Thursday, August 14, 2014

Fear and Faith: On the Platforms of the Windmill

Fear is a strange thing. It overtakes all sense of logic and can leave its victim without the ability to even form a coherent thought. I know this because I have seen it first hand. While I do have a fear of heights, it usually does not require me to change much about my life. I would say that my fear is a milder version than some. My oldest daughter is absolutely, completely terrified of frogs or toads. I know that may sound strange to you, but the sight of an amphibious, jumping little greenish brown thing will send her to edge of reality and she will do whatever she can to get as far away as possible while trying not to hyperventilate. We are not exactly sure when or why this fear was birthed, but it runs deep. Luckily, it isn't as though one has to maneuver around frogs on a daily basis in Central Texas, so it really doesn't impact her life too terribly.

My mother on the other hand, like me is scared of heights. Maybe I should rephrase that, she is deathly terrified of any height taller than a two-inch wedge heel. One time she had received tickets to watch the Texas Rangers play because she was being honored as her school district's Teacher of the Year. The tickets were just a few rows from the very top of the incredibly tall stadium. I wasn't too keen on going up there to watch (I mean, the birds were flying below us), but my husband, father, and other family were excited about seeing their favorite team. I stayed with mom. She confided in me that when she gets up in high places like that, she is overcome by the intense thought to just go ahead and jump to her death because it is going to happen anyway; her brain says, "Get it over with already!" I was flabbergasted, and quickly made her promise to never do that! Truth is, she can't control the fear, it completely overpowers her logic and luckily she has never acted on the urge. Mom doesn't even do very well going down single flights of stairs or escalators if they are the narrow kind. The more narrow they are, the more steep they appear, and her fear starts to set in. She has managed her entire life and has learned ways to manage her fear and occasionally even beats her fear, but it never goes away. Fear is a really strange thing.

I have heard several times that fear and faith cannot reside in the brain at the same time; that your mind is either fearful or faithful. Which leads me to believe that, like fear, faith must be something that overcomes you and even overtakes all sense of logic. Faith usually isn't logical. Fear is hardly ever logical. In my experience, one causes me to behave illogically and the other causes me to rest in the illogical.

 A great illustration of fear versus faith is a story I remember my Grandpa and Grandma telling me when I was younger. You see, I think the fear of heights was something that in a lot of ways could have been passed down from generation to generation. My grandpa was an intimidating man who stood tall at six feet seven inches. He was a wheat farmer in Northern Oklahoma and a school teacher and counselor. My grandma complemented Grandpa with her slight five foot even build and often helped in the farming business as well as taught school herself. I am sure while reading this post, Grandma will smile at the story and hopefully I do it justice, as my grandpa was quite the story teller in his day.
Grandma and Grandpa in the early years
Grandma and Grandpa ( We sure do miss him)

As I recall, Grandpa and Grandma were working at the farm and the windmill had somehow broken. This windmill was instrumental in their farming because it pumped the water for the stock pond or "tank" for the livestock on the farm. (Grandpa owned cattle and a few horses as well as farming wheat.) Without the windmill pumping water to the tank, the animals would not survive. My grandpa, remember was afraid of heights. I believe his fear was at least as strong as my mother's if not more magnified.

I am not completely certain how tall the windmill was, but in talking to my parents, I am thinking it was around 25-30 feet in the air, and looked similar to this one. The way I remember the story, Grandpa had determined what exactly was broken on the windmill and had the ability and parts to repair it so he and Grandma headed down to the creek. I don't know if you can see it, but on this lovely wooden structure is a tiny little wooden ladder going up one side. The way I always pictured this in my mind when Grandpa told the story was that his had the ladder up the back of the windmill, but it could have been on the side. The problem was that the portion that needed to be repaired was on the opposite side as the ladder, and around the front (blade-side) of the windmill. This meant that someone would have to climb up the tiny, rickety ladder, step on that tiny platform at the top, then stretch around the blades to the other platform to stand so they could do the repairs. Here is where the story gets interesting.

