What Are We Afraid Of?

I ended my last post with this question: So, what are we trying to protect ourselves from?  An earlier title to this post was going to be: Why am I controlling?

There’s a fear that drive us both to control others and to protect ourselves.

I think that in our unconscious, and sometimes conscious, depths, we all fear death.

We are mostly not aware of or in touch with real death — spiritual separation from God — or even physical death. Instead, we experience death in the here and now, in our pain and in our loss. And we fear that deep inside, we are dead, too.

I think I can best explain this fear by giving myself as an example. And there’s no way I can do that without going beyond my ideal posting limit of 300 words. So I will.

For me (and I imagine for most women), I sense death primarily in relationships. I recall a few situations where I felt in relationship with others that I was no-one, that I might as well not exist. As I tried to get in touch with how I felt, I became aware that I feared being a big, fat zero. I feared that deep down, there as nothing.

I believe that my blogging friend Marcy effectively describes that sense of not mattering, of having even one’s feelings rendered moot — nothing more than an over-reaction to the color of Jell-O:

I dreamed I was in a mental hospital. I yearned to go back to Africa (I went one summer on a mission trip, and it was an interesting and significant trip psychologically)…. Just before I get to the doors they slide closed. I collapse sobbing, the orderlies “escort” me to a tv room and deposit me there, telling the other slackjawed patients that I was crying about the color of the Jell-O, in other words, that my crying was not important. (the comment is under Controlling? Who, Me?; a longer post about the dream is at http://prochaskas.wordpress.com/2005/06/14/rebels-and-rest/)

Larry Crabb (whose teachings have influenced many of my recent musings: see www.newwayministries.org) suggests that the core fear of a woman is a version of this nothingness. A woman’s deepest fear is that she will discover that deep down inside, “I am not beautiful. There is nothing in me worth pursuing.” And that fear leads women to protect themselves and control their worlds.

When I first heard this, I didn’t relate, having always been more tomboy than “girly-girl.” But as I listened to a CD of Larry’s teaching about this fear, I broke down in sobs, overcome by the knowledge that deep down I felt I was “worthless” – my version of not being beautiful.

Over the past few years of relational betrayals, horrific job situations, having to support our family (after my husband lost his job), and now, no job, I discovered that deep beneath, I felt like I deserved no better: “I am not worthy. I am repulsive. I am therefore getting the life I deserve.”

I also realized that I deeply feared I would discover (as others obviously had) that a hunchback of worthless dame dwelt in the basement of my soul.  Should I boldly take a trip down those stairs, I would discover that in the end, I was nothing, nobody.

And to address that mostly unconscious fear (until very recently), I’ve relied on lifelong strategies of control and self-protection such as:

  • My defensive reactions to apparent attacks from others – a series of strategies (like logical arguments, tears, counter-attacks, blame-shifting, taking the victim role, etc.) that I thought were ways to convince the other person that I wasn’t as bad as their attacks suggested, to control their view of me. Now I realize that I was trying to convince myself that I wasn’t as worthless as I feared I was. I was defending the door to my soul’s basement so that I wouldn’t have to discover what dwelt beyond.
  • My lifelong efforts (a form of control) to gain social acceptance  – to fit in – at times giving in to that icky, graspy need to please others. And the almost crippling pain I felt when I experienced rejection: I must be as repulsive as I fear I am.
  • My barriers to entry that protected me from any external probes which might reveal the lack of beauty beneath. Like talking fast and displaying my intellect. Like looking as if I have my act together, coming across as confident, while I scream beneath for any assurance that I am have SOME worth. Like revealing a lot (and seeming to be transparent) while holding back some of me for fear of rejection. After all, there’s nothing but ugliness under the surface.

Ok. So I fear that deep down inside, I am dead.  I am no-one. I am not beautiful. I am not worthy. I am repulsive. And I’ve spent my entire life trying in vain to prove to myself I AM worthy using other people’s acceptance and my circumstances as the yardstick, when deep down, I just know I am not.  And each little rejection or failure just proves it.

