Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Psalm 81:8-9

You shall have no foreign god among you;
    you shall not worship any god other than me.

I am the Lord your God,
    who brought you up out of Egypt.

I first worshipped a foreign god in June or July of 1979. His name was Fear and, shortly after moving into a new house in a new state, I became his faithful disciple. My worship was expressed primarily in a going to bed liturgy acts of devotion in which I would obsess over making sure the doors were locked, the closets were zombie free, and the shark from Jaws wasnt under my bed (whoever said Fear is rational?)

Years passed and I stopped checking the doors and closets, but my faithfulness to Fear never wavered. Old fears were traded in for new ones: girls, acne, the SAT, relationships, my first job interview, parenthood.

Charles de Foucauld wrote, The one thing we owe God absolutely is to never be afraid of anything. The Be-Positive Christian part of me Amens the bravery of this conviction, but the honest and vulnerable part of me the part of me that hides underneath layers of pride and self-deception and faux courage lives a different reality.

Im afraid.

Im afraid of what you might think of me.
Im afraid that if I am vulnerable and honest then youll turn and run.
Im afraid to live life on lifes terms.
Im afraid of the past.
Im afraid of the future.
Im afraid that I may be a fake. And Im afraid youll figure it out.

Worship is the act of ascribing worth to someone or something. In worship we acknowledge the objects power in the world and in our lives. Never mind what happens in the sanctuary, true worship is evidenced in the subtle things that motivate us, and in the small and seemingly inconsequential choices we make throughout the day.

I worship a foreign god. That God is Fear.

The devil knows hes not going to lure the Sunday-School-attending, Prius-driving, forward-thinking, NPR-supporting kind of Christian into the worship of Baal. Thats so 7th century BC too gaudy and obvious. 

Evil does his best work in the places we cant see. It flourishes in those dark corners of the heart we choose to ignore. And so, regardless of how self-aware we fancy ourselves, most are unwilling or unable to see the gods we truly worship. Rarely does one make the conscious choice to worship a foreign god, its something we gradually slip into, day after day.

And thats the insidious thing about Fear: were seldom aware of the power and influence it wields on us. But Fear (and its counterpart, resentment) is what drives the alcoholic to drink and the addict to use. And its what drives the rest of us into debt, shame, helicopter parenting, codependency, road rage, overeating, defensiveness, gated neighborhoods, and Botox.

For most of us, bravery, self-will, and a positive outlook on life cannot overcome our devotion to Fear. Recovering alcoholics have it right. The 4th Step directs the Fear worshipper alcoholic to take a moral inventory. Praying for Gods guidance, he listens to his life, paying close attention to those hidden and subtle fears. He names them one by one, reflects upon how and why they evolved, and details how they affect him in the boring minutiae of everyday life. This act is followed by the confession of his fears and resentments to another human being.

Fear thrives in the dark. The deeper its buried and the more unaware of it we are, the greater its power over us. The greater the power of Fear, the greater the desire to drink. Or buy stuff we dont need. Or take shortcuts in relationships. Or eat a whole box of Girl Scout Cookies in one sitting.

The process of naming and confessing our fears isnt particularly enjoyable like the Lenten journey its dark and a little scary. Unfortunately were not provided an alternative route out of Egypt. But something happens along the way: were slowly released from Fears death grip and begin to experience freedom. Not in one fell swoop. Like evil itself, Fear will stick around until we cross the Jordan once and for all.

But we can experience a newness of life along the way, and discover that the end of the journey is not darkness but Light. Finally, when the long night of Lent surrenders to daybreak, we are surprised by an empty tomb and greeted with the heavenly command Do Not Fear.

And, at last, we have a reason not to.


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