Earlier this week I went into the hospital for my wrist injections. Unfortunately, all the hard work I’ve done with my hands all these years has caught-up with me and caused debilitating arthritis at an early age…so I need occasional steroids injected deep into my wrist joints with a small needle that is guided by x-ray fluoroscopy. Yeah, it totally sucks. I HATE needles (aka I’m scared of them). So I’m in there getting prepped with the doc. and the radiology tech., feeling my anxiety-level begin to rise as they describe the procedure. By the time they’re prepping the first injection site, my heart rate is up and I’m feeling a bit dizzy. Then he says those sly, menacing words “here comes a little poke, little burning.” Within 10-seconds the room starts to spin, my breathing gets erratic, and the sweat machine turns-on. 30-seconds later, I’m literally on the floor with my feet on a chair and these two guys draping cold wash-cloths on my forehead. Honestly, the shot really didn’t hurt that bad…but my mind had decided it had to jump in and hijack my body to save it from terrible danger. Fortunately they had the patience to wait for me to calm down, and we finished the procedure with me laying on my back with the table at a reverse incline. Everything went fine after that…I just had to push through the internal, imagined trauma and ignore my instinctive beliefs in order to get to where I’m at now, only 36-hours later…virtually pain-free!
This little story illustrates a dynamic of the mind that we all sometimes deal with. In psychoanalytic theory, defense mechanisms are psychological strategies brought into play by the unconscious mind to manipulate, deny, or distort reality in order to defend against feelings of anxiety and unacceptable impulses and to maintain one’s stable set of memories that summarize a person’s beliefs, experiences and generalizations about the self. In layman’s terms, defense mechanisms are the self-protective lenses we use to minimize the effects of the scary world around us so that we can deal with it on our own terms.
I’ve been thinking about the correlation between our beliefs and our fears.
In many ways, our beliefs are often secondary…forged by the fire of fear and the raw materials of our life experiences. What I mean is that each of us, instinctively, runs from whatever we’re afraid of into the embrace of promises that appeal to our personalities, pre-conceived points of view, and explanations we have embraced…whether they’re objectively true or not.
Our fears are very powerful, we all have them. Fears are not a bad thing, they’re natural and neutral…it’s what we DO with our fears that assigns goodness or badness. Fears push us from within to be and do things that will rewrite our stories and redefine our identities. The one who fears pain tends to pursue safety in the belief that minimizing risk brings security. The one who fears insignificance tends to pursue achievement in the belief that accomplishing goals will breed importance. The one who fears confrontation tends to pursue appeasement in the belief that being agreeable with everyone will result in harmony. And so on….
Sometimes the things we believe are not true. When we believe lies – and fabricate attitudes & behaviors & lifestyles around those lies – we eventually suffer the deep disillusionment that is part of the broken human condition. From these places of broken-dreams, we wind-up asking the most important questions. “What’s the meaning of life?” “Is there a God, really?” “If so, then why ______?” This is where God longs to meet us, in these deep questions and the pathways out of them. These are forks in the road when our paths either turn toward Him or away from Him.
The pursuit of every human on the planet is really toward the same hopes; each of us craves to love and be loved, to be part of a larger storyline that’s gives us meaning and purpose, and to have a good time on the journey. There are as many opinions and courses toward these universal goals as there are grains of sand on the seashore. They all originate from a similar source, but only one returns us to its Author and Savior. The interpretive-lens that we all really need – that we were all created for – is relationship with our Heavenly Father Himself! This is what the scripture means when it says “Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:6-7)
Many people who shy away from God do so not out of disbelief in His presence or the truths surrounding Him, but because they cannot stomach the idea of surrendering control of their life to an invisible being who will expose their fears and spiritual defensive mechanisms. Many others, who are proclaimed believers, live as if they are not for the same reason… and alienate themselves from the consolation they need from Him.
The difference about someone who really, truly believes (aka trusts) in the Living God is that he or she surrenders all other explanations and pathways, and has thrown-in all of his or her entire being – past, present, and future – into embracing the narrative, presence, power, and promises of Jesus Christ, God’s “one mediator between God and man”; learning each day to take-on His perspective, character, and direction with ever increasing intimacy. This is what it means to follow Jesus the Christ into the way of love. Any version of Christianity less than this is merely a manmade ineffective defense mechanism known as “religion.”
“God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” (1 John 4:16-18)
“No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:37-39)