Wow. What do I do about this? How do I get off of this non-stop flight of fear, control, and protection? How do I start to trust God with my circumstances and open myself to others?

And how do I actually start to deeply believe the REAL truth that there is no repellant being in my soul’s basement, but a beautiful, worthwhile woman?

I think the answer is well-stated here:

Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!  Romans 7: 24b and 25

I’ll talk about some ways I’ve addressed the lies and the strategies in the next few posts.

Meantime: Do you relate? (Or am I the only crazy one!)

And now, for the men…

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16 thoughts on “What Are We Afraid Of?

  1. Ms. Holiday Longing,

    I came across your blog while looking for a specific Larry Crabb quote. Didn’t find it here, but I really like this post and want my wife to read it. I’m also interested in that CD you talk about. Do you happen to know its title?

    Thanks much.

  2. Yes, that’s the one. I loved that conference and bought the big Sonship binder and tried to go through it myself. Perhaps it’s that transcripts of talks never read as smoothly and articulately as writing, or something else, but it seemed shallower somehow.

    Absolutely relate to the fear. I’ve referred to it before as the death of self — that’s what death of self means to me, that I am empty, that my annihilation is one of God’s goals, that the good promises are really only about becoming a drone, a clone, a robot, an “empty vessel.”

    I think I more fear this righteous annihilation than I fear that my essence is despicable, but I am personally familiar with both fears.

    I remember first reading “I am crucified with Christ, it is no longer I who live” and having the awful chills.

    I have often gotten stuck in a pit of trying to figure out what my essence is — whether I am truly a wonderful creature God loves, who is afflicted with sin, something external to my true nature — or whether I am truly a sinner, rebellious and despicable at the core, and any good stuff is pasted on or grafted on at the cost of my true self.

    • I think the truth is neither. I believe we were both created and re-created good (our new nature – which wasn’t there at first). So that new nature is at base and infuses our soul. The old nature (the one that hated God) died with the new birth – so that truly sinner part isn’t so true anymore. The remaining flesh (that which our sin nature trained) is just that: what remains and what will one day burn off. I think when Paul talks about being crucified, he is talking about the death of the old, sinful nature. But when he talks about the struggle with sin, it’s with the remaining flesh. And I think that when Jesus talks about dying and losing one’s life, I think he is talking about turning from the remaining flesh’s pull to what the new nature truly desires. JI Packer helped me understand this the best. But I can’t recall which book. Though I probably wouldn’t agree with him today on many points, Watchman Nee’s stuff was transformative, too. Of course, there are other opinions out there, too. I certainly know that I continue to sin. And I know that I desire not to. Evidence of new nature and remaining sin, both?

  3. I was in college when I first heard of Reformed theology, too, only at the time I didn’t know that’s what it was called. It was a weekend IVCF conference and a local pastor spoke based on the World Harvest Mission’s Sonship curriculum.

    I was talking with a Catholic friend the other night, and she said “God gives us the grace to respond,” and I said the Reformed and the Arminian would both agree with that, but interpret it differently — and yet, practically speaking, how much difference does it make?

    I wish universalism were true.

    • For some reason, I’ve not been too bothered by the reverse of election. Have heard a lot of great illustrations that helped, too (another discussion).

      Was that Jack Miller’s Sonship curriculum? Did you go through it? Did it help? Jack mentored Tim Keller (small world connection)… I believe that the Catholic verison is closer to Arminian. It’s a form of grace that still leaves the final decision up to us.

      Going back to the blog topic, do you relate to that fear of nothingness? I’ve known my whole life I felt inferior, but only more recently realized the deepseated fear of the zero-valued, repulsive being beneath.

  4. I suppose that’s one reason why I don’t have a Reformed theology. It doesn’t meet up with the completely loving God I see in the love story that is The Bible and the God I know in my Savior, Jesus. No intent to argue here, just to explain that I can understand why your theology makes it hard to know the love of God.

  5. But I can’t leave the Reformed camp, because I am so aware of how much I need God’s intervention, and if there’s any hint that any of it depends on me, I’m lost.

    How do you feel God’s love in his sovereignty?

