Fear is one of the strongest emotions we experience as human beings. It brings a clear and obvious hormonal/chemical reaction in the brain - a release of adrenaline and what is called a fight or flight response. As moms, we have many things to be fearful about. finances, swimming pools, fire, tornadoes, high ledges, balloons, hot coffee, pedophiles, the direction our country is headed, and on and on and on. It is easy to become afraid. But God says over and over in the Bible to "fear not". One of my favorite passages is Phillipians 4:6-7 "Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. "
Like the red dragon of anger, the yellow dragon of fear can have quiet beginnings. It's just a little egg. It's just the normal thoughts and feelings that anybody has. But, it can easily grow out of control - and into control of our lives. I was speaking with a friend today who struggles with fear and we talked about the roots - begun way back in childhood. In one case, an encounter with a big dog was dwelt upon and thought about, the emotions allowed to fester. Each trigger along the way - the sound of a chain moving in the wind, the glimpse of a big dog - brought back all that original fear and cemented it in her brain. Other episodes with different fears were "handled" in the same way, until the fear became an integral part of who she was, growing bigger and bigger with each reinforcement. When a huge trial came into her life, it's no wonder that the predominant emotion (although many would have fit) was fear. That trial grew the fear into debilitating panic that lasted a long time. She is still dealing with the fallout.
It would be easy to look at the debilitating fear as something sudden, from outside of herself, over which she had no control. But looking back, the eggs were laid and incubated from early childhood. There are many who cry foul at this. How dare we say that our mental illnesses are rooted in our own wrong thinking? How can we blame a child who doesn't know any better? Are we saying that if our faith was just stronger, if we just read the Bible and prayed more, we wouldn't be sad/scared/angry/bitter/etc.?
The point is that it is not about blame, but simply about consequences. God says that the wages of sin is death. He says that we are born with a sinful human nature. Each child is born with the consequences of sin already at work in his life. We may cry, "unfair!" but that doesn't change the facts. In the same sense, our thoughts and especially our dwelling on certain thoughts, has consequences, both emotional and physical, even as little children. As we think and learn, pathways are literally created in our brain, chemicals are brought into play, and memory files are created. Each time those pathways are repeated, they are strengthened until paths become ruts and sometimes ruts even become canyons.
So, how do we break free? How do we slay the dragon of fear? I believe there are three main weapons here again.
First, we need to say, "Lord, I can't, but You can!" When Fear is overwhelming you and the dragon is sitting on your chest and you feel like you can't even breathe, like it has become a tangible heaviness, like you don't even know if you *want* to fight it anymore - that's when God has to take control and do the fighting. And He will! It may not be the immediate relief that we may want. My friend told me of many times that she cried out to God in her fear and He graciously gave her an overwhelming feeling of His presence. The fear did not go away, but God was clearly there with her in the midst of it. It reminds me of the song by Scott Kripayne, "Sometimes He calms the storm, but other times He calms His child".
Second, we need to learn to take our thoughts captive as the Bible says. This is something few of us are taught to do, especially as children, when it would have been quite handy to never have allowed these dragons into our lives in the first place. We have been told *to* do it, but not really *how* to do it. Often we have a thought, like fearing that our child will inhale a piece of a popped balloon. We have heard stories of children dying in this way. We hear the story and it makes an impression. As we think about it, it produces a chemical response in the brain, which produces a fear emotion and cements the image in our minds. Now, we see our child with a balloon in his mouth and our brain calls up that image. If we allow ourselves to entertain the thought for more than a minute our two, the adrenaline starts to flow and the fear becomes stronger. Do that often enough with enough different scenarios, and eventually the fear becomes a defining factor of who we are. Taking a thought captive works best if we can capture it within that first 1-2 minute window - before the brain's chemicals become involved. This does not mean for instance that we see something that triggers a memory of something fearful, the image comes to mind, and we tell ourselves, "I won't think about that. I won't think about that. I won't think about that." Trust me, it doesn't work. We're still thinking about that! It also does not work if we are telling ourselves, "I don't have to fear. God can use this for good in this way or that way and maybe He's doing this or that in my life through it." We're still thinking about that! What we need to do is get it gone entirely.
I liken this to changing the channel in our brains. From what I've been reading lately and what I've experienced, our brain can only *really* concentrate on one thing - one strong thought or emotion - at a time. So we need to change the channel. We don't have to go directly from the channel of fear to the channel of perfect peace. (or the channel of anger to the channel of true love, or the channel of despair to the channel of high flying joy) Often it works better to switch to the cooking channel, the home decorating channel, the what do I need to get done today channel. Any channel that does not have any connection to the thought that you are taking captive. Put your mind on something - anything - entirely different. It may niggle at the back of your brain, but it can't control you unless you turn back to that channel. And if you do - change it again. Each of us have certain thoughts, certain areas of life that are dangerous for us to think on. For me, it may be thoughts that lead to depression, for my friend, it may be thoughts that lead to fear. Psalm 131: 1b-2 says, "I do not concern myself with great matters or things too wonderful for me. But I have stilled and quieted my soul; like a weaned child with its mother, like a weaned child is my soul within me." Those thoughts that are too great, too hard for us are matters that must be trusted to God's care. Once we have put reasonable precautions for our children's safety into place, and we know that God is in control and will not allow anything into our lives that He has not ordained, we can not dwell, fixate, or mull over those thoughts any more. We have to simply turn the channel.
Which leads us to the third weapon - praise! The Bible says in Romans 8:15, "For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father. " and in Isaiah 49:15-16, "Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? yea, they may forget, yet will I not forget thee. Behold, I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands; thy walls are continually before me."
I LOVE that image! We are graven upon the palms of His hands - quite literally by the nails on the cross! We are His dear and precious children and He loves us so very very much. We have so much to praise Him for. Even those emotions that threaten to overtake us, we can thank and Praise Him for allowing them into our lives, drawing us closer to Him. When we change the channel, the Praise channel is a very powerful channel to switch to. Satan may fight us for a little while, but eventually he must flee, holding his fingers in his ears! That Phillipians passage says to use prayer and petitions WITH thanksgiving! For me, I've found that in the moment of channel switching, a brief "Thankyou, Lord" prayer helps immensely. By that I mean, "Thankyou, Lord that You are in control no matter what, even if I don't feel like it right now." Keep it short, then, SWITCH! Praise Him, not in relation to the negative thought, but just for who He is.
There is a place to consider the effects of female hormones and health issues on one's emotions. I am not discounting that at all, though I will wait to discuss it more in length in another post. I will say though that I don't believe throwing drugs that cause more calming chemicals to be present in the brain at the problem is the answer. They do nothing to change or help the underlying causes, and for many people do more harm than good.
So until next time, God bless you as you fight the yellow dragons in your life.