“I’m just so anxious all the time,” Cheri said. I’m having trouble sleeping. Night and day my mind is churning with thoughts about Ebola, terrorists, climate change, and the economy. I don’t know what to do! I’m just so scared.”
These days everywhere you go, there seems to be no way to escape the barrage of bad news. And if the TV and online news stories aren’t enough, there are plenty of people who will tell you how bad it is out there and how much we have to be afraid of.
We need an effective strategy to deal with fear and to find our faith instead.
Three step strategy
There are three things that we can do. Each of these depends on our being aware that the root of our fears is in our thoughts and that this is where we must first deal with them. If we can first do this, then we’ll be able to rob them of their power to make us anxious and afraid.
Many years ago, my friend Karen was living in the campus area of a large state university. She was a graduate student and had an apartment hear her classes. The area was crowded and noisy and there had been a number of break-ins in the neighborhood. Karen was a single woman and she was very afraid someone would break into her ground level apartment. Her anxiety reached the point where she was afraid all the time.
When she talked with me about it, I suggested a Bible verse that I’d found helpful myself. “For God has not given us the spirit of fear, but of power, of love, and of a sound mind.” (II Timothy 1:7). I asked her to type it out and put it on her refrigerator where she could see it. And then, to begin every morning by meditating on it, and every night, to do the same thing. As she did this, she began to see that she could choose what she would think about. She saw that the thoughts that were so terrifying to her were, at their root, only thoughts. I told her that if action was required on her part, that she would be able to discern God’s guidance when her mind was still and peaceful.
Karen was faithful in her practice and the energy she used to put into fear, she now invested in thoughts of faith; of God’s power, love, protection, and security. She finished her Master’s degree with much more serenity and had no problems of safety.
So the first step in our strategy is to become aware of our fearful thoughts and to replace them with thoughts of faith. If our thoughts are fear-based, they are not of God.
Making up stories
The next step is to realize when we are making up stories. Making up stories is something many of us do to fill in the blanks when we don’t have the facts. A simple example of this might be that someone you know doesn’t speak to you. Immediately the conditioned mind (ego) begins to make up a story about why. “She doesn’t like me…she’s probably mad at me….oh, it’s because she heard that I got invited to the party and she didn’t….well I don’t care, I don’t like her either!” After we make up the story, we then believe it, and act on it. When all the time, the only thing that occurred was that someone didn’t speak when we expected her to.
When we remember to ask ourselves, “Am I making up stories?” and the answer is yes, then we can go back and trace our thoughts and see that we made them up about the situation. We will then have done much to alleviate our fears.
Let the train of thought go by
The third thing we can do is to let our thoughts go by without us, without following them with our attention, and without believing them. This may sound difficult, because most of us believe all our thoughts. But if we can watch our thoughts go by, just as we would watch a passing train, without following them with our attention, we will find ourselves at peace.
To do this, make a conscious effort to bring your awareness into your body and out of your head. Then focus your attention on your heart. Breathe and relax and count very slowly. As you become aware of fearful thoughts, let the train of thought pass through your mind and bring your attention back to your gentle breathing. Repeat this exercise each time fearful thoughts arise.
Dear friends, the Presence of God in us is greater than any fear. “Feed your faith and your fears will starve to death.” -author unknown.
“For God has not given us the spirit of fear, but of power, of love, and of a sound mind.”
-II Timothy 1:7