by: Cris Corzine-McCloskey
Carl Jung wrote, “The foundation of mental illness is an unwillingness to experience suffering.” When it comes to anxiety and fear, I agree. Last week I shared my fear of change. Am I afraid of change, or the discomfort surrounding it? Likewise, I see my struggle with people-pleasing as fear of the pain I will experience when others aren’t happy. So pain avoidance, not altruism, drove many of my “charitable” acts. A loving God has used my fear to reveal to me my selfishness.
Jesus told us if we really want to live, we need to die to ourselves. But most of us are lousy at dying to ourselves. Luckily, teaching us how to die is not our job, it’s God’s. He has a way of getting us past yucky self-stuff. It’s God’s style of therapy.
My battle with anxiety started a few years back. When it began, I developed two coping devices, one healthy and the other not. My healthy approach was to begin studying scriptures on fear. The unhealthy approach was to try avoidance.
But avoidance didn’t work because situations kept happening I couldn’t avoid. My people-pleasing was stymied by relationships that demanded confrontation if they were to survive. And as far as my avoidance of change, well, let’s just say I became surrounded by it. My avoidance techniques were crashing and burning.
Then I came across a scripture when studying Isaiah 41:10 in the AMPC. It reads, “Fear not for I am with you; don’t look around in terror and be dismayed for I am your God. I will strengthen you and harden you to difficulties.” At first, I received the word with joy, thinking “Yes, God, harden me to difficulties!” Then I stopped and said, “Wait a minute, how are You going to do that?!” I got nervous because I already knew the answer.
As a therapist, I know the method used to eradicate fear is to expose someone to what they are afraid of. We call this method Exposure Response Prevention. If you are phobic of snakes, I will start by showing you pictures of a snake, then bring one in the room, and eventually, you work up to holding it. In other words, I would crash through your avoidance techniques and force you to confront your fears. That is what I think God is saying when He offers to harden us to difficulties.
It’s not that He wants us to suffer; He wants us fearless and dead to our yucky self-stuff. When I say yes to His plan, even when it involves confronting fear and embracing personal discomfort, I become content and stable. Like Jesus was. I now understand this scripture in James, “when troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy…for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.” Perfect, complete and not needy sounds way better than wimpy and fearful. So next time trouble exposes you to the things you are afraid of, say yes to God and no to avoidance. He loves you so much He may just have you in therapy.