A heart starts beating faster, then racing. Now I notice it, and then it becomes hard not to focus on it. The more I try to think about it slowing down, the less likely that becomes. And the fear sets in. I have inherited a family trait of an irregular heartrate. It is not a panic attack issue, although, unchecked it leads to panic. Now I have a medication to regulate it. But when things get out of sync, it is fearful.
Fear can be a major force in our lives, and in our hearts, even those who think they have it pretty good. Worries about financial security; what our kids will do when they grow up; concerns over aches and pains as we get a little older; issues of aging parents, can dominate our lives. Then there are the mega-fears- Are we entering a recession? How long will the war in Iraq last? What about the violence and conflict that permeates so many corners of the globe? What will global warming mean for us?
At the womens’ shelter, fears are on a much more personal level. Will I get a job interview? Will my husband go to the anger management classes he promises to start, that could save our marriage? Will I stay sober today? Do I have enough money to buy the shower gel I like that makes me feel human even though I am on a floor with 70 other people and all of their stuff? Will I see my daughter this weekend or will they cancel again? Will I leave this place for a better life? Will I leave because I can’t deal?
Fears of all varieties can dominate our thoughts. I recently spoke with a woman who is a counselor to others, whose own life is one step away from falling apart. Her husband has left the ministry, and is engaged in drug and alcohol abuse. He has abandoned God. Her teenage daughter is engaging in risky social behaviors and the mom is trying to teach a different path, without any support from her husband. They are in financial ruin and her job is not secure. Yet she is determined to see her commitments through, but some days she thinks she is going to disintegrate.
No matter where our lives fall on the scale on any given day, God is here to give us peace and grace sufficient. It sounds so simple, but in my own life, I, like Peter, know there are the times when I look down, look away from Jesus, and the next thing I know, I am floundering and flailing in the water. Something so simple as trusting in God, seems hard when I think I know better, or God seems to take too long, and I just cannot believe that all will be provided. When we hear that our Lord brings us peace, a peace the world cannot give, do we ever act in a way that says “no thank you?” Do I find myself making my fears or insecurities my god? Do we, intentionally or unintentionally, act in a way that prefers that the problems of our lives not be fixed? I once had a client who was an alcoholic. He finally got help, and it was then that the marriage fell apart. After years of building an identity as the victim, his wife really didn’t want to have to reinvent the dynamic with a sober and engaged partner.
I had been contemplating this for awhile, both in the lives of the women I work with and my own life, and then I read the excellent article “What Your Heart Clings To” in Lutheran Woman Today, written by E. Louise Williams. In speaking about the famous Luther saying “What your heart clings to is really your god,” She explores the many things that become gods or idols in our lives. As much as material things can assume this role, so too can hanging on to the past, agonizing over the future, and preoccupation with failure.
The counselor and I talked about this one day while making our rounds on the floor, and she openly blurted out, with tears in her eyes, “I have already built those idols, boy, don’t I know it.” She detailed her struggles with letting go of what she thought was control, to get out of the way of God. It is hard to put down those idols. Some of the women here come in hauling massive piles of stuff, most of which they do not need, but they are so used to carrying them around. We all are used to carrying our stuff, our idols, around. And when the first little thing goes wrong, we reach for them. But if, instead, we can say “yes” to God’s outstretched hand, to the peace and grace we are offered.. If we can do this, as Williams concludes, we can “notice again that our heartbeat is in the same rhythm as God’s.”