Overcoming Fear

In working with my current ‘project’ horse, one of my primary goals is helping him overcome fear.

Horses are prey animals. They’re designed to be alert for danger and run away.  That’s how they survive.

So, when a horse spooks at a puddle, bolts from a plastic bag, or balks at a creek crossing, he’s not just being cantankerous and troublesome. From the horse’s perspective it is a life and death situation in which he is doing what he must to survive.

Picture yourself riding horseback along a forest path. Everything is going fine.  You’re riding with loose swinging reins and the horse is stepping out with a long walking stride.  The sun is shining.  There’s a light breeze whispering the leaves.  You’re smiling, relaxed, enjoying nature’s serenity.

Then a deer jumps out! Your horse starts to bolt and you grab the reins.  He bucks you off and runs 30 yards down the trail before stopping.

From your perspective everything was going fine until your horse decided to act like an idiot over a harmless deer. From the horse’s perspective, he was running to save his life…you tried to stop him…so he did what he had to do to flee the mortal danger.

This is what we face when we decide to mount and ride. The horse’s perspective is very different from ours.  So, how do we get the horse to a point where he’s not running off every time the wind blows?

We help him overcome his fears.

We do it for our own sake, because this partnership can’t work if he’s always looking for a reason to run off. But we also do it for the horse’s sake…to help him become a better horse…to help him become a braver horse who isn’t afraid of his own shadow…to help him become a horse a rider can trust.

We want to help the horse become the best horse he can be.

So, how do we do that?

I actually began helping Knockout overcome his fears the first time I interacted with him. By simply greeting him in a friendly manner, I helped him overcome his fear of me.  Then I began teaching him to respect me and pay attention.  I began developing a means of communicating with him and started getting very particular about how he responds to my cues.

As Knockout learns to respect and trust me…as he learns to pay attention to me…as he learns to respond quickly to a soft cue…his confidence grows and he becomes less afraid.

The key to helping a horse overcome his fear is to gain his trust and hold his attention. If my horse trusts me, pays attention to me, and knows how to respond to my cues, he will be less afraid.

However, it can be very difficult to keep his attention when he faces new surroundings or encounters something he hasn’t seen before.

So I expose him to more stimuli. I take him places he hasn’t been before.  I introduce him to objects he hasn’t seen before.  I ask him to do new things he hasn’t done before.

I keep pushing him outside his comfort zone.

I don’t push him to make him bothered or afraid. Quite the opposite!  I do it to help him overcome his fear…to help him learn to be brave.  It’s a big world out there and he needs to learn to deal with it…to be confident and responsive in whatever circumstances we find ourselves.

I’m not setting him up for failure. I’m setting him up for success.  I’m not creating new environments just to bother him.  I’m gradually exposing him to existing environments he hasn’t seen before…environments beyond the little pasture he lives in.

And slowly, over time, with consistency and patience, Knockout is learning to have faith in me. We are progressing toward a point where it won’t matter that he is in a new and unfamiliar situation so long as I am present….he doesn’t know the unfamiliar surroundings, but he knows me…and that is enough…because he trusts me.

I want Knockout to learn, in unfamiliar situations, rather than being nervous and unsure what to do, to simply look to me for direction…to pay attention to me…to focus on what I’m telling him…and to trust me to guide him safely.

Does it sometimes seem like God is continually pushing you outside your comfort zone? Does it feel like you’re facing one catastrophe after another?  Do you ever wonder why?  Why, God, what did I do to deserve this?

I know I’ve sometimes felt this way…sometimes asked these questions…

I’m learning God doesn’t allow catastrophe and discomfort into my life to punish me or make me afraid.

He does it to help me learn to be brave. He does it to help me become a better person.  He wants me to be the best person I can be…to fulfill the destiny He preordained for me before the foundation of the world…to be conformed to the image of Christ.  He wants me to become who He created me to be…the image of God.