    And are you currently Reformed, or something else?

    • I’ve been Reformed since a friend told me what Ephesians 1 meant while we were in college (more years ago than I care to mention…). The alernative (that God elects based on some merit in us) seems worse, with respect to love, anyway. I think I am stunned into awe by the mystery surrounding all of this, as Paul was (Romans 11: 33-36). And Romans 8:28-32 has always helped me feel loved, that God is controlling all things for my good. Moreover, the Cross proves the loving intention even behind apparent “bad” things which are actually part of God’s “good” plan (it was the cross that brought me back from my doubts last year). Ephesians 2: 10 doesn’t hurt, either (He has a special plan just for me…). All of these promises keep us going through this unemployment time.

  6. Exactly — those whom God chooses, he chooses for his own reasons, and not for any merit or loveliness they have in themselves.

    I’ve always questioned God’s love, even before joining the Reformed camp. Either a) he really does love us, but his definition of love bears little resemblance to ours or b) he doesn’t really love us but is like a so-called benevolent dictator who oppresses with beautiful words. (I’ve got a song for each of those.)

    The Reformed angle is looking at those who are not elect. If people are only saved because God intervenes to call them and bring them in, then those who are not saved are not saved because God does NOT intervene to call them and bring them in. And that either means he doesn’t love those who are not elect, or, again, his love sure means something different than what I think of as love.

    And if he doesn’t love the non-elect, maybe he doesn’t love my daughter. Or other family and friends.

  7. I didn’t mean to imply that the knowledge of God’s love is an easy thing to get a hold on. Paul tell’s us in Ephesians 3 that it is unknowable – yet he prays that we would know it and say it is THE KEY to the fullness of God. The greek word used there for “know.” This is not a head knowledge verb, it means an experiential understanding. Not to be inappropriate, but the same word is sometime used as a euphemism for sexual relations between husband and wife. Now that is KNOWING.

    So how do you get to this kind of knowing? I believe it is a lifelong journey that we must passionately pursue with our entire beings. This is no small side issue. God made you not so he could get something from you, but so that he could love you. So pray the prayer, “Lord, I’ve got to know your love,” and ask the Holy Spirit to give you an experiential revelation. Be insistent, never quit pursuing the answer – ever.

    I would be happy to point you to some great resources on this topic.

    • Scott: I’d love to read about your resources. I asked the question in part for anyone else who happens here because I find that the more I pursue God, the farther away He seems — not unlike Paul’s comment that he is the greatest of sinners. More knowledge leads to more self-awareness. Spiritual maturity is often a long and painful road!

      There are many Christians who blithly claim a deep knowledge of God’s love, citing scripture. but whose lives testify that they continually seek love elsewhere, in denial of the extent to which they hardly know Him. For the next few posts, I’ll be writing about the various ways I’m hoping to come to a greater knowledge of who I am in Christ (definitely NOT repellant in one sense) and who He is to me. Your input will be welcomed!

    • Marcy: I remember when I first learned about Reformed theology, those who taught me kept saying that it makes them feel so loved to have been chosen. I never made the connection. I do however feel God’s love in His sovereignty. How has Reformed theology led you to question His love?

  8. The key for me is gaining a deep revelation of God’s love for me and realizing that His opinion is the only one that really matters.

    “You have ravished my heart, my sister, my bride. You have ravished my heart with one glance of your eyers.”
    Song of Solomon 4:9

    • Scott: I can say all those words. I can believe them with my head. However, my remaining flesh was trained early on and unconciously to spend an entire life trying to find worth and avoid finding out that maybe I have no worth. How do I apply something that is on paper to something deep within, something that feels more real than what I read in the Bible? How do I become transformed into someone who truly deeply believes that God loves me, that I am beautiful in His sight? I think if I really KNEW this, I would be live a vastly different life. The fact that the American church looks hardly different than the culture – and often worse – indicates that we coninually believe the lie that we must avoid death and find life anywhere that we can find it, certainly in the idols around us, often the religious idols – rarely from God. So, how do we really “get it?”

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