The Courage To Bloom
There came a time when the risk to remain tight in the bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom. – Anais Nin.
You hear people say it all the time: Let me throw back a couple of drinks and I’ll be ready to hit up that bar or that party or that event. Hell, I said it all the time. I couldn’t leave the house, aside from work, before I had at least a drink or two in me, but why? What made it necessary for me to be lit before I could have a good time with people I considered close friends? What made it necessary for me to be lit before I could present a speech on a topic for which I cared deeply? What is it that I am choosing to drown instead of face? The answer is that dreaded four-letter f-word that seems to permeate every race, nation and walk of life… That word is FEAR.
Fear has been with us almost since the beginning of time. In the Garden it was Pride that caused Adam and Eve to partake of the one tree that they were commanded not to touch. When Adam and Eve sinned, fear resulted. They became aware of their differences, they became aware of good and evil and as a result of this new knowledge they became afraid. They were so scared that God had to call them out from their hiding places. They immediately realized they were in over their heads that they had bit off more than they could chew, so to speak. The good news is that God never wanted us to live in such circumstances. The words “Do not be afraid” and “Fear not” occur over and over in His word to us, the Bible. 2 Timothy 1:7 claims that God did not give us a spirit of timidity and fear, but a spirit of power, of love and of self discipline.
If you think about it, we are the ones who gave ourselves this spirit of fear when we decided to partake in that which we were not allowed. The moment we invited sin into this world fear came rushing in with it and fear continues to run side by side with sin creating havoc in our daily lives. Since we are the ones who invited fear into our lives, we have to be the ones to give it and all its friends the boot. How you ask? By choosing an action that leads to a state of empowerment rather than an action that leads to a state of powerlessness.
For me, my use of alcohol directly corresponds to the amount of fear in my life. The more I am drinking the more timid I become… Well, not while I am drinking, but a system gets put into place without my even being aware. For example, let’s say I am meeting a large group of people for dinner. I know the majority of them, but there are going to be a bunch of friends of friends as well. Being a little shy, I decide to throw back a couple of stiff ones before I leave. I arrive at the party with confidence. That little voice in my head that does me damage is silenced…err drunk and so I am able to strike up conversation after conversation and have an enjoyable evening. Never mind that to everyone else at the party I am clearly lit… I am having a good time and making friends. That’s what it’s all about right? Well not exactly. You see, the problem is that next time I have an invite to dinner with some people I may not know, I am going to feel the need to drink beforehand and the more I rely on drinking to make me feel at ease and chatty the more trapped I become. What appears to be an easy and fun way to relax my nerves is actually a noose I am tightening around my own neck. The more I rely on the drink as opposed to myself, the tighter the noose gets and the more powerless I become. I didn’t mean for it to happen, but I have unknowingly conditioned myself to require a drink in order to do anything that makes me feel the least bit uncomfortable. What’s even worse is that daily ordinary life tasks become harder because I have also inadvertently taught my meager little mind that whenever I leave the house there is a chance for discomfort so my mind reacts by creating a state of fear around very normal mundane things like going somewhere new or trying to find a parking place. All of a sudden I am hit by a panic attack of sorts because my brain wants the alcohol to shut up the little voice that’s freaking out… after all that’s the only way I’ve taught my brain to deal with any discomfort.
Luckily, our brain, yes, that thing that keeps us alive by telling our organs and muscles when to do what and why, is actually trainable. I, myself, am in the process of getting out of the fear cycle. I have been sober before and I have to say that I actually have had the better times of my life sober… maybe that’s because I can actually remember them. Last time I was sober I realized how much of life I was missing while drinking. Experiences are so much richer when you are completely present for them. I also really liked the person I was when I was sober. A funny thing happened: as alcohol was pushed out of my life, the less timid I became for a while…. Then a resurgence of fear returned. Just like with any sort of behavioral training sometimes there are set backs as the mind suddenly realizes its own transformation and for some reason it gets scared. It realizes it is in new territory and suddenly longs for the days of old where it knew how to handle what was coming at it. In the end my fearful brain won out and I returned to drinking to calm my nerves, keep me comfortable and retain what I thought was a spec of happiness. As I returned to the drinking my fear came back tenfold and this confident, chatty woman became the most timid being on the face of the planet. A lot of my creativity and productivity also suffered. Basically I became less and alcohol became more until I once again got fed up with having to have a drink or four in order to have a good time. That’s no way to live! I remembered how strong I was when I was sober and I remembered how good it felt to be comfortable with being uncomfortable and I wanted that feeling back.