God is not setting me up for failure. He’s setting me up for success.  God is not creating toxic environments just to bother me.  He’s gradually exposing me to existing environments I haven’t experienced before.

Do you realize how many times the Bible tells us to fear not…to not be afraid…to be strong and courageous…to not be discouraged or dismayed? Over and over and over.  These are some of the most repeated phrases throughout scripture.

God is very interested in helping us overcome our fear. Why?  Because it’s a big world out there and we need to be able to handle it…to hear His voice and respond no matter what the circumstances.

How do we do that? Pretty similar to how a horse does it.

We spend time with the Master. We learn to communicate with Him.  We learn to listen and respond to His cues.  We learn to trust Him.  We learn to pay attention to Him…to keep our focus on Him even when we’re scared.

And slowly, over time, with consistency and patience, we learn that His presence is enough. No matter what the circumstances, we don’t have to be afraid, so long as He is with us…because we’ve learned to trust Him.

“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name; you are Mine!
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
And through the rivers, they will not overflow you.
When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched,
Nor will the flame burn you.
For I am the Lord your God…” (Isaiah 43:1-3)

God wants me to learn, in unfamiliar situations, rather than being nervous and unsure what to do, to simply look to Him for direction…to pay attention to Him…to focus on what He’s telling me…and to trust Him to guide me safely.

And He wants the same for you!

 

[Linked to Messy Marriage, Redeemed Life, Tell His Story ]

 

Why I Speak Out

wedding band on open bible[This is a repost, with minor edits, of my guest blog on Dan Erickson’s site December, 2012.]

I am a Christian.  I believe the Bible is the inspired word of God.  I prescribe to a literal, conservative interpretation of God’s word.  I love studying biblical covenants and find a deep richness of covenant references throughout the Bible.  I view covenant as a common thread woven through both testaments, tying promises in Genesis to prophecies in Revelation.  I often describe our God as a covenant God for Whom all interactions with mankind are based on covenant.  Covenant relationships and the keeping of covenant vows are a very big deal to me.

So why does someone, with my background and convictions, write posts titled “Divorce is Sin…Says Who?”  “Free to Remarry,” “God of Divorce” and “The It-Takes-Two Lie”?

I have been accused, by people who don’t know my story, of trying to justify the divorce of my first marriage.

I have been asked, by people who do know my story, why I’ve felt compelled to change my perspective on biblical divorce.  “Joe,” they say, “you clearly had biblical grounds for divorce.  Your situation met the criteria of every exception clause as being permissible.  Why do you continue to search scriptures regarding marriage and divorce?”

And that’s just it.  My situation did meet the criteria of every “exception clause.”  I lived seventeen years in an abusive marriage to someone who intentionally and repeatedly inflicted deep emotional wounds, who seemed drawn to the intrigue of lies when the truth would have served her better, and for whom every word and action seemed designed to manipulate…even though I would have done anything for her without the need of manipulation.

Yet, I wasn’t seeking a divorce.  I wasn’t asking whether divorce was “permissible” or if my situation met the criteria of “exception clauses.”  My heart was not pursuing divorce.  My heart was pursuing a healthy marriage based on love and mutual trust.  My heart was pursuing a stable, loving environment for our family of four precious children.  My heart was pursuing what I understood to be God’s will for our family.

I wasn’t concerned with what was “permissible.”  I was only concerned with the relentless pursuit of God’s will and God’s best for our family.

My heart was broken…over and over again.  I was wounded and hurting, crying out to God for help and healing.

I saw many answers to prayer in that marriage….many miraculous softenings of her heart…many steps appearing to lead toward healing.

I also learned a lot about myself and improving communication.  The many counseling sessions were, in general, a healthy thing for me…and seemed a step in the right direction at the time.

And yet…each positive step turned out to be so temporary…

As the years passed, new lies surfaced, exposing deeper and more recent betrayals.  The lessons learned in counseling became tools used for the purpose of deceiving me further, while continuing to deeply wound me with betrayal of covenant vows.  New communication tools were used, not for strengthening relationship, but rather for giving the appearance of deepening intimacy while actually concealing deeper betrayals.

