Fear of the Unknown

A few weeks ago, I mentioned the importance of a loving “no.” The first reason I noted that a loving “no” is difficult is because I’m afraid of humility.  A loving “no” is also difficult because I have a fear of the unknown.  I think this fear is twofold:

First, I’m afraid of not knowing how God’s going to handle something.  This goes back to that trust thing, which seems to be a continual issue for me.  If I have any doubt that a person will be taken care of apart from me, I don’t want to say “no.” I begin to anxiously go through all the possible “what ifs.”

Second, I’m afraid because I don’t really know “needy” people well.  From a worldly perspective, I know “needy” people well.  I have a degree in Sociology, where we spent hours studying “needy” people.  Now, I spend a lot of time studying “needy” people as I study Psychology.  I’ve had a lot of experience with “needy” people in various settings.  Yet, I don’t really know them.

If I knew “needy” people well, I’d know that they bear the image of God just as much as I do.  These people are not less than me, they’re not some sort of inferior species.  “Needy” people are worth as much to God as I am.  Thus, they can be treated like I expect others to treat me.  That means they can be treated with honesty and respect.  There are personalities and experiences that may cause some to handle a “no” worse than others, but that doesn’t mean they don’t deserve the same kind of respect.

If I knew “needy” people well, I’d remember I’m just as needy.  In fact, God calls us to come to Him in a pretty “needy” manner.  Yet, God loves us.  A lot.  But God also tells me “no.” A lot.  Yet, He does so lovingly.  I may get upset, but He’s not afraid of those emotions.  He’s gentle and kind, but His character is consistent and His plans are perfect.  There’s no way we can say “no” as well as God does, but I’m pretty sure I can do a lot better than I’ve been doing.

I am never going to know all of God’s plans, all of the ramifications of my actions, or all of the ins-and-outs of the people in which I interact.  However, I can know when God calls me to say “no” and when God calls me to say “yes.” My fear of the unknown should not trump my fear of the Lord, who I know is faithful and trustworthy.

Fear of Humility

Last week, I mentioned that a loving “no” is inhibited by my fear of humility.  In other words, I don’t want to say “no” because I’m a control-freak.  I think I’m the only one that can help people.  I have a Messiah complex.

But who is the One that can truly help people? Who is the One capable of miracles? Who is the One that loves to the point of death?

Jesus, the actual Messiah.

But, honestly, I don’t always trust that He can do it.  Even when I do believe He can do it, I don’t always believe He will.  Why? He’s never let me down.

I recently read John Stott’s The Cross of Christ for one of my classes.  I think Stott shed some light on why I won’t always release people to Him, why I won’t release my control.  Stott compares Christians today to Jewish leaders in Jesus’ day:

“The same evil passion influences our own contemporary attitudes to Jesus.  He is still, as C.S. Lewis called him, ‘a transcendental interferer.’  We resent his intrusions into our privacy, his demand for our homage, his expectation of our obedience.  Why can’t he mind his own business, we ask petulantly, and leave us alone? To which he instantly replies that we are his business and that he will never leave us alone.  So we too perceive him as a threatening rival who disturbs our peace, upsets our status quo, undermines our authority and diminishes our self-respect.  We too want to get rid of him” (58).

Ouch.

I don’t want to be humble.  I don’t want to let Him interfere.  I’d rather maintain my self-respect and win this so-called competition of life.  Why say “no” when it means surrendering to the Lord over my own plans, self-respect, and authority? It means trusting Him over me.

But isn’t He more trustworthy than me? I’m fickle, conniving, and selfish.  God’s consistent, loving, and selfless.  He’s the only one worthy of my whole trust.  He is the one in which I can release my responsibilities, anxieties, and loved ones.  He is the reason I can trust Him to say a loving “no.”

“Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” 1 Peter 5:7 NIV

A Loving “No”

One of my classes this semester is Chemical Dependency.  It’s been an interesting class . . . to say the least.  We were required to attend two Alcoholic Anonymous meetings in addition to giving up some sort of “addiction” for two weeks as part of our coursework (I gave up dessert…needless to say, it was a rough two weeks).  Although there’s still a lot of required reading and writing, this class is different than a lot of the classes I’ve taken.  Recently, my professor astutely observed one of the main reasons that the church is inhibited from reaching addicts:

“As a church we know how to say ‘yes’ lovingly, but we don’t know how to say ‘no’ lovingly.”

In other words, we’re pretty mean when we finally say “no.”  Of course we are! We’re burnt out by that point!  But whose fault is that?

