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Handling Fear in a Relationship
Bruce & Jen Carter
February 14, 2016
Happy Valentine’s Day! When Jen and I decided to speak together in this series on fear we didn’t realize it was going to be on Valentine’s Day. But I guess that’s appropriate even if it wasn’t intentional.
This morning we want to share some things that we’ve experienced in our 30 years of marriage and some lessons that we’ve learned and are still learning about fear. We certainly haven’t arrived when it comes to handling fear in our relationship. In fact, some days we feel like we haven’t even started. But we’ve learned a few things and what we’re going to say is not just for married couples. This is for everyone here, whether you’re single or married, younger or older.
We’ve been in a series called Fear Not and we began by talking about the fear we all must have and that is the fear of God. The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom the book of Proverbs says. In other words, if we want to live a wise, skillful life it starts by taking God and his Word seriously.
The fear of God is not a cowering, debilitating fear that causes us to hide from God and fear him like we would fear an enemy. No. The fear of God is a reverence and a respect for God that draws us to him as our loving heavenly Father. That’s a good fear. That’s a healthy fear. That’s the fear we all must have to live a skillful life. But there are plenty of other fears that can cause us to run and hide from God and from one another.
Last week, Ben did a wonderful job defining fear for us and showing us how fear is tied to sin. Before sin entered into the world there was no fear. And one day, when sin is completely defeated there will be no fear again. But right now we battle fear on some level every single day. Fear is the number one enemy of our faith which is why “fear not” is the most repeated command in the Bible. And it all started in the garden with Adam and Eve.
After Adam and Eve sinned in the garden we read these words in Genesis 3:7-10-- Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves. 8Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the LORD God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the LORD God among the trees of the garden. 9But the LORD God called to the man, “Where are you?” 10He answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.”
Fear causes us to hide from God. And in a marriage or in any close relationship fear can cause us to hide from one another and drive a wedge between us and also within us.
Fear drove Adam and Eve into the bushes and fear can drive us into the bushes as well … or even into a shoe! (Cat in shoe slide, all the ladies want to know where do I get that shoe?!)
So what we want to do this morning is share three observations that have helped us deal with fear in our relationship, three lessons that we’ve learned the hard way and are still learning as we grow in this area.
And the first is that fear needs to be brought out into the light, out into the open (Open Door slide).
One of my greatest fears is the fear of failure. Fear of failure has kept me from stepping out in faith at times. A few weeks ago, Matt called it “slavish fear.” Slavish fear can control us. Fear of God is a good fear. But slavish fear can keep us from doing what God wants us to do.
I have this tendency to “step aside” in getting involved with things (activities not people – because I don’t want to take an opportunity away from someone else). Even as I was preparing this it sounded so much like a COP OUT. But that is exactly what fear does and can do – reasons can sound believable, but once it is out in the light—it sounds almost self-righteous or ridiculous and FEARFUL.
I am somewhat ashamed of what I say and that is also what fear can do – make us ashamed. And so we keep fear inside. But sharing it OR confessing it OR writing it down lets it out in the light and allows God to use me, change me, and reminds me of His unconditional love.
I often sing the children’s song, “When I am afraid I will trust in You, I will trust in You.”
When our kids started public school, I wanted to start a prayer time for parents to pray for our kids. I waited and waited to see if anyone else was going to start it, but no one did. So with a lot of fear and hesitancy I started it. But I was afraid nobody would come and that I would be a failure. So I invited a few people to come and they did. And we ended up meeting to pray for many years.
That’s when I realized it’s all about Jesus and not about me!!! Fear can make us so self-absorbed when it really IS ALL ABOUT JESUS!!
Over the years I’ve battled the fear of finances for our family as well as for our church. And what I’ve noticed is that fear happens when I feel out of control. Often I start to feel afraid in November when we start Christmas shopping, buying gifts and making extra expenditures. We want to be generous so I don’t want to share my fear with Jennifer. I feel embarrassed that I’m afraid. And I don’t want to her to be afraid. And I don’t want to come across as a Scrooge at Christmastime. So I try to keep the fear inside and hide it and convince myself of all the good reasons to keep my fear hidden.
But I can’t! Over the years Jen has become an expert at reading my body language and my non-verbals. She can tell when I’m wrestling with fear and anxiety. And so she’ll call me out and get me to talk about it. And that’s a big help, but that can also be exhausting for her to always be the one to bring it up.
I can remember times when I’ve been really stressed out over the finances of the church and I tried to hide that from her. But more than once she’s called me out of the bushes again and reminded me how God has always provided for Valley View and will continue to provide. And I needed that reminder.
The point we’re making is simple, our fears need to be brought out of the darkness and into the light because that’s where they can be talked about and prayed over. If we don’t, they just grow inside of us until they become larger than life. It’s in the light that they lose their power. We need to talk about our fears with our spouse or with a trusted friend or at times with a trained counselor – someone who won’t shame us. As long as we’re hiding from God and from one another we cannot be delivered. Instead, we’ll remain distant from him and each other.
