Saturday, November 13, 2010

Security and Acceptance

Security is that safe feeling that comes from knowing that what you need cannot be taken away from you. Dr. John L. Cox

I will guide you along the best pathway for your life. I will advise you and watch over
you. Psalm 32:8

I have had several conversations recently with friends who worry. Fears and free floating anxiety cripple their minds, and the bent toward worrying weighs them down. Others live in the grip of fear -- paralyzing fears that make no sense, but are real just the same. Even those with common fears people learn to live with, can remember what it is like to perch in that place of anxiety, wobbling a bit and wondering if we can make it through. The times we live in may contribute to this anxious state of mind, whether fears stem from economic uncertainty or they are derived from other relationships. We are wise to let these concerns air out in the light of day. Sometimes exposing them to light and air by uncovering them with a trusted friend helps greatly to reduce their impact and to minimize their strangehold on us.

Another key coping skill calls us to live in the moment. Being attentive to the present and living in the 'now' are ways of bringing one's self back to the present when fear spirals outward and anxieties threaten to derail us. To live in the now is to say to the swirling, out-of-control fears: "No, that is not happening to me. I am here, and this is now..." or some such mantra that fits. Many attest to this exercise's power to reel back in a fearful mind and set our feet securely on solid ground.

To be anxious and insecure is not a comfortable place to be. Even the most sure-footed among us may find herself or himself there unexpectedly. What are some lessons here? The way of wisdom teaches me that when we look outside for things to bring us security we set ourselves up for failure.

In fact, our culture fairly well demands the result of failure if we buy into its system of defining success and significance with outward stamps of approval related to a combination of financial standing/youth/beauty/fitness/killer wardrobe/expensive toys/high powered job and education (and apparently both of the latter can be dispensed with and eclipsed by income alone if it is sufficiently large or comes with a professional sports contract), and other regional requisites that dominate in parts of the country. People are busy collecting stamps or branding themselves with the stamp of someone who gives a seal of acceptability or achievement. Logos and brand names come and go through the decades but keep changing often enough to always leave some on the outside wanting in and some in last year's model needing an update. We can always find a fix it up chappie who can, for only a few dollars more, hook us up with a stamp of acceptability. See Dr. Seuss's Sneetches, while we're on the subject.

Being in the cool crowd (or not) may have made initial impressions in junior high, but we did not leave peer pressure there. Adults continue to use membership in 'cool groups' of many kinds to display the stamp of Arrival. And this equal opportunity venture is not limited to women: Men have their own stamps that either whisper or shout, "I am Somebody." We like our stuff! Toys for men of any age, hunting clubs, golf clubs, associations for business transactions, cars, even clothing, travel, their hobbies, and sports -- all are ways of asking and answering the big question in one's search for significance: Do I have what it takes? Do I Matter? Am I somebody? We as a people seem to keep looking outward in ever-widening circles for someone's stamp of approval to say, "There now! You've done a great job!" Certainly there is space for merely enjoying hobbies and pursuits of happiness in this life. Everyone who does so is not scrambling to impress another, but the allure is there, nonetheless, to draw us into a lifestyle punctuated and defined by our stuff. For too many, having the right stuff equals success.

It is complicated to know what drives people's anxious moments and deep fears. As long as we continue to be led around by what Dr. John Cox calls the harness of external security, we will live anxiously trying to be connected to the external things that may shore us up in the eyes of others and perhaps even make us acceptable to ourselves. But this is a losing battle. Valuable time -- a commodity that cannot be generated again -- is lost while chasing after this phantom of acceptance and significance.

Some of our fears are not related to striving for recognition or acceptance, but reflect our yearning for protection and provision for those we love. How do we live in the tension of this world where this is danger, disease, evil and distress, and yet, we want to experience God's peace in the midst of it? It is as though we have one foot in this world and one in another, trying to bridge an ever-widening chasm so we can have it all.

Can we learn to accept the truth that God's love for us is not based on our performance? This understanding runs counter to everything we absorb from our American culture, so while we may give nominal assent to it, we refuse to alter our thinking or behavior in response to God's moving in our lives. Our bedrock upon which all other security is built is that God loves us and has redeemed our lives because God loves us, not because we earned a spot on the list.

No, this understanding does not magically erase the worry-habits we have formed so well for decades, perhaps, nor does it makes us bulletproof for temptations and fears. In fact, I think it makes us all the more a target - a target for the enemy's attack on our faith and commitment to live lives connected to God. But when we live with an increased awareness of God's Presence with us in the present, strengthening us for whatever we endure, and when we can allow God's Spirit to permeate our being with the Peace of God's making which far exceeds the breadth of any accomplishment we can generate on our own, we can experience security in a profound way. This is a security that cannot be taken away from us, no matter our circumstances.

Tell that grip of fear that you are unavailable - that the One who speaks and all creation listens abides with you, giving power to the faint and strengthening you for fear's onslaught. Speak boldly, and back it up with prayer that keeps you connected to God.

Speak the same truth into anxious moments and doubts. Speak from that place of knowing that you are a beloved child of God who has inadequacies and frailties common to humanity. Feed Scripture in your heart, allowing God to refresh your weary self with fresh springs. Put yourself in a place to listen to God and to receive these good gifts.

What we need as the basis of genuine security cannot be taken away from us. We are accepted and loved! Even if that fundamental need was met imperfectly by others in your life, do not lose heart. We have an identity that is not dependent on our record of success or on our accumulated belongings. Let it go. Even if we lose all the stuff of this world, we have not lost who we are: beloved child of God, beautiful to behold!

My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish:neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand.

John 10:27-28 is a good reminder that we are held by Jesus, cradled securely. Can there be a place of greater safety and love? I don't know it....Praise God for this picture to counter the fleeting images of fear and insecurities that cloud our minds and threaten to define us in terms of anything but our relationship with the One Who first loved us.

Dr. Cox is a clinical psychologist practicing in Jackson, MS and Atlanta, GA.

No comments:

Post a Comment