Ahhh the smell of BBQ … after reading that phrase, take a moment and consider all of the automatic associations your mind makes. Maybe they are good associations, like summertime and cookouts, and spending time with family. But maybe the smell of BBQ doesn’t give you good memories at all; maybe it’s more of a food poison situation like Chris so boldly shared with us this week. No matter what barbecue symbolizes to you, all of a sudden you’re picturing it because of a simple phrase.
God has amazingly designed our brains to store a wealth of information, which also includes negative memories. Not all negative memories are bad; sometimes pain is useful in keeping us safe. For example, how do you know a stove is hot? You’ve probably been burned by one before. Most of us have a clear memory of being burned by a stove, and most of the time, the burn happened years ago. Even though the stove burn happened years ago, present day, we are still subconsciously cautious around a stove because of that memory. The pain from the original burn was awful, but the life lesson was valuable. That is a rudimentary example of a past negative memory keeping you safe in the present day.
Unhealed trauma memories work the same way. Francine Shapiro says that “the past is present”, and when someone is trying to live life with unhealed wounds, almost every experience they have is tainted by the pain from their past. One of my favorite examples of showcasing brain storage is asking someone what they did on vacation 7 years ago. Notice how long it takes you to access that memory – that’s because it’s a memory that is stored properly in your long-term memory storage. But what if I asked you what happened on the worst day of your life? That memory is instantly accessible, even if it happened decades ago. This is how unhealed trauma impacts your life in the present day – the unhealed memories are coloring your present-day experiences.
Sometimes fear isn’t about faith. Pastor Dave said it best – you can have Jesus in your heart, but grandpa in your bones. Just like we inherit our hair and eye color from our family members, we can also inherit medical issues, mental health concerns, and unhealthy behavior. This week’s sermon focused on fear. Chris did an excellent job highlighting how impactful unhealed memories can be in our lives. Pastor Dave reminded us in week one of this series that we are made of a body, a mind, and a soul. The truth is that sometimes fear isn’t a soul issue; it may be a medical problem or a mental health concern.
If you notice that you are in the Word of God, attending church, praying, and really walking with God, yet you’re still struggling with fear, perhaps God is leading you to explore additional options for healing. Because we are made up of a body, mind, and soul, we must use a treatment approach that addresses all of those areas. If you feel as though your soul is doing well, consider addressing the body and mind concerns. Remember, you can have Jesus in your heart and soul, but anxiety and Post-traumatic Stress in your mind and body. The presence of mental health concerns does not always indicate an absence of faith.
Simultaneously, the presence of God in our lives does not equal a problem-free existence, and sometimes fear is a soul issue. Sometimes we don’t trust God to be who He says He is. Soul fear is about perspective. Let’s look at 2 Kings 6:13-17. We find the prophet Elisha with his servant, and Elisha is being hunted for being God’s spokesman. The Aramean army had surrounded Elisha and his servant, and his servant was scared! The servant could see the army, and he asks Elisha what to do. Listen to the wise, wise words of Elisha – he tells the servant in verse 16 not to be afraid because “those who are with us are more than those who are with them”. Then Elisha prays for the servant’s eyes to be opened, and when they are, the servant is able to see the vast resources of God’s power. Today, pray that God opens your eyes so that you can see His resources available to you, His beloved child.
- This week Chris referenced the Israelites circling the Promised Land (Canaan) in Numbers 13. The Israelites had been rescued from slavery in Egypt and now God was calling them to Canaan. Chris pointed out that all ten spies agree on how wonderful the land is. But eight out of ten spies want to retreat. Only two spies, Caleb and Joshua, are ready to take God at His word and conquer the land. The Israelites start missing Egypt – they missed slavery!!
- What is the Egypt you keep returning to?
- What or where is the Canaan in your life?
- Jonathan Helser, the musician who wrote and performs the wonderful song No Longer Slaves, writes “where we were created for greatness is where the enemy attacks us with fear”. Where is God trying to lead you? Is fear standing in your way?
- Sometimes, in our impatience, we expect God to answer a prayer immediately. Pain mistakenly makes us think that because God didn’t answer our prayer that minute, He must not care about us, He must not hear us, or worse, maybe He is glad we are in pain. Typically this impatient response is indicative of an unhealed childhood wound – if our caregivers were abusive or neglectful, we can assume that God also doesn’t care about us.
- This week, consider where fear typically pops up in your life. Reflect on your family of origin (NOT to blame or to shame, but to be curious), and see if you can spot any similarities in the way you handle your fear and the way that it was handled in your family.
- Pray that God gives you the insight and the action plan that is needed in order to break the cycle of fear in your family and to break the chains of fear in your life.
- Has God set you free from a battle? Have you shared the victory with someone else? In 2 Corinthians 1:3-4, we read that one of the reasons we experience pain as believers is to help others dealing with the exact same pain. Then your pain becomes powerful, then your weakness becomes strength. Pain and healing are both meant to be shared within the Body of Christ.
- This series is called Stained Glass, and I want you to think about what happens when the sun shines through the story told by the stained glass in a church – it’s beautiful. Now think of your life as a work of art, as stained glass, and then picture The Son (Christ) shining through it. That is what happens when the “Son” shines through a believer’s pain – it becomes beautiful. Ecclesiastes 3:11-“He has made everything beautiful in its time…”.
Steps to Victory
- A simple therapy trick is to challenge “what if” fearful thoughts with “even if”. Example: “what if I don’t get that job”, change it to “even if I don’t get that job”. Don’t let fear make you forget Whose you are. As believers in Christ, we have full access to His power and His sustaining grace- we have access to resources we cannot see.
- What is the “what if” fearful thought in your mind lately? Change it to “even if” and watch what happens.
- What you feed your physical body has value. We become what we consume. Despite my deepest desires, I am unable to eat pizza every day because of what it will do to my physical body. Our minds function the same way in that what we feed our minds will be reflected in our thoughts, moods, and emotions. This exercise is absolutely NOT about shame or criticism, but more about curiosity. The world we live in can numb us and often we don’t realize how often we are doing something until we sit down and take inventory. So take a moment and determine the percentage of time you spend engaged in the following activities during the day:
- Listening to and/or reading the news. ____ %
- Scrolling social media. ____%
- Watching television. ____%
- Listening to music. ____%
- Reading secular books and articles. ____%
- Other activities I engage in for self-care/relaxation. ____%
Now ask yourself this – what percentage of time am I spending with God? Reflect on the percentage differences. If I am spending more time with the world, I am naturally going to be more fearful. Ask yourself what would happen to your mind and your mood if you switched just one of the above activities for time spent with God?
Fear and shame are like vampires – they thrive in the dark. Fear and shame thrive in isolation. If you are in a season of life where fear is trying to consume your mind, consider reaching out to trusted others for help. Even Jesus, when He was in the Garden of Gethsemane had His friends with Him. He asked them for prayer, and we are to do the same. Matthew 18:20 says “where two or three come together in my Name, there I am with them”. You don’t have to fight the battle of fear alone –reach out for support!
-Lisa Lewis, LCPC