Remember to use the Opening and Closing prayers from 3/20/20.
The opening quote for this chapter comes from Eleanor Roosevelt. “You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, “I lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.” (p. 29) One example for me would be trusting God while I was unemployed at 50, because I had survived unemployment at 27.
Hamilton begins this chapter talking about “exposure therapy.” I noted it seems to work something like a vaccine. Small exposure helps you develop an immunity to the stronger case. He explains it this way, “Exposure therapy breaks the cycle [of anxiety] by calling on you to clearly identify the source of your fear or anxiety and then slowly face your fears by exposing yourself to them - at first with small steps, then gradually increasing the experience of exposure.” (p. 29) This may not work for all fears, but Hamilton writes, “for many of our fears, facing them liberates us, which is what Ralph Waldo Emerson meant when he said, “Do the thing we fear, and death of dear is certain.” (p. 31)
I do know that liberation. There was someone I couldn’t contact a couple weeks ago. I had tried a few times, then became too afraid of worst-case scenarios. I couldn’t make myself keep trying. I had someone else try instead. Finally I called someone else to see if he had heard from her. He had. The flood of relief was immense. This is one of my character flaws, that I can avoid for long stretches of time the thing I fear (or find inconvenient). The Personnel Chair has tried to teach me the opposite. He will put at the top of a meeting agenda the thing he knows makes me or anyone else the most uncomfortable. Then we get past it right away and the rest of the meeting goes well. I have to admit his logic works. Another friend learned growing up that you should get rid of one thing you don’t want to do first thing in the morning, then you don’t have to worry about it the rest of the day. There is something to be said for facing your fears and getting past them even on a daily basis. Ok, what am I going to tackle today?
Of course the good news for those of us who have faith is that we do not face our fears alone. We have someone much stronger than us to lean on. An old hymn comes to mind, “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms.” Here’s what Hamilton says, “thousands of years before Freud, Jung, and Skinner offered their observations about the human mind, and before the world was introduced to Xanax, Zoloft, and Klonopin – medicines intended to treat anxiety and fear – the primary place human beings turned to find relief from hear was their faith in God and the spiritual practices that helped them to sense God’s presence.” (pp. 30-31) As I read this, I want to add there’s nothing wrong with taking those medicines. I’m aware of the difference they make for many friends. However, don’t let a pill replace your faith. For me faith is the foundation. There is a prescription bottle under the bed in case I am every desperate enough to reach for it.
Hamilton goes on to talk about scriptural testimony in this chapter. We’ll look at that under Bible Study. He also mentions singing hymns and of course prayer. Singing my faith has also been a source of calm for me. One summer I was coordinator of a traveling Vacation Bible School team in Wisconsin. We did VBS in nine churches all over the state. One night coming home from dinner my gas tank neared empty. This was long before cell phones, and I was driving a rural area late enough that nothing in town was still open. I sang a particular verse of a camp song for most of an hour until I finally found a phone. “Give me gas for my Ford, keep me truckin’ for my Lord.” It’s funny now, but it wasn’t that night! Another summer as director of the week at camp, I had the practice of walking to each tent to sing a good night song. Well, that night we had quite a storm. I was walking through the woods singing a hymn at the top of my lungs until I got to each tent. Hamilton says, “In the midst of praying and singing, you can feel their anxiety fade away.” (p.36) I agree. Of course for Hamilton and I as United Methodist preachers, we know a classic story of John Wesley’s faith history. On his way to the Americas, he was on board ship with a group of Moravians. There was a fierce storm at sea. The Moravians gathered in a huddle and sang hymns. That made such an impression on Wesley whose own faith was weaker at that point; he later found their leader to become his mentor in faith.
Another way to deal with fear is visualizing. I remember a camp counselor teaching this to our elementary school campers. Hamilton explains it this way, “our imagination can also be put to work in visualizing good outcomes and God’s deliverance. So instead of imagining that I’ll die of cancer, or that the future is grim, or that another 9/11-style attack is looming, I use that same creative power to picture that there is a God – a God who loves me, is with me, and will sustain, strengthen, and carry me.” (p. 37) In the midst of the current crisis, it is too easy to visualize worst-case scenarios, especially if your news source is visual. This week any picture of a hospital in New York is going to haunt you with just how bad the crisis is now here in the US and reminds us how bad it has been elsewhere in the world already. Rather than dwelling on those images, it is healthy to imagine what a healed world might look like when we get past this. Yes, I’m realistic; there is great tragic loss already, and there will be more. But I don’t wan to see only the grey desolation of futuristic movies in my mind. I fill my view with the greening grass and budding trees in the park across the street. I need a mental image of medical staff overcoming the crisis, people going home safely, family reunions, celebrations, folks back to work and school and church. Such images become my prayer for the future.
