Recently I was having coffee with a friend when out of the blue he asked, “do you think there is something wrong with me?”
I was stunned by his question. “Why would you even think something like that?,” I asked. “We’ve known each other a long time and I’ve always considered you to be a great guy.”
“Well,” he said, “lately I’ve been feeling really stressed over my job and my marriage. I’m afraid I could lose it all. I’ve never been like this before and I’m beginning to believe there is something wrong with me.”
He then shared his story. It seems that there were some very difficult changes taking place where he worked, which could have a negative impact on employees’ jobs. What was really bothering him was that many of his co-workers seemed to be taking it in stride while he was worrying a lot and was afraid that he might lose his job. He couldn’t understand why others were so calm while he was so upset and fearful. In addition, his wife had been laid off, which had created tension at home. He was afraid of what might happen if they couldn’t find a way to reduce the stress and strain on their marriage. His shoulders slumped as he said, “I honestly don’t know what to do.”
I told him that I knew how he felt. In other words, I had been there. I shared that many years ago, I found myself in a very similar situation. Fortunately, I had been introduced to a Christian psychologist, whom I refer to as Coach, who was helping me with some issues from my military days. I then shared with my friend what I learned from Coach and from my actual life experience. I explained what I’d come to understand as the “anatomy of fear.”
The strongest human instinct is the instinct of survival. Not just life or death survival but survival in our professions, relationships, finances, public image and general wellbeing. We automatically experience fear whenever there is a real or perceived threat to our survival in any critical area of our lives. This is both good and bad. If there is a real clear and imminent danger to us, our reaction to fear immediately mobilizes all of our defensive systems to protect ourselves. That is good. All too often, however, the threats we experience are not a clear and present danger. Rather, they are perceived threats that don’t require a fight or flight response. The bottom line is that any threat real or perceived will automatically generate fear. This is bad because if unchecked, it can cause unnecessary anxiety leading to fear, panic and even depression.
I explained to my friend that fear comes in varying levels from minor worry to full-blown panic. I can personally vouch for that as I spent many years experiencing regular debilitating panic attacks. After working with Coach, it was a great relief to discover that I didn’t have to live with them any longer.
Coach taught me that any threat generates fear, the level of which, however, is determined by our level of internal security or confidence. Our level of internal security or confidence is determined by our belief or faith that we can handle the threat or not.
In my friend’s case, he was experiencing high levels of fear and anxiety over the threats in his life because he had a low level of faith and belief that he could handle whatever happened as a result of loosing his job and/or a deterioration of his marriage.
Coach shared two things with me that became keys in my efforts to transition from a fear-filled chaotic life to one of calm and peace. Here they are.
First he gave me a definition of fear that I could understand and work with: fear is a question, which is am I going to be okay? In other words, can I handle this situation? Coach told me the answer is always YES because God has given everyone the skill, knowledge, ability and strength to handle every challenge that comes our way. Oh, it may not come out the way we want it to, but we will still be standing when the dust settles. If you doubt that, look back over your life at all the challenges you’ve faced and all the fears you’ve had. You’ve handled every one of them and you are still here. Yes, I challenged Coach on that. I said, “what if it kills me?” He just smiled and said, “first none of us are getting out of this world alive, and second our sense of survival is so strong that we will use everything at our disposal to survive. If that is not enough to save us, then it was our time and there was nothing that was going to stop it.”
The second key was how to build a high level of internal security, confidence and belief that I could handle the challenges I faced. In order to build confidence, we must find something which we believe will support us when we are threatened. That confidence is the anchor we know we can count on when the chips are down. Basically, there are three things in which we can place our belief and faith.
- First, belief in ourselves certainly works part of the time. Unfortunately, we have all had doubts or have second-guessed ourselves, which dilutes and diminishes this belief.
- Second, we can place our belief and faith in our friends, families and associations, those individuals who have had our backs even in bad times. Unfortunately, they have also let us down at times because they are not perfect; They are as flawed as we are.
- The third is belief and faith in God. I believe that at one time or another we have all felt that God, like our fellow man, was not there for us in times of trouble. Many people have told me that when they face trouble, they pray for a way out. When they don’t get what they want, they feel betrayed because the prayer wasn’t answered.
What I’ve learned through my life experience is that God answers all prayers. But he will always give us what we NEED not necessarily what we WANT. Unfortunately, when we don’t get what we want, we question why God didn’t answer our prayer. This causes a little flicker of doubt in our belief.
Characters in the Bible say “fear not” three hundred and sixty-five times. Always remember when you come to fully believe that God will always give you what you need, you will have achieved an extremely high level of internal security and confidence. I know this to be true because I’m living it and experiencing peace and joy in our very chaotic world.