Thursday, April 03, 2014

Fear cancels joy

Last Sunday, the text for the sermon was from John 9. You know it... it's the story of the man who was born blind. When Jesus and his disciples passed by him, the disciples wanted to know who sinned, the man or his parents, that he was born this way. Jesus replies that no one sinned, but the man was born this way in order to show the works of God. Jesus then proceeds to heal the man and restore his sight. I have always loved this story, but even more so now that I am the parent to children who were born with varying conditions. Yet this part of the story is not what struck me during Sunday's sermon. It was something that happens later on in the story.

So Jesus heals the man and the man is so joyful, he tells everyone including the rulers of the synagogue. That would be the rulers of the synagogue who aren't really fans of Jesus and continue to harass the man and his parents looking for any explanation other than Jesus for why this man can suddenly see. In vv. 18-23, the man's parents are brought before this group and questioned. I had never noticed how equivocating they are when questioned about their son. Think about it. Your child who was born blind, can suddenly and miraculously see! Imagine! You would be overjoyed, right? Think of the Facebook statuses the event would generate. Yet, when we look at these parents before the synagogue officials, they don't seem joyful. What they are is afraid. You see, people who professed to follow Jesus had been threatened with being kicked out of the synagogue... the religious and social center of life for a person living in a small town in first century Judea and Galilee. The threat was not one to take lightly.

It is so easy to look down on these parents. Surely having a son who was miraculously healed and could now see would certainly overshadow whatever human negatives were around. We think to ourselves, "Well I would have stood up to those officials. This was a big deal." But would we? I'm pretty sure we let our fear overwhelm our joy all the time. I know I do. Perhaps why this idea hit me so forcefully was that this is exactly what I had done during the weekend.

There were some less-than-pleasant moments with certain of my children from hard places. It felt as though we were in one of those two steps back places. (OK, it didn't just feel like it, it was.) It had been a while since we had been in this place and I was both out of practice and there is always a small part of me that hopes we are through it, so is disappointed. This one just hit me hard, though in the great scheme of things, it wasn't nearly so bad as our setbacks had been a year ago. The difference was that I let fear in.

Fear says that things will always be this way. Fear says that there is nothing I can do to change them. Fear says that this one thing ruins everything else. Fear kills joy. When I let fear take over I cannot see the joyful things right in front of me. After my experience of the weekend, I could heartily identify with those parents who were too fearful to fully appreciate the joy of their son's new sight.

What is also interesting is that this meshes perfectly with what I'm reading about in a book I picked up, Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life by Martin E. P. Seligman. I plan to write a more extensive review of this book once I finish it, but the very short version is that Dr. Seligman has discovered through extensive research that the way we think about things, what we tell ourselves, influences who we think and feel about the world around us. If we are pessimistic, we tend to assume that things will always be the way they are and we can't change them, while if we are optimistic, we tend to assume that this event is a singularity and that we can do something about it. Those who feel helpless have the greatest tendency towards depression.

To me, this idea is terribly Biblical; it is merely a description of how God created our minds to work. When we allow fear in (which the Bible is pretty darn clear that we should try not to do), it stops us in our tracks. It steals our joy because we have no room for anything else. There is nothing to be joyful about because this one horrible thing is always going to be there. It won't change. It steals our joy to the point where we can't even rejoice in outrageous things such as a son regaining his sight.

So be careful of how you think. Are you letting fear steal your joy?
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I also have a little quiz for you. G. likes to write, but she's a lefty and so typical writing development in her is a little, um, off. Here is something she wrote the other day. Can you read it? Don't worry, I'll tell you what it says tomorrow when I revisit the topic of children and vocabulary.


5 comments:

sandwichinwi said...

We just had a fear-stealing-joy discussion, although we didn't put it quite in those terms. I see now that's what it is. We talked about how we BOTH get afraid that the other person is going to be like they used to be and we feel afraid. When we feel afraid, our lizard brains pop up and we get all wonky. He was interested to see that I feel the same way he feels. I love the perspective on the John 9 story. I never thought of it that way. Great insight!

Also lizards are not underwater creatures. They live in the dry desert (hence the need to keep them hydrated so they don't get angry).

blessings,
Sandwich

sandwichinwi said...

Also, I love the multi-armed E's. I remember those. Also interesting: her N's are not backwards. Or they are.

Carla said...

This post reminded me of the first year after my sister-in-law passed away leaving 4 little girls. We adults felt such guilt at feeling any joy or sharing any laughter in that first year. Her children had sad times and happy times and no guilt about either. It was a good lesson for all of us.

Robyn said...

Underwater Creatures! My 7 yo used to write like that, though never with the multiarmed E's.

Ann said...

The Seligman book is great. He followed it up with Learned Optimism For Kids--very helpful at helping depression-prone kids, or kids who are all-or-nothing thinkers, to re-frame the way they perceive the world.

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