Finally, I loves Hamilton’s story about his dog needing to wear a thundershirt that wraps her in comfort as if she were being held during a storm. I have been watching Hamilton preach online during the church closings. Last week he showed a video of another dog needing that kind of comfort during another storm while Hamilton was studying. The dog came up under the table, between Adam’s legs, and finally rested his head on Adam’s chest. That’s when the dog finally stopped shaking and started to breath normally. We all need comfort when we are afraid. He ends with this quote from Dorothy Bernard, “Courage is fear that has said its prayers.” (p. 38) Pause now to pray for those things of which you are most afraid.
Question #1 – Going back to Eleanor Roosevelt’s quote, what have you lived through that has helped you face something later in life?
Question #2 – What do you tend to put off, but once you have tackled it you feel liberated?
Question #3 - What might be like a thundershirt for you, to bring you comfort in a time of fear? A physical blanket? A cup of tea? A hymn or a prayer or a scripture verse?
(Some of the following comes directly from the Leader’s Guide)
Read Philippians 4:5b-7.
Question #4 – What promises are contained in these verses?
Question #5 – What advice does Paul offer to the Philippian Christians?
Question #6 – What spiritual practices have you experienced as calming?
Read Isaiah 41:10 and use it to compose a prayer for yourself to use when you are afraid. You might do it as a dialog between yourself and God. Hamilton’s example of this in the book begins on page 34. He talks about this scripture in the pages before that.
Remember to begin with the Opening Prayer from 3/20/20.
Most of this chapter relates to the story of the spies Moses sent into the Promised Land when God first commanded them to enter. We’ll explore that further under Bible Study. Hamilton says, “we start out with a vision of a Promised Land – our preferred picture of the future, something we long to do, a dream or a calling to pursue – then we begin to thing about the risks and dangers involved.” (p. 20) But, so “the obstacles, risks, and dangers that daunt us appear much more formidable than they really are?” (p. 21) That’s the case in the reports of the spies in Numbers 13. This is where the realism of this Old Testament story rings true in our own lives as well. We dream good things, but then the challenges and what ifs begin to look like giant obstacles. Sometimes we just cower in fear rather than facing them.
The function of the amygdala, as we talked about it in Chapter 2, is to calculate those worst-case scenarios and prepare us for the just in case moments of life. However, as we also noted, not al worst-cases come to pass. Other areas of our brain need to carefully consider whether such obstacles are real or can be overcome. When the amygdala needs to be pessimistic for safety sake, faith answers some scenarios with a more optimistic view. “Faith in this sense is trust, confidence, hope, or belief that, regardless of your current circumstances or your recent experiences, things will get better, that things will turn out okay.” (p. 23)
This is the kind of faith we need in the current world crisis. The pandemic is indeed serious, a giant problem to be faced in every corner of the world. However, rather than allow the fear of this virus to paralyze us, we need to be moved to creatively meet the needs with confidence and hope working for a better tomorrow. For some that means bravely continuing to go to work to meet essential needs of the community. For others it means figuring out how to work or learn from home. It means making do with what is available to us, because somethings simply are not available right now. For some it means enduring travel bans and restrictions on gatherings, figuring out what to do with all these hours at home. (Others of us are quite content at home and wonder how we will pry ourselves out of the house when this is over. That would be me.)
Hamilton suggests that when we catastrophize our situation, fear takes control. (p. 23) But there are ways “to stare down the giants” and “take on each of [our] fears.” (p. 24) On pages 24-25 Hamilton share the story of one man who went through a process of doing this. It was a combination of faith, creative thinking, compromise, and making it work.
One acronym for FEAR is False Events Appearing Real. “We spend a lot of time and emotional energy worrying about and fearing things that will never happen.” (p. 26) I have done that in some cases and learned to get past it in others. Hamilton claims, “contemporary science and a better grasp of facts can help defeat fears of every kind.” (p. 26) I don’t know if I would go that far, but there are many fears that can be calmed by a better understanding of real facts versus imagined scenarios. I appreciate that he is not suggesting what he calls a “saccharine faith” but more realistically suggests “that a well-considered faith in God and the timeless insights of scripture can have a profound impact on your ability to experience peace, hope, and joy despite your fears.” (p. 26) It’s not faith or science; it’s a balanced blend of both. I consider God as Creator behind all science, so I don’t have a problem with that.
