Ever get the sense of dread that something bad is brewing? You can’t put your finger on it, but you just know it’s hanging over you, ready to drop. If you are engaged in known sin, then you have a right to feel this way—consequences are coming.
But let’s hope that’s not it. More likely, you’re plugging away doing your best, and still you can’t shake the feeling. I love Mark Twain’s take on this. He said, “My life’s been filled with tragedies, most of which never happened!” Apparently, this paranoid ploy of the enemy has been around a while.
Paranoia Strikes Deep
I dropped in on one of our students at his workplace this week and found him sunk in a funk. He just “knew” his days on this job he loves were numbered. The boss was sharpening the ax for sure. “It’s just the opposite,” I exclaimed. Then I explained I had been in a staff meeting with his supervisor only ten minutes earlier and she had sung his praises. What had pushed him into the pit? He’d had a message earlier that day from this same boss, pointing out something he’d done wrong and needed to correct. That was all it took for paranoia to take root.
Boy, do I know that feeling. When I got out of seminary, I worked for 13 years in the same parish as an assistant priest, something of a record in itself. That should have told me something right there. But no. Every time I had to face a job review, I thought to myself right before going in, “This is it. They’re finally on to me. I’m going to get the boot now.” It never happened. As bad as that was, this momentary sense of dread was a mere shadow of what had once ruled in my life.
Dread of Real Possibilities
Of course, a person might deserve firing and not know it, and truly tragic things can drop in on us out of the blue. I’m not saying they can’t. The truth is that we are genuinely vulnerable to calamities. Even more, if we have a smidgen of humility, we know that we are not the god of our little world. We can neither foresee nor control events. This makes us genuinely vulnerable to the experience of unpleasant events, and also, (Twain-like) to imagining them. This vulnerability gives the enemy’s whispered words of impending doom a veneer of wisdom.
What can be done? I’ve got a cure, but get ready, because this remedy is ruthless. Jesus laid down the principle that if you try to save your life you will lose it, but if you lose your life for His sake, He will save it for you. He said something like this every time He spoke about our need to die to self and embrace our own crosses. Here is how He put it in Luke:
And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. Luke 9:23-24 ESV
This Lesson Didn’t Come Cheap
I learned this lesson when I was a very young Christian. Our furniture making business took a nose dive into the red, during our worst season of the year. Bankruptcy was looming. Talk about things to dread. This business was my dream child, “my baby.” It would kill me to lose it—God knew. But He wasn’t making any promises. He was dealing with my inability to trust Him.
When He showed me the way out of my fears, I seized it with both hands, which is a funny way of saying it, because the key is letting go, not holding on. You have to be willing to put your life and all you love in His Hands, or you can never be free. My prayer became, “Lord, let me lose the business, but not your peace. Let me fail at the work, but not the loving.” Basically, I put what I loved and wanted on the altar, saying “Take it! I want You and Your peace even more than this!” And you know what? He took it. And I have never regretted it!
The Surprising Reversals
As long as you hold on to it (whatever “it” is for you), you will always live in fear of losing it. C.S. Lewis wrote that only what we have given to God can become truly ours. Until you let it go—let it die in your sight—you’re the one who has to work at keeping it in play. But if He gives it back to you, you can rest assured He’s in it with you. Most everything in my life is with me on that basis: I gave it to Him and He gave it back.
The problem with a strong grip on our life is that it can easily become a fist. Watch out! If you’ve got a “death grip” on your loved ones (due to fear of losing them), they won’t thank you for it. They will feel your fears as you trying to control them. And if you’re gripping the things in your life too possessively, you may start shaking your fist at God if He touches them. Grace is upon the hand opened to receive.
Get to your fears first. Challenge them with this saying: “What’s the worst thing that could happen to me?” The obvious answer is, “I would die. In that case, I awaken immediately in heaven with no regrets!” The subtler answer is, “The worst thing is that I would fail to die to self, and live all my life in fear of losing my life and my loved ones.” Now, that second possible path is a dark thing genuinely to be dreaded…
For more on living in genuine spiritual health, see “Spiritual Healing” at our website for healing, healingstreamsusa.org.