I am penning this on the evening of September 11th, a day in our American history where we all felt a loss of power both as a nation and as individuals. Our nation and our people wasted no time bouncing back from this tragedy for we were not going to let our enemies have the satisfaction of seeing us whither and die under the cloak of fear. I have no plans of doing such either. I am around three weeks sober as of this writing. To say getting sober this time around has been difficult would be an extreme understatement. I find myself scared of pretty much everything these days, but each time I venture somewhere new I know I have a choice to make. I can either face the fear, humiliation or whatever it is hiding as in my brain, head on or I can just retreat and promise to try again tomorrow. The funny thing is the times I choose to face the fear head on the more things seem to fall into place like I’ve initiated some sort of snow ball affect for blessings. On the contrary, the times I find myself unable to face my fear and choose retreat instead, I seem to invoke a rather evil snowball affect where countless things go wrong until I am able to choose to face my fear again. In other words, each time I choose to properly empower myself and live out 2 Timothy 1:7 I render positive consequences in my life and isn’t that what we all want?
A Transforming Love
This might come off a bit conceited, but bear with me because those that know me, know that I am not the least bit of the sort. And with that said, I think the problem with America today is that we have a lot of Christians living in the infancy stage. They haven’t gotten to a point where they are able to be tolerant of others and not have it impact them and their faith in a negative way. I was once such a Christian and after some agnostic/Wicca years and a long rocky road back to God I can understand the ever-present right and the ever-present left of our society. I think the ultimate aim of a Christian is to represent Christ to the world. We are to live our lives as a testament to Him and His love. Unfortunately, many Christians find themselves doing the exact opposite even though they are blind to the fact. In order for one to be tolerant of others, one must be firmly rooted in their own beliefs and confident in their own preferences and choices regarding lifestyle. I firmly believe this is the biggest hurdle to why many Christians are not able to be tolerant of others beliefs or lack there of while still showing God’s love and acceptance while living a life of love and service to others. It takes a lot to be surrounded by those who don’t believe the same as you or live a lifestyle the same as you and still love and support them without loosing some of your own personal convictions. The simple truth is many of us are just weak when it comes to certain sins. I know that was my hang-up. Each of us has our own area of weakness. Some of us have trouble keeping our pants on while some of us have trouble telling the truth while some of us have trouble coveting the blessings of others. After all, to God, it is all sin. No hierarchy, just sin and it puts all of us on a level playing field whether we want to admit it or not. And don’t think I don’t realize that there are plenty of non-religious people that could use a good talking to… because for every infant Christian there is an infant non-religious zealot doing the exact same thing, but I cannot speak to them since I am no longer one of them.
God loves us where we are. He doesn’t require us to change who or what we are in order to receive His love. He takes us as we are and He slowly molds us into better human beings as we progress in our relationship with Him, our creator and sustainer. He sends the Holy Spirit to be the convicting force in our life. Our friends might support the notion, but it’s not their job to convict. Conviction belongs to the Holy Spirit. That’s why Yeshua said, “Those without sin shall cast the first stone.” He knew no one would be able to stand in judgment against another and instead they would be compelled to stand in love with that other human being.
My personal walk has held inside it a lot of scenic routes and I am thankful for these adventures as they not only help me better understand those with opposing beliefs, but they help me to firmly ground myself in my own beliefs as well. I’ve made no attempt to hide the fact that I once left God because of the church- hell; the church almost cost me my life. The reason being I once mistook the church and it’s leaders for being God, which they are not. The only convicting power on this planet is that of the Holy Spirit. I believe that our job as Christians is to be an example of the love of God for every human being on this planet. We are to tell others of His love and live that love out, but we are to leave the convicting and the changing of life or lifestyle to God. He can do it. He’s done it in every follower of Christ on this planet and He can do the same for every follower of Christ to come. It saddens me how so many of my brothers and sisters in Christ are so hard hearted to those a little different from themselves. Even when they admit to being full of sin they don’t seem to have any compassion for others nor care to find out why someone believes or acts the way they do. How can anyone impact another without even trying to understand where another is coming from or trying to imagine walking a mile in another’s shoes?