Hamilton summarizes his encouragement with his own acronym for FEAR. I’m breaking it down in bullet points here.
He closes this chapter with a quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Do the thing we fear, and the death of fear is certain.” (p. 28) Fear that paralyzes can be overcome. The above steps can help.
Question #1 – On page 21, Hamilton asks, “Can you recall some critical time in your past when you were stuck for long stretches of your life in the mire of fear?” For me it would be unemployment in my late 20s. What would it be for you?
Question #2 – In the current world situation, how is faith facing your fears? How are the facts helping? What action are you able to take? Are you able to release your concerns to God?
Question #3 – Which of these steps from Hamilton’s acronym for fear is the most difficult for you? Why do you think that is?
Read Numbers 13.
Question #4 – What hopes and dreams had the Israelites had for the land?
Question #5 – What were the fears that kept the people from entering the Promised Land?
Question #6 – Reread verses 13:32-33. What do you think was different about Joshua and Caleb that caused them to give such a different report?
Footnote to this scene. This story is the reason Joshua and Caleb were the only ones of their generation allowed to enter the Promised Land when the time finally came again. There was a significant cost to the lack of faith in all the rest.
Use the closing prayer from 3/20/20 as you finish your study.
Before you begin, read the opening prayer from 3/20/20 blog post.
Hamilton’s opening quote for this chapter comes from Ben Jonson: “There is no greater hell than to be a prisoner of fear.” I recognize the truth of that when I was going through anxiety attacks while camping on Washington Island a few years ago. A favorite pastime had become a hell, because I couldn’t break out of fear in the middle of the night. Perhaps you have felt trapped by your fears as well. In this chapter we are going to learn about the biology of how fear works in us both for good and for, well, a feeling of hell.
Our senses send signals to our amygdala, which are described as “two almond-shaped structures, one nestled deep on each side of the brain.” (Hamilton, Unafraid, p. 10) While other areas of the brain are thinking through the data, our amygdala has already done what I might call a triage assessment, deciding whether the signals indicate a threat. If that the that’s the case, it calls for epinephrine and cortisol to ready the body for a response. Maybe I’ve watched too many hospital dramas lately, but I’m visualizing an ER team making a quick judgement as the gurney rolls in from the ambulance while other staff scramble to get the meds and equipment requested by their shouts ready at the awaiting bedside. Within the science of your body, “Your heart begins to race, your breathing becomes more rapid and more shallow, your mouth gets dry, your muscles tense up – all aimed at helping you fight or flee.” (p. 11) These sensations are all too familiar! As the physical reactions continue, “these hormones also produce feelings of anxiety, dread, or aggression.” (p. 11) That’s familiar as well.
Sometimes our brain links a past experience with something else that may even be usually unrelated. When I hear certain songs, I associate them with a place, time, and person I heard them with decades ago, and I watch the whole scene replay in my head while listening to the song. I never tried sandwich spread and avoided tartar sauce (which looks like sandwich spread to me) all because of a childhood dream that didn’t go well. Hamilton reminds us this is “classic conditioning” just like the famous experiment of Pavlov with dogs. (p. 12) But “when you have had a traumatic experience in the past, and that experience was associated with a smell, a sight, a sound, a taste, a feeling, a person, or a place, your brain might come to associate that stimulus with the unpleasant, frightening, or painful situation.” (p. 14) Adults may be afraid of water or fire or dark, because of something in their childhood they don’t clearly remember. Then the sound of running water, the smell of smoke, or the click of light switch could become triggers to similar feelings of fear from that past experience. “These triggers are set off by data from our five senses that the amygdala perceives as a potential threat.” (p. 15)
Some of our fears are healthy and protect us from getting hurt. If you ever got too close to fire and either got burned or got tired of mom yelling “NO!” you learned that you should be careful around fire. But other fears are unhealthy as we obsessively worry about things that are never going to happen or things that are beyond our control. (p. 15) Hamilton says we don’t need to be afraid of either of these. (p. 17) But the part of Pavlov’s experiment I hadn’t heard was helping the dogs unlearn their reaction to the unrelated stimulus. In other words “We can unlearn fear, and in unlearning fear we can find freedom.” (p. 17) Some of you have heard me talk a lot about rewiring our brain, a concept I’ve learned from my coach, Rev. Dr. Shannon Michael Pater. The basic concept is to repeatedly replace the unwanted thought pattern with a new healthy one. Eventually the new thought pattern, be it a song, a scripture, a pleasant image, self-talk, whatever works for you, eventually this becomes the established go to route instead of the old harmful pattern.
