but I did as she asked: I drew a purple mountain’s majesty, a part of Creation that draws me closer to God.

The counselor asked me what that mountain might say to me. The first words that came to me were “Just Sit.” Then she asked what else that mountain might say to me, and the word “Believe” immediately flooded my soul.

“Believe what?” she asked.

Through tears, I croaked, “Believe that God loves me as much as He loves my husband.”

And with that one word from God, months of striving to grasp His unconditional, all-surpassing, non-partisan Love evaporated. God used a poor colored-pencil sketch to short-circuit my rational brain and reach inside my heart. It was a breakthrough of belief that took me deeper into the love of God than I ever dreamed I’d go.

Shortly after my time with the counselor, I encountered I John 4:16 in the New International Version: “And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.” I stopped cold. For me, knowing God’s love came first, and relying on it came afterwards. How could this verse so perfectly sum up my experience of God’s love when it had been written some 1,900 years earlier??

I loved this verse so much I looked it up in other versions. The English Standard Version reads, “And so we have come to know and to believe the love God has for us.” When I looked it up in the Greek, I discovered that “know” implies a personal experience, and “believe” means to trust. I John 4:16 is most definitely my story. First I had a personal experience of God’s love, and now I find I can trust it.

My Brute Force Method had failed. Trying to trust had failed. It was only when I let go and stopped striving that I could actually trust His love for me. So maybe trust is more of a release than a grip. Maybe it’s more of an invitation than an instruction. Maybe radical Trust in God isn’t about my circumstances, but about His love.

Psalm 13:5 declares, “I trust in Your unfailing love.” Trust in His unfailing love is life to me now. I no longer believe the lies that tell me my husband is more valuable than I am. I know I’m loved, and I no longer need to slice through my husband’s heart with my perfectly-practiced, precision-cut lies.The most broken part of our marriage has been made whole. I never thought I’d be able to proclaim that.

I am daily living Paul’s prayer in Ephesians 3:17-19. I’m experiencing the love of Christ, and He is filling my life with His love. I’m trusting in Him, and He’s making His home in my heart. I feel my roots growing down deep into God’s love, and I trust its width, length, height, and depth like never before.

This is the cry of my heart for you today. I pray along with Paul, that “Christ will make His home in your hearts as you trust in Him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep His love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.”

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Further resources that helped me know and rely on the love God has for me:

The life and ministry of Rich Mullins, especially his song “The Love of God

Anything by Brennan Manning, especially “Reflections for Ragamuffins

Beth Moore’s Beloved Disciple Bible Study or book

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What is the thing in your life that makes you doubt that God loves and values you as much as He loves other people??

What is God inviting you to trust Him for?

“I Can’t Trust Anyone” {A Life Overseas}

Elizabeth is over at A Life Overseas today.

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The last two months we’ve been exploring the ideas in Timothy Sanford’s book “I Have to be Perfect” (and other Parsonage Heresies). I hope this series is as healing for you as it has been for me.

So far, we’ve given ourselves permission to say “and” in The Little Word That Frees Us. Then we began to exchange our “shoulds” for “coulds” in “I’m Not Supposed to Have Needs” | Lies We Believe. If you’re new to the conversation, you might want to go back and read those first two sections.

I’m different

Before we dive into this lie, I need to clarify something. Sanford, himself an MK, says this belief has nothing to do with the legitimate “differentness” of being an MK and having a blended-culture worldview. That’s the TCK part of being an MK, and is a different discussion.

Rather, the belief that “I’m different” comes from being treated differently. It comes from living under different expectations and being required to abide by different rules. Sanford says this is not imaginary: though church members try to deny it, they often do judge PKs and MKs differently. People apply standards to them that they don’t apply to “regular” people. Likewise, we ministers and missionaries often apply standards to ourselves that we wouldn’t think of applying to non-ministry people.

We need to pause here and acknowledge the truth inside the lie: adults and children in ministry contexts do have different experiences, and those experiences can be quite exotic. More travel, more exposure to other cultures, more opportunities to attend events and meet well-known Christian leaders.

Other times our experiences are darker. We (along with our children) see the underbelly of church and missionary culture. We know all about problem people and problem finances. We know who is “against us” and at times we even know who is responsible for eliminating our positions and reducing our influence, all in the name of Christ. These are the secrets we must keep and the burdens we must bear — and that too, makes us feel different.

If we think we’re different, however, we may keep ourselves from pursuing deep relationships. We may push people away and close our hearts to them. We may become lonely and even depressed. Alternatively, we may slide from believing we’re “different” into believing we’re “better.” We may like our positions of influence and authority: they boost our ego and pad our sense of pride. Although it’s uncomfortable to admit sometimes, we are a tribe who likes to set ourselves not merely apart, but also aboveNeither of these reactions is right or healthy.

Click here to finish reading and join the conversation.