And when we do share our fears, they need to be validated. And that’s our second observation. Our fears need to be validated because they are real (Validation slide).
For years I invalidated Jennifer’s fears and wasn’t even aware that I was doing it. In fact, I needed a professional counselor to point out what I was doing. And it really took a toll on our marriage.
Whenever Jennifer would share a fear of some kind, any kind, I’d say things like “You don’t need to be afraid of that?” or “That’s silly, that would never happen?” Or else I would roll my eyes or kick into “fix it” mode to her get over it because I didn’t know how to handle the emotion of fear. And I still struggle with it.
The counselor helped me see that I grew up in a home where emotions weren’t shared or even acknowledged. We didn’t use words like “fear” or “anger,” “sad,” “hurt” or “depressed.” So that’s why it was hard for me to talk about emotions and share emotions. And it still is.
And because I invalidated Jennifer’s fears – that just drove her into hiding even more. And so there were big parts of herself that she didn’t want to share with me because I would invalidate them.
It’s interesting that when Adam and Eve hid from God they covered their nakedness with fig leaves. And the parts they covered were the parts of their anatomy that were different. And that’s what we still do today. We cover up the emotional parts of ourselves that are different from each other because we’re afraid that if we share them we might be shamed. And that’s what I did for a long time with Jen’s emotion of fear and other emotions as well. So she learned to hide them from me and that’s not good for a marriage or for any relationship.
The way to change that is by listening to each other without shaming each other (Couple Talking slide). Active, compassionate listening and sharing can deliver us from fear.
This week that is what we needed to do, even before we prepared this teaching. I wanted to share with Bruce some fears because they needed to get out in the light –I felt myself closing in on myself and so I had to say, “I want to talk.” That for me is the first and the hardest step. Once we sat down I knew at that point to open my mouth was next—it was cleansing for sure. I knew he couldn’t DO much to help me, but listening and then we prayed.
Fears need to be brought out into the light. Fears need to be validated. And our fears need to be brought to God. He wants us to share our fears with him (Pray Emoji slide).
Praying our fears out also drains them of their power. Over and over again God encourages us to bring our fears to him in prayer.
I think of the Apostle Paul’s words in Philippians 4:6-7, Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
God wants to exchange our fear for his peace. And it’s a peace that we can’t even understand and it comes from him. But for that to happen we need to bring our fears and worries and anxieties to him. Sometimes we pray alone and sometimes we pray with our spouse or with a safe person or with a safe group.
Whenever we pray about our fears we’re doing what the Apostle Peter says in 1 Peter 5:7, Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.
The Bible is very powerful helping us with our fears (Bible App slide).
Bible Hebrews 13:6—this is a little holder we got at a wedding this year to hold our table name tags. I kept the holder because I think it is handy. I have a verse that I was really leaning on and jotted it down. There it sits on my windowsill as a reminder that The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. Some days when I am thinking of our kids or a responsibility I have, or when I think of something that has happened in the world; this verse is an encouragement to me and a reminder that HE IS MY HELPER, I will not be afraid. It is a daily struggle that is why I need to see it daily.
Ever since we started this series the word “fear” has been jumping off the page whenever I read the Bible. I’ve been reading through the Psalms along with Tim Keller’s book called The Songs of Jesus.
And the other day I read Psalm 56 which is actually the Psalm that contains the words of the song that Jen referred to earlier, “When I am afraid I will trust in you.”
I’d like to close by reading from the Psalm and Tim Keller’s comments on it. Psalm 56:3-4 says, When I am afraid, I put my trust in you. 4In God, whose word I praise – in God I trust and am not afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?
Then again in verses 10-11, In God, whose word I praise, in the Lord, whose word I praise – 11in God I trust and am not afraid. What can man do to me?
Tim Keller writes, “What can mortals do to me? Fearfulness and faith in God can coexist in us even as trust slowly wins out. Faith is not a vague sense that ‘God will work it out.’ It comes from prayerful immersion in the Scripture, the Word of God …. Christians overcome their fears by looking not only at the written Word, the Bible, but also at the incarnate Word, Jesus Christ. Through his sovereign and creative power, God is able to give us his saving Word, human and divine, written and writhing on the cross.”
Then he closes with this prayer, “Lord, I need not merely read your Word, but praise your Word – relish and rejoice in what it tells me about your glory and grace. Help me calm and silence my fearful heart with the promises and claims of the Scripture. Amen.”
Our fears need to be shared with one another. Our fears need to be validated. And our fears need to be brought to the Lord in prayer as we lean on the promises in his Word.
If you would like prayer right now, we will be up here after the gathering ends and would love to pray for you. Let’s stand for closing prayer.