Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Feeling the fear by Silvia Purdie


I received a blog contribution from Rev Silvia Purdie this week (Milsom Combined Church) reflecting on fear (we all have them….) and finding helpful ways to cope with and respond to it. It resonated with my observations while working with the Protestant churches in Baden, Germany this month. Fear of losing what they love often prevents their leaders and congregations from embracing new ways of being church. Fear can be a negative force that debilitates change, but when named, it can be the first step to change. Dissatisfaction with the status quo is crucial for bringing about change in organisations, so when a church acknowledges that they are not ministering effectively with children, they are ready to start the Kids Friendly review and dream new ways of being .

Feeling the fear by Silvia Purdie

God has a way of stirring the pot. I’m getting on with work and dishes and driving and sometimes emotions rise up out of nowhere. I guess that’s God’s way of making sure stuff doesn’t stick to the bottom and burn. Stuff like fears. That’s this week’s challenge, anyway. Fear.

I don’t have an anxious disposition. I tend to be positive, optimistic. But the more we invest ourselves in anything, the more we open ourselves up to fear. If we are willing to desire anything, we risk losing it. 

So – I like to have a tidy house but I really don’t care that much. There’s no deep fear in me of drowning in mess, and no high calling to have a spotless house. But when it comes to my kids, I care way more. I have high hopes for them. I especially hope for them to have a growing Christian faith. And I fear for them. I especially fear that they will reject Christ and his gospel. Hope alone will not propel me to do anything sacrificial on my part; it’s too easy to simply hope and pray. I need my fears to propel me to stick my neck out, even if this involves being the youth leader for a while, or insisting that they go to a church event, or paying good money for them to attend a Christian camp. 

But fear can only push us so far; if the situation gets worse and the fear gets stronger, it begins to turn in on me and reduce the creative energy I have available for problem solving. Fear sucks the life out of our hopes, drains energy, makes us brittle, like hope’s vampire twin. Over time it hardens into anxiety, rattles us with worry. Fear says, “Why bother? There’s no point. It will all end badly.”

Faith works in the opposite direction. It breathes life into our hopes, pouring in energy, making us supple, flexible in dealing with frustrations and setbacks. Faith says, “Why not? Wouldn’t it be great if …”

Thing is, us Christians are great at knowing how we OUGHT to feel, but not quite as good at dealing with how we do actually feel. Sure, faith is good and fears are bad. So chin up, Keep Calm and Carry On! 

Thing is, fears don’t just vanish with a twitch of the nose. I’ve found that the only way to take the power out of our fears is to name them, drag them out and have a good look at them. We need to practice noticing how fear and anxiety sticks in our bodies and souls, how they affect our emotions and actions. 

OK then … what are you afraid of?  Where do you feel that fear in your body?
What do you tend to do about it?

For me as a Parish minister, I am afraid that children and families won’t come to our church, and that I will fail in my best efforts to be a Kids Friendly minister. We do all the right things but numbers are still small and our outreach programmes are fragile. 

But I am not going to help motivate our church people or welcome families if I’m anxious or looking for someone to blame. I need God to stir this fear up, let me see what it’s made of. I need the energy in the fear to push me to work hard, but not too hard. And even more important than the outward work of publicity or planning is the inner work on my own heart, to make peace with my own need to be successful, to be liked and affirmed by others (I really want Jill to be proud of me!). 

We need our fears. They give us the courage to imagine the worst outcomes and to ask the hardest questions. But once they start constricting our breathing, tightening our shoulders and making us work late into the night, they’re not helping. 

Be honest with yourself. If something keeps bothering you, write it down or make a time with a good listener to talk it through. 

The task then is to stop feeding our fears. Let them wither away. And the best way to do that is prayer. Praying our fears brings us inevitably into confession; I just can’t do this, Lord. I can’t, not alone. I need you. 

God’s answer to our fears is always grace. Tender mercy and unfailing love until we let go out burdens and rest in grace. “Don’t be afraid” he says, over and over. “I just love you, silly sausage – you don’t earn it!” Read Psalm 130 a few times.

Those of us who care about children’s ministry are vulnerable to fear. When we love kids we fear for them. When we love Christ and his church we can fear for the future when our programmes don’t seem to be highly ‘successful’. So we have safety policies and invest our best into our work. But let’s do that in freedom and faith, confident in the calling and blessing of Jesus no matter what. Let the Spirit stir up the fears that lurk within, call them out and transform them in grace.

Silvia Purdie is the minister of Milsom Combined Church in Palmerston North.  She is a wonderful Kids Friendly champion and advocate.  Silvia is married to Rev Chris Purdie and has three sons.

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