It’s rare that a statement a professor makes resounds with me as much as that statement has.  I cannot get it out of my head.  I’ve observed this behavior so much in myself since I heard him say that.  I desperately want to say “no” lovingly.  I’ve been so convicted that I’m the one causing the broken to hate the church, not someone else.  I’m as guilty as hypocrisy as anyone when I smile and say “yes,” but I really should say “no.”

That hypocrisy is spurred by fear: fear of humility, fear of the unknown, and fear of men.

Learning How to Listen

The other day I sat down at a coffee shop next to two seemingly normal water-drinkers.  After a long day of work and school, my goal was to sit on the patio with a sweet friend (the type that fills your soul, not drains it) and catch-up over tea.  For once, I was the first to arrive at the coffee shop and I began eating the most sustaining “meal” I could find.  As I lathered cream cheese on my bagel, I listened to this lady next to me explain her vocation as a mixture between a personal trainer and a nutritionist.  Scraping the bottom of the cream cheese container and chuckling to myself, I continued listening to their conversation.  The lady continued to explain that her role is similar to a counselor, but she’s around more than once a week.  (Not appreciating the stab at counselors, I defiantly washed down my carbs with a sip of my sugary beverage.) I was mildly intrigued as I continued to listen to this interesting trainer/nutritionist session, but I was still more interested in my food and phone.

Then the climax came: the trainer/nutritionist asked her client to share some of her struggles.  I tried to draw my attention elsewhere at first, but then it happened: the shift in the conversation.  After receiving some background information, the trainer/nutritionist asked about the client’s dad being in the hospital (which the client mentioned in her story).  The client immediately burst out into tears.  “Oh,” I thought, “how’s this lady going to respond now?” At first, the lady did a decent job.  She leaned forward, listened attentively, and commented how hard that must be.  Then, she fell flat on her face.  She said, “at least . . .” I’m not even sure what she said after that, but those two words made me grimace.  What could she say after that?

At least your dad’s been in the hospital for a month, so you’ve adjusted.”

At least the hospital has healthy food choices.”

At least your dad’s condition is so rare that you have a really interesting story.”

At least your job’s better now.”

Needless to say, I was glad my friend arrived shortly after that.

Yet, observing this conversation also made me grateful for the training the Lord’s giving me.  I’ve used that phrase “at least” (and many equally unhelpful phrases) more times than I can count and I’m sure I’ll continue to use them.  Even with a million hours of counseling training and really wise professors, there’s only so much training can do.  😉

BUT it’s pretty humbling when you see the Lord actually using an education that has been extremely daunting.

I recently realized that I have been a student for over 20 years.  Some would say “we’re all students” or “we must be continual learners.” Yes, yes, yes, I completely agree…but when I say “I’ve been a student for over 20 years,” I mean that very literally.  I’ve been submitting assignments, taking tests, and in a classroom (whether physically or online) for over 20 years.  That’s a long time . . . but I think it’s taken me that long to actually enjoy and apply what I’m learning.

This year one of the greatest lessons I’ve learned is how to listen . . . and not just eavesdrop at a coffee shop.  In counseling, listening is an extremely important skill to develop.  Although counselors are often perceived as people that are paid to just nod appropriately, ask how someone’s feeling, and doodle on a clipboard, that is not true.  Counselors don’t just listen.  However, even if we were just being paid to listen well, that would be a skill.  Listening is hard.

I’ve learned how to sit, respond, look, and probe while listening.  I’ve learned how to identify, analyze, and challenge patterns . . . but I still have so much to learn about listening: to people and the Lord.

It amazes me that I still don’t get how to listen to people well, but I’m just like them.  I know we’re all different, but we have a lot of similarities.  So how could I ever listen to the Lord? It seems practically impossible that I could ever learn to listen to Him.  After all, “my thoughts are not [His] thoughts, neither are [His] ways my ways” (Isaiah 55:8 ESV).  Yet, I think there are some similarities in the way we listen to others and the way we listen to the Lord.

Listening requires a probe, question, or challenge.  When we come to the Lord or we come to people, we have to seek an answer.  We may seek that response simply by waiting, but there has to be some sort of action to start the process.

Listening requires time.  With people and with the Lord, it takes time to listen.  It’s not just a one-time thing.  It’s important to get a bigger picture, to learn their character, and to see their heart.

Listening requires focus.  In a world of constant distraction, that means putting everything else aside for someone else.  For me, that means not looking at my phone when I’m listening to others and when I’m listening to the Lord.

Listening requires response. We’ve all been talking when someone’s responses are simply “uh huh,” they’re doing something else, or they’re simply not paying any attention.  The way we determine their lack of listening is by their response.  I imagine that’s the way the Lord makes that determination as well, which means He’d quickly deem me a very poor listener.  I’m often think “gee that’s convicting” and then close my Bible, move on, and never think about what He said to me again.