Question #1 – What are some traumas that might cause ongoing fears?
Question #2 – Name some healthy fears that actually protect us?
Question #3 – Name some common fears we don’t really need to be afraid of, either because they aren’t likely to happen or because we can’t control them anyway.
When the Bible talks about fear of the Lord, we often use words like awe or reverence. I think this all adds up to respect. If I have a healthy fear of God, I have great respect for God. I respect God’s authority and capabilities. But maybe that applies to other things as well. I have what I believe is a healthy fear of fire. I am not afraid of fire, but I respect both the good it can do and the harm it can do. If I treat fire with respect, I can appreciate it without getting hurt by it. If I approach God with great respect, I can appreciate all the good God desires for this world and the many benefits and blessings God provides so richly. But I can also respect the boundaries God sets, the commandments, both natural laws and spiritual laws the God has given us.
Question #4 – Read Genesis 3:8-10. Do you think Adam and Eve’s fear at that point was healthy or unhealthy? What changed in their relationship that caused them to fear? How does fear play a role in your relationships?
Question #5 – Read Genesis 12:1-4. What fears might Abram and Saria have as they venture out to a new land? How was their respect for God part their decision to go? How might it help them along the way?
Question #6 – Read Psalm 25. Verses 12 and 14 talk about fear of the Lord. How does this respectful kind of fear enhance our relationship with God?
Please do share your comments and answers by clicking on the word “comments” next to the date at the top of this post. (Be sure you are at the top) Close your session with the closing prayer from 3/20/20. Thank you!
Be sure you have read the initial post "Start Here" before beginning this study with us.
Also, note that there are Opening and Closing Prayers available to use in each section. Look for that post below this one.
Hamilton begins each chapter with a quote. For Chapter 1, it comes from John Lennon:
“There are two basic motivating forces: fear and love…all hopes for a better world rest in the fearlessness and open-hearted vision of people who embrace life.”
I am offering this Bible study based on Hamilton’s book Unafraid as an alternative means of studying together in the midst of mandated “social distancing” during the COVID-19 (Novel coronavirus) pandemic. It is something none of us have experienced in our lifetimes. I am very aware of things motivated by fear in our world right now, things like store shelves regularly emptied of toilet paper. I am also aware of acts of love and caring. Our Mission & Outreach Team is meeting by phone calls to release a large gift to our local food pantries. We have a choice to be swallowed by our fears or to choose love and embrace life, even though for the moment we dare not physically embrace each other.
We once again live in anxious times, but we have done so before. I’ve heard references to the polio epidemic which hit at various times historically, but hit the US especially hard in the 1940s and 50s. Another epidemic in the early 1900s was referenced in a recent Adam Hamilton sermon. Another article mentioned Martin Luther’s response to an epidemic in the 6th century BCE. Our world has come through wars, natural disasters, economic downturns, and the Great Depression. Some of us only know these through family stories, history classes, books or movies. Perhaps some of you have lived through these yourself. Add to these personal experiences of loss or hardship in relationships, finances, health, etc. [Question #1]
I suspect everyone reading this has some history of anxiety, something in their past that has been a source of fear. Hamilton writes, “We all have things we fear. And most of us will have seasons when anxieties and fear simply overwhelm us.” (p. 6 of Kindle version) He goes on to say, “Look behind depression’s door and you’ll often find fear. Addictions too. Peer beneath broken marriages and friendships, beneath prejudice and hate, and you’ll find fear. And look behind the causes of most wars throughout human history and you’ll find lurking behind all of the other reasons, fear, often manufactured by the leaders who led their people to wage war.” (p. 6) Fear when allowed to run rampant can consume us and lead us to attitudes and behaviors that are unhealthy for ourselves, for those around us, and for society itself. But not all fear is unhealthy. We’ll explore the biology and necessity of fear in Chapter 2. (coming Wednesday, March 25, 2020)
An unhealthy aspect of fear is that “Often we fear things that will never happen; yet real or imagined, these fears have power.” (p. 8) Sometimes it’s ok to think through worst case scenarios with the goal of being prepared. If you were a scout in your school days, you know that motto to “Be Prepared.” I run through future options at work to plan for contingencies. I expect governments to be thinking through what could happen, so that emergency plans are available to put quickly in place. Right now I’m grateful for those in medical and other professions whose training and policies gave them some sort of starting point to respond to the current global crisis. That much I see as healthy. It’s when we dwell on the imagined fear to the point of living in it that it becomes unhealthy in my opinion. Hamilton will talk about how to face such fears in coming chapters. [Question #2]
