- 2 Corinthians 7: 5-7
- Bill Couch January 10, 2016
The movie “Inside Out” tracks a major transition in the life of eleven year old girl named Riley. She experienced a very stable world full of joy in Minnesota: friends, hockey, loving parents, fun. Then her family moved to San Francisco and her world turned upside down. We are given a glimpse inside Riley’s head as she navigates through this transition. In “headquarters” her emotions of joy, sadness, disgust, fear and anger vie for the control board—which emotion is going to be dominant at any given moment. As Riley encounters unfamiliar and challenging situations, two of her emotions joy and sadness get lost in long term memory. She begins to lose or reinterpret some of the core memories of her life that have shaped her personality. She loses her former identity. She no longer knows who she is. She is becoming an adolescent and needs a new identity. How the lost emotions find their way back to headquarters is the primary plot of the movie. In the process Riley discovers the value of all her emotions and develops a new identity.
Each week we are looking at the different emotions Riley experiences and what we can learn about how to deal with our emotions. Last week Jason took us on a journey with the lead character Joy. This week we are going to look at Fear.
The Bible has a lot to say about fear. The word fear is used 324 times in the Bible. What do you do when you are afraid? How do you deal with this powerful, important emotion?
The Apostle Paul encountered all kinds of dangers: shipwrecks (3 times), 24 hours in the open sea, floggings, bandits, floods, starvation, plots to kill him. (2 Corinthians 11:23-28) We picture Paul as a person of incredible courage. And he was—and he also experienced fear. He talks about his fears in his second letter to the Corinthians.
5 For when we came into Macedonia, this body of ours had no rest, but we were harassed at every turn–conflicts on the outside, fears within. 6 But God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus, 7 and not only by his coming but also by the comfort you had given him. He told us about your longing for me, your deep sorrow, your ardent concern for me, so that my joy was greater than ever. 2 Corinthians 7:5-7
All our emotions are God given. They are a part of what it means to be human and created in the image of God. While the movie focuses on five emotions, those are not the only emotions we feel. We may also feel jealousy, hope, despair, grief, surprise, anticipation. The five in the movie are definitely primary emotions and help to open up communication about what we are feeling. The movie has helped children and adults to have a visual image of what they are feeling. Emotions are given to us by God for a purpose. Like all of God’s gifts they can be misused. We should not be afraid of our emotions. We should not let them rule our lives. We should be aware of them and the value of each emotion that we feel. In the movie we are told that the purpose of fear is to keep Riley safe from danger. Anger helps her stand up for herself. Disgust keeps Riley away from things that could be harmful—dead things and broccoli pizza. Emotions serve a purpose. We usually have a default emotion—the one that dominates our personality. What is your default emotion? Joy, Sadness, Fear, Anger or Disgust? Another emotion? That could be interesting lunch conversation!
I think the dominant emotion of Paul was joy. He talked about the joy of the Lord often and encouraged folks to rejoice in all things. And as we read his letters we see that he experienced the full range of emotions including fear. In the passage from 2 Corinthians we read, Paul refers to “conflicts on the outside, fears within.” He is describing some experiences he had in Macedonia. A young slave woman was harassing them and shouting at them as they made their way along the streets of Philippi. Paul perceived that she had a demon who gave her counterfeit fortune telling abilities. Her owners made a lot of money at her fortune telling booth. Paul cast the demon out of her and her owners saw their profits vanish. They filed charges against Paul claiming that he was subversive to acceptable Roman practices. Paul and his companions were thrown into prison and placed in chains. About midnight they were singing and praying and an earthquake came and opened the doors to the prison and their chains fell off. It is a fascinating story about how they were escorted out of town. Check it out in Acts 16.
“We were harassed at every turn. Conflicts on the outside”—Paul was opposed by people and thrown into prison for freeing a young girl from a demon. Yet in prison he is singing and praising God. It does not sound like he is experiencing fear. The fear he is experiencing is about something else. “God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus.” Paul had expected to meet Titus at Troas but he never showed up. Paul was worried about him. He feared something had happened to him. “Fears within.” Paul feared that something might have happened to his young friend. A major source of fear—is the fear of losing something or someone that is important to us.
Riley is going through transition, a time of change in her life. She loses her old friends, her hockey team, fun times she had with her family. Life transitions are difficult. Someone has said that “we do not fear change, we fear what we will lose because of change.” We all know what it is like to face the fear of major life transitions–moving to a new town, attending to a new school, losing a job, losing a loved one, divorce. As a nation we are facing a lot of transition this year. Our area will have a new congressman—will he or she represent us well with no seniority. Who in the world will be our next President?