Determined to be self-sustaining and take care of his farm, my grandpa steeled himself against his fear of heights and began the ascent of the tiny ladder. Now I always found it fascinating that a man who to me seemed 12 feet tall would be in the least affected by heights, but nevertheless, he was. At the top, I am sure shaking with fright, but still determined, he would take a deep breath and try to get the nerve up to step on the tiny platform and then stretch his long legs around and step to the other side to fix the windmill. He couldn't do it.  Defeated, he climbed down. Knowing they had to get it fixed, Grandma offers to give it a try. (don't forget she is just 5' tall.) She climbs up the ladder, which probably took her a little longer, and gets to the top. Grandma doesn't have the intense fear of heights, so she steps to the platform and makes the attempt to get to the other side. Her shorter legs will not reach. Defeated, she climbs down. The story goes that Grandpa climbed up again and tried to overpower the intense fear that he had and just couldn't get to the other side, so he climbed back down because Grandma thought she could make it this time. Grandma climbs up and stretches as far as tiny legs will stretch and cannot reach the other side. Apparently they did this little dance of the windmill  for quite a while before my grandpa was able to overcome the fear and get to the other side, repair the windmill and continue farming. Can you just imagine the conversation between this young couple as they both know this has to get done and neither one seem to be able to get it done and yet, there is no one else to do it for them. I can imagine the frustration, conflict, irritation, and later comic relief the entire windmill repair embodied. In that moment, Grandpa had to have enough faith that the platform would hold him, that he could do it, that he would not fall so he could overtake the deeply rooted fear that had prevented him from being successful on every prior attempt. Was the platform stronger that last time? Was Grandpa better prepared? Was he more steady or more ready? Was the climb shorter or the height less scary? I wasn't there, but my guess to each of these questions is, "Absolutely not!" There was no more logical reason to believe it would be okay the 10th time he tried than the 1st time he tried; he just got tired of allowing the fear to win. One side of that windmill platform was labeled FEAR and the other side labeled FAITH; fear and faith cannot abide in our lives at the same time.

Psalm 56: 3-4
"When I am afraid, 
I will trust in you.
In God, whose word I praise
In God I trust; I will not fear"

A fear of heights, or frogs, or storms (another family trait), or snakes, or spiders or public speaking are all things people deal with on a regular basis. Often it is not as much the identified item that is feared, but the threat of what danger or harm it might possibly inflict upon its victim. Many fears are natural, healthy survival instincts that sometimes are fed a little too aggressively. The fears that are the most damaging in my opinion are the silent ones; the ones no one will talk about. The fear of failure, the fear of commitment, the fear of success, the fear of responsibility, the fear of the truth,the fear of loss, the fear of change, the fear of the future, the fear of the past catching up to us, the fear of rejection, the fear of the unknown, the fear of being known...these fears are more taboo; these fears are silent. These fears we don't like to admit we have. These fears will control our lives if we allow them and are infinitely more aggressive than the tangible fears.

You see, my mom can choose the elevator instead of steep stairs. Kaitlyn can just avoid Kermit. My grandpa could have even paid someone else to climb the windmill if it had come to that or found a friend to help. But these silent fears, these intangible fears,  these are the ones that will overcome you and cause you to make poor decisions or keep you from good decisions. These fears will hold you hostage and stifle your growth. These fears are ongoing, and can only be overcome by replacing them with something that will overcome your heart with just as much intensity and power: faith.

The Bible says in Hebrews:
Hebrews 11:1
"Now faith is the assurance of what is hoped for; the conviction of what is unseen."