Hamilton writes, “The battle with fear is not a one-and-done kind of battle; rather, it is a regular part of our lives. But while fear is a persistent companion, we don’t have to be controlled by it. We can learn to address our fears, control them, learn from them, even use them, and we can press through them.” (p. 8) I like that image of pressing through. Thanks to my professional coach and various readings, I have developed an interest in and learned about re-wiring our brain. I think this is one of the ways we battle our fears, to retrain our responses to whatever triggers unhealthy fears once we identify these triggers and fears. To give this paragraph a visual, picture a football training field with a line of football sleds the players push against. The weighted sleds are loaded with our fears. The challenge is to get in position and push our way down the field moving them in spite of the resistance they offer. We come back to the training ground and do this day after day until we know with confidence that particular fear won’t stop us. [Question #3]
Toward the end of Chapter 1 Hamilton says this, “courage is not the absence of fear; instead, it is doing what you feel you should do, or what you long to do, despite the fear. As you press through your fear, you live a life of courage and hope.” (p.9) May you be enabled to push through your fears in the days to come. I hope our study here will help.
Question #1 – What major fears have you witnessed or experienced in your life or lifetime?
Question #2 – Name a fear that you believe is unhealthy.
Question #3 – In response to the fear you named in #2, what might you use to push past it? You might choose a phrase to say to yourself, a song to sing in your mind, a physical action to do, something you turn to instead.
The Bible tells us over 140 times not to be afraid. (p.8) Look up the following verses. I’ve linked them to a favorite translation on biblegateway.com or find them in your favorite Bible at home. Looking at more than one translation can be a key benefit in Bible study. You can easily do this on Bible Gateway or other Bible websites and phone apps. After looking at these you might search for more on your own. If you find a new favorite, share it with us.
Question #4 – What encouragement do you find in each of these verses? You can refer to them by the numbers above.
Question #5 – What is the overall theme of the verses I selected?
Question #6 – What other Bible verses help you when you are dealing with fear?
Note: You will explore many more scriptures in the chapters ahead.
Part 1: Understanding and Countering our Fear
I encourage you to use the Opening and Closing Prayers from the Leader’s Guide to this book as you come online to begin each chapter of this section over the next two weeks.
Opening Prayer: “God who calms the troubled waters, we bless you for your presence in the midst of our fears and trials. We release to you the things we hold too tightly, and we trust your words of peace. Be among us in this session, and may our souls and bodies be secure in you. Amen.” (Hamilton in Unafraid Leader Guide, p. 15)
Closing Prayer: “God of peace, you know our fears before we speak. You know how fragile our faith is and how difficult our struggles are to trust you more. For faith like a mustard seed in a fearful world, we pray. Amen.” (Hamilton in Unafraid Leader Guide, p. 20)
Lessons for Adam Hamilton’s Unafraid: Living with Courage and Hope in Uncertain Times
Instructions for Participating in this Bible Study online:
I will post a new chapter blog each Saturday and Wednesday in honor of my Bible Study groups that cannot meet on these days right now given the mandates related to COVID-19 pandemic.
If you wish to read the book along with me, it can be purchased online from Amazon, Cokesbury, and many other sources. It is available in hardcover, Kindle, and hopefully other formats.
Along with each blog I will ask questions, to which I hope you will respond with comments. Click on the word comments next to the date of my post to open the comments box. I will check these often to release their posting, but since people sometimes come on the church site for soliciting, advertising, etc. I will review each comment before allowing it to appear. Your comments and answers to posted questions will be what makes this a group effort, similar to what happens when we gather in the study at church. The location and form of communication has changed. So has the availability to far more people.
With that in mind, be aware that your comments are visible to the public. Do not share personal information that should remain private. You are welcome to respond in a generic way if warranted or to say “someone might” or “I know someone who” rather than naming yourself or another person specifically in regard to what you are sharing.
Share your faith (and even your doubts here) but this is not the place for political statements.
Please be respectful of each other’s personal experiences, preferences, etc.
Know that this is also an experiment for me as one way to do Bible study online at each participant’s convenience. I’ll tweak the process and learn as we go.
Thank you for joining us!