I come from a long line of southern pastors, but I have not always believed in the existence of God, but He never held it against me and even after I believed and decided for a time that I might have been wrong He still loved me. He was always standing beside me with arms wide open ready to welcome me home. And when I finally did come home, He didn’t scold me and He didn’t make me change into this person I was not – He just loved me and that’s what He asks of those who follow Him - to simply love others in the same way that He has loved each of us. We are all full of faults and a whole lot less than worthy than we would like to believe, but He accepted us as we are and we should do the same for everyone and especially those who have yet to find Him.
If you are a Christian looking to make an impact in this world I challenge you to just love people. Tell others of how much God loves them and follow it up with examples of how God proves His love to you everyday. If you want to push something, push an honest and ongoing conversation with the creator and sustainer of this universe. Be kind; treat people the way you would want to be treated if you were in their shoes… After all, Yeshua, himself, said everything rests on loving God first and then loving your neighbors as yourself. For He said there is no greater commandment than these. Yes, it is true that Christians need to step up and take back this country, but not in the way it is being propagated: For it is by our love for not only one another, but for all of mankind that we shall be known as His.
What's Your Zeal?
Zeal is defined as an enthusiastic devotion to a cause, ideal, or goal and tireless diligence in its furtherance. On a similar note, love is defined as an intense feeling of deep affection. Given these two definitions one could easily say that if one loves something or someone that one would also have zeal for that something or someone.
Now, according to Matthew 22: 36-40, Yeshua states that the greatest command God ever gave was to love the Lord your God with all of your heart and all of your soul and with all of your strength and the second greatest command God ever gave was to love your neighbor as yourself. He goes even further to say that everything depends on these two commands. What’s interesting is that these two commands are actually not new. The Lord God ADONAI actually gave these commands in the Old Testament in Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18. Since both the Lord God ADONAI and His son, Yeshua, made a point to tell people this don’t you think we should do more than glance over them?
So I ask you: are we living out these two commands?
Unfortunately, more often than not, the answer is no and so I ask, what’s your zeal?
Zeal For the Law
If you have zeal for the law, then you tend to do your best to obey the law. You tend to inadvertently ignore the heart and thereby ignore the motives and intentions behind your actions. You probably have a daily relationship with God, but you tend to try and barter for blessings since you keep all of those pesky laws. Your attention is on the Law and what obeying the Law can get you. In short:
An outward focus
The underlying belief is that the law brings you closer to God
Your focus tends to stay on your actions and the actions of others
You force obedience on yourself and possibly those around you
Zeal for God
If you have zeal for God, then you tend to try to do your best for God. You probably have a daily relationship with God and as that relationship grows you find yourself wanting to understand Him more and as you understand Him more you find yourself surprisingly wanting to obey Him all the more. Your attention is on God and what He can do through you. In short:
An inward focus
The underlying belief is that your relationship with God brings you closer to Him
Your focus shifts to the motives and intentions of your own heart and the hearts of others
Your relationship with God is what makes you want to obey His commands
The Bible states over and over that God is more concerned with the motives and intentions of our hearts than He is with our actual actions. Why? Well, it is the motives and intentions of our hearts that create our actions. An easy and yet still very controversial example is the use of alcohol among Christians. The Bible never explicitly states it is wrong to drink, but it does state it is wrong to get drunk. This might seem contradictory until you look at the intentions behind those actions.
For most people in most situations, the action of having a couple of drinks results from the desire to relax or celebrate; whereas, the action of getting wasted results from a wide array of negative desires. The most common being to run away from a problem, to become someone you are not, or to commit a sin. You know the saying if you have to get drunk to do it then you probably shouldn’t be doing it and you are probably going to regret it to boot. The point is, when you look at the probable intentions behind those two actions it is easier to see why God might not be too concerned about the first and doubly concerned about the second. No parent on this earth wants to see their children behaving in potentially dangerous ways because of stress or ill motives and neither does God, our heavenly Father. I guess to put it another way, if the heart is in the right place then the right actions will ultimately follow.
So my question for you is simple. If you are going to love God and love others in the same way you love yourself, which those of you who follow the Old Testament or the New Testament have been commanded to do… Do you need to have zeal for the law or do you need to have zeal for God? And please, don’t get me wrong because I am not saying the law is bad, but what I am saying is that in order to really know or love someone you do have to know his or her heart, right?