Getting past fear
From the April 13, 2011 issue of the Christian Science Sentinel. This article originally appeared on spirituality.com.
Several years ago, home alone one rainy Friday evening, I skimmed through my bookcase for a movie to keep me company. I chose one of my all-time favorites, an Alfred Hitchcock thriller. As I settled into watching it, I remembered how many times I'd seen this movie before, and yet I never tire of it. Although somewhat docile by today's cinematic standards, the first time I saw it as a boy I was so frightened I couldn’t get to sleep that night!
I know now that particular Hitchcock film isn't the only movie to instill this effect the first time someone watches it. Filmmakers purposely introduce elements of suspense, anticipation, surprise, fear, etc., which play on our emotions and make the initial impact of a film more intense and memorable. But, as is the case with many movies, once someone has seen the film and experienced its special effects, storyline twists, and surprise ending, the next time they watch it they are usually no longer afraid, anxious, worried, etc., because the mystery has been dispelled.
I have found this analogy so helpful in dealing with the many challenges I've encountered in my life. Who among us hasn't faced a situation that seemed unknown, troublesome, upsetting, frightful, or even evil? Hardly a day or a week goes by without some experience popping up where we cannot predict or control the outcome. In such a case, there is often a temptation to react much as we might to a new movie – with fear, shock, excitement, anxiety, stress, worry, mistrust, and so on.
A friend once described worry as "the lowest form of thought." Worry presupposes either a separation from God or His impotence. Through worry, we relinquish our claim to a sure, orderly, and beneficent universe, and plunge ourselves into a world of chaotic and conflicting forces, where evil and good must constantly battle to determine which shall prevail in any given circumstance. It is a desperate state of mind in which we are never comfortable and which often impels us to feel personally responsible for the outcome of a situation.
But we don't have to be held hostage by these thoughts. Instead, we can know that, as the Bible tells us in so many ways, we are actually made and maintained in the image of God – as the harmonious, good, truthful, and confident reflection of our omnipresent and omnipotent Father-Mother – and thus reflect all the stability, certainty, and harmony that God includes. This awareness lets us deal with daily trials much as we would with a movie we've previously seen.
We already know the outcome and it can only be one thing – good! Yielding our thought to God and putting all our trust in Him, we discern that this divine Principle will never – could never – let us down, and we can lead our lives feeling certain that every challenge, interaction, and opportunity will not only resolve itself harmoniously, but will end up blessing us and lifting us up to new spiritual heights. With God as our Director, we can know that the myriad dramas of our life will always result in a happy resolution, guaranteed!
Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of Christian Science, wrote in "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures" : "When we wait patiently on God and seek Truth righteously, He directs our path" (p. 254). Sometimes we might think that waiting patiently and seeking are contradictory activities, but if we think of waiting as an active state of thought, full of anticipation, receptivity, and joy, we begin to see how our pursuit for Truth can be filled with patience, expectancy, hope, assurance.
I saw this most vividly in an experience about a year ago. I had stopped at the Post Office to get my mail on the way to picking up my son at school. As I quickly shuffled through the letters, one from the Internal Revenue Service caught my eye. I hurriedly scanned it to discover that in auditing my 2008 tax return, the IRS was not able to substantiate a number of deductions I had claimed that year. The letter went on to say that if I wasn't able to produce documentation for these deductions within 30 days, they would be disallowing them and sending me a tax bill – for back taxes and penalties – amounting to more than $100,000!
I was panic-stricken. As I walked back to my car all sorts of thoughts swirled through my head: How could I have made such a major mistake on my tax return? Will the IRS let me pay off this huge debt over time? If not, maybe I could take out a second mortgage on our home.
Fortunately, the 15-minute drive to my son's school gave me time to calm down and collect my thoughts. One of the first things that came to me was a passage from Jeremiah, "I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end" (29:11). I realized that an "expected end" wasn't necessarily knowing exactly how this calamity would be resolved, but knowing that if I let God handle it completely, I wouldn't need to worry about it – I could expect the ending to be perfect and good.
By the time I picked up my son, I had turned the whole problem over to God in my thought. I became peaceful about it, as well as alert to what God was telling me to do next. The following day I was led to call the man who'd helped me prepare my 2008 tax return. Over the next several days we were able to gather and resubmit all the necessary documentation. Within a few months we received confirmation from the IRS that they were satisfied with our submittal and the case was now closed.
While I was grateful for this small example of God's care and sureness, what can we do when we've prayed about a situation which didn't seem to have a happy resolution? Perhaps a loved one passed away, a spouse left us, or we learned of terrible suffering from a natural disaster. By holding fast to God's immortal, absolute ideas, we deepen our appreciation of the reliability and unchangeableness of the universe that includes us. We pierce the material haze surrounding what seems to be happening in our world, and perceive the spiritual reality behind it. True, it may not be the endings we imagine, but if we listen earnestly and openly to God, we will find that His solutions are always brimming with love, perfection, and goodness, which dispel our grief and uncertainty, and naturally bless us.
Each opportunity we have to demonstrate that life isn't a giant mystery, but rather that God is always in complete control of every situation, is another solid step forward on our spiritual path, and better equips us to handle the next challenge. Like watching a movie for the second time, all the mystery and uncertainty vanish, replaced by the joyful expectancy and assurance that we can never be separated from God, are always in His thoughts, and can rely wholeheartedly on His tender, loving care.
This article was adapted from an article in the April 13, 2011, issue of the Christian Science Sentinel.