It is impossible to be fearful and have faith at the same time. You cannot step out in faith if you have fear! The apostle Peter who saw Jesus coming to him on the top of the water asked to be able to walk on the water also and Jesus said one simple word to Peter, "Come." Peter jumped out of the boat, ignoring the waves of a tumultuous sea, and started walking. He had faith in that moment in his Savior and was stepping out not in water, but in faith alone, which held him above the water. But suddenly, he slipped into human logic and realized what was happening was impossible by all accounts and that the sea was tossing around him and he was fully clothed in garments that were probably pretty heavy, especially when wet. His fear took hold of him, and he began to sink. What did Jesus say and do? He said, " You of little faith..." The faith had been immediately replaced by fear and Jesus had to reach out and restore the faith. Maybe it is just me, but God has told me so many times to "come" and I will be excited until I notice a little wind resistance or a wave lapping at my toes and suddenly I am thrust head-first into my former fears! Thank goodness our Lord is gracious and patient with me and picks me up, and reminds me that faith should have my focus, not fear.

Matthew 14:29-31
29 “Come!” He said.
And climbing out of the boat, Peter started walking on the water and came toward Jesus.30 But when he saw the strength of the wind,[k] he was afraid. And beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me!”
31 Immediately Jesus reached out His hand, caught hold of him, and said to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” 
One other thing I have heard speakers say about fear is that something like 90% of what you fear never happens! Honestly, I do not know if that is some fabricated statistic to make a point or not, but from my experience, it holds a lot of truth. Things that I worry myself over or try to manipulate situations to avoid, hardly ever happen anyway! The times that the most feared thing happened, I have grown through that and learned so much about who I am and who others are and most importantly who God is. If I think of the flip side of the coin, in my experience, the same percentage (if not more) would have to apply about things that I rested in faith over; at least 90%- if not all- worked out just how they were supposed to. Sometimes, not exactly how I had planned, but in hindsight, my plans really aren't all they are cracked up to be.

Think about the rhetoric often used around the word 'fear'. Frozen in FEAR. Gripping FEAR. Overcome by FEAR. Overwhelming FEAR. Wild with FEAR. Spine- tingling FEAR. Heart-pounding FEAR. Trembling with FEAR. Awe struck FEAR. Just typing these makes my heart race a little and I am feeling a little anxious! But for a moment, think with me about the difference it would make, just in the meanings of the phrases if you replaced FEAR with the one and only thing that can literally take its place: FAITH. How would you like to have overwhelming FAITH? Or to be Overcome by FAITH? Spine-tingling FAITH? Heart-pounding FAITH! Or one of my favorites, wild with FAITH! Wow, what a difference! One windmill platform of FEAR and the other of FAITH! What a beautiful picture in my mind now! I think I may write these on cards so I can flip over the fear and replace it with faith! I don't know if anyone can relate, but this gets me excited and makes my heart beat a little faster!

I don't know which particular fear grips you the easiest, but I have found that being aware of the feeling helps me put it in greater perspective and I know that spirit of fear is not from God. God gives us the ability to have faith; Satan throws darts of fear at us. If I am truly overcome by fear, that is of the devil and I have the Holy Spirit in me that can cast that off if I will just allow faith to abide instead.
For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but one of power, love, and sound judgment.

 There are countless scriptures in the Bible that either use the phrase " Do not be afraid" or "Fear not". This is a list of just a few. If you are struggling with replacing fear with faith, please look these up and read them OUT LOUD! Let your mouth speak the words, your ears hear the words so your heart will know the words.

Deuteronomy 31:6 & 31:8, Joshua 1:9, Isaiah 41:10 & 54:4, Jeremiah 1:8, Ezekiel 2:6, Matthew 10:26, John 14:27, Hebrews 13:6, I John 4:18

Isaiah 44:8 is one of my favorites:

"Do not be startled or afraid. Have I not told you and declared it long ago? You are my witnesses! Is there any God but Me? There is no other Rock."

You know we refer to it as a "leap of faith" but there is no such thing as a "leap of fear." Fear is human nature, unintentional. Faith is God's nature and must therefore be humanly intentional. So here's to intentionally replacing fear with faith; every day, every time, everyone.

Blessed more than I deserve,