Our church is approaching a time of transition this year. I will be retiring this summer and we plan to move to the hill country. Together we will experience a wide range of emotions: sadness, fear, gratitude, excitement about new possibilities and opportunities. We need to allow ourselves to feel all of the emotions of change including fear. We fear what we will lose. One of my fears, like Riley, is losing my identity. For over 40 years I have been a pastor. For men our identity comes from our careers, our successes and accomplishments. Who will I be when I am no longer the senior pastor of LRUMC. Where will my worth and value come from? I’ve preached for decades that our true worth comes from God alone and our value comes from being his child. Now I will have to practice what I preach! Like Riley I will have to discover a new identity. It is scary but also exciting. Who am I when I no longer have all the expectations that are part of my identity as a pastor? Like Riley, Margaret and I will be moving away from friends and our church family. That is going to be difficult. We have shared many experiences together. We will move to a far country where we will meet people with whom we have not shared the journeys of life.
You will lose a familiar spiritual leader who has baptized, confirmed, married and buried your loved ones. You will get a new leader who will be different and with whom you have no history. It is OK to feel the fear and the sadness of what we will lose. But at the same time we cannot wallow in our fear or sadness. We need to stay focused on the purpose for our transition. For Margaret and me, it is the opportunity to be more involved in the lives of our grandchildren–while they will let us. It is an opportunity to discern a new calling from God and develop some new skills. To explore dimensions of Bill Couch I’ve never had the opportunity to explore. For our church it is an opportunity to seize a new season of growth—spiritually. Younger leadership is essential at this time to keep LakeRidge vital and strong for generations to come.
Transition provides us with an opportunity to experience a wide array of emotions and to listen to them. Some people are ruled by their emotions—they experience high highs and low lows which result in irrational actions. Some of us—especially those of us who analytical types—tend to deny our emotions or at least not allow ourselves to be aware of them. The term in the movie for burying our emotions is “losing them in long term memory.” Like Riley, we have to learn to be in touch with all our emotions–especially the ones we may have buried– and allow them to surface.
Paul allowed himself to feel his emotions, including the fear of losing his friend. When we get in touch with our emotions what do we do with them? Emotions are information. They are like lights on a dashboard that tell us what is going on inside of us. Sometimes the light may indicate joy or excitement. We stop and process it—what am I joyful about? What am I excited about? Then we can celebrate it or share it or simply enjoy it. But what about fear? Fear is an indicator—a warning light that we are potentially in danger. We need to pay attention to fear and sometimes it requires immediate action. If a car is coming toward you on the wrong side of the road or if you are walking across a street and a car is rapidly approaching, fear tells you to get out of the way—avoid the danger. You need to act instantaneously. Sometimes we have a more undefined sense of fear. We may feel in danger just being around certain people. They are not safe for us. We may feel fear about the future—the unknown. We may feel fear about losing someone or something meaningful to us. We need to process those fears. What is that I fear—what is the potential danger? Is it real or primarily in my imagination. We can get all worked up worrying about things that never happen! If it is real, what do I need to do to protect myself? Is there someone I need to get away from or stay away from because they are not safe for me? What is it specifically about the future of which I am afraid? Is it anything I can do something about—a way to prepare? Or is it something I need to give to God?
The Apostle John tells us how to handle fear. “Perfect love casts out fear.” Notice he did not say: “Courage overcomes fear”. Nor did he say: “Perfect love prevents fear.” We are going to experience fear and then allow God’s perfect love to cast it out. How does perfect love cast out fear? It keeps us from wallowing in our fear. It keeps us from being overwhelmed and panicked by our fears. God is perfect love. He is always with us. He loves us completely and totally. And we can abide and trust in his love. “God, because I know you love me, I know I can trust you. I’m afraid of this or that.” Or “I don’t even know what I’m afraid of, but right now I feel fear. Thank you, God, that you are with me. I trust you to get me through this fear. Whatever happens I know you and I can go through it together.”
In the movie, there is something and someone missing in headquarters. “What” is missing is awareness or consciousness—the ability to observe what is happening to us and what we are feeling. To step back and ask what is going on around me and inside of me right now. I need to listen to the message of my emotions, but I do not have to let them control me. I can decide what is an appropriate response to them. “Who” is missing in the control room is the Holy Spirit. We have a presence greater than ourselves living in us to guide us, direct us, and give us power to overcome. When we are overwhelmed with “conflicts on the outside and fears within,” we can surrender control central to the Holy Spirit and he will guide us through.
What is going on in your headquarters this morning? What emotions are you feeling? Listen to them—they are God given sources of vital information. And then surrender the control of your life to the Holy Spirit to guide you in how to respond to your emotions.