I prayed fervently and continuously.  Yet, as the passing of time continued to reveal ever deeper deceptions and betrayals, there was also a need to face the facts…to realize that no matter how much I wanted to see healing of the relationship, that might not be the end result.

One person in the relationship seeking God’s will is not enough for relational healing. Click To Tweet

The summer of 2000 was, for me, a time of intense prayer and fasting.  I was doing a lot of running, and as my feet wound out the miles, I continually begged God for healing.

“How long, Lord, must I wander in this wilderness of pain and trauma?  Please, Lord, I need your healing touch.  My heart is broken.  My marriage is broken.  My soul is crushed.  Lord, I don’t know what to do.  Please, Lord, lead me out of this wilderness into a place of healing!”

And I began to hear God’s answer…softly at first…then stronger and more persistent, “Go in and possess the land” (Joshua 1:11).

“Lord, you can’t mean that!  You know how many times I’ve been deceived and how deeply I’ve been wounded!  You want me to put aside all my legitimate fears and act as though my marriage and heart are healed?  That’s crazy!  It makes no sense!”

And yet, I felt His consistent prompting, “Be strong and courageous.  Do not be discouraged or dismayed.  Go in and possess the land.”

I recalled the many stories of God’s miraculous work.  I was heartened that perhaps this is what God was going to do in my marriage.  Perhaps, this was my Jordan River to cross before seeing God’s miraculous victories!

So, I asked Him, “Lord, are you saying you’re going to heal my marriage?  That her heart will be changed toward me and our relationship will be restored?”

“Go in and possess the land.”

“Lord, what does that mean?  You want me to make myself vulnerable with no promise from you?  You never did that in the Bible!  You always gave a promise when asking for obedience in difficult circumstances.  Lord, what is your promise to me, today?”

“Be strong and courageous.  Do not be discouraged or dismayed, and the Lord, Your God, will be with you, wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9)

So I began, once again, to change my attitude and behavior toward her.  I began to draw in my boundaries and lower my defenses.  I dropped the wait-and-see attitude I’d held since the last major betrayal, and began, yet again, to actively pursue her heart.

And she responded by withdrawing further.

Over the course of that next year, as I attempted to open up toward her, she drew further back from me.  I still faced each new issue head-on, refusing to sweep anything under the rug, wanting true healing of our relationship.  I was actively engaging in the relationship while refusing to side-step or ignore any known issues.  Finally, one evening while discussing a recent issue, she asked for a divorce, saying, “I just don’t want to do this anymore.”

There were still a lot of steps toward healing.  God was faithful through the divorce and later custody battles.  Not every battle was victorious from my perspective, but He continued to lead me and guide me…and to comfort and heal me.

A counselor asked me once, “You do realize, don’t you, that there is absolutely nothing you could have done differently to prevent this divorce?”

“Yes, I can see that.”

“And you do understand,” he continued, “that the divorce had nothing to do with you, personally?  That no matter who she married, it would have ended in divorce?”

“Yes, I can see that, too.  Thank you!”

And that’s the thing…the thing that so few Christians really understand…that I did not understand, myself, before experiencing it.

The health and longevity of a relationship cannot be determined by one individual.  Yes, we must each do our own part and be willing to love sacrificially.  Yet, no amount of sacrificial love, by one party, can ensure a healthy or lasting relationship.

In a marriage, we are each responsible for wholeheartedly living out our covenant vows in faithfulness, for the duration of that covenant.  However, neither partner is responsible for the longevity of the covenant.

I entered that marriage as an idealistic young man, believing if I loved deeply enough, believed strongly enough, prayed fervently enough, somehow God would always intervene to heal and restore the marriage relationship.

I learned, although God is always faithful to His promises, He does not violate human free will.  If one marriage partner refuses to surrender their will to Him, He will not force them to…and the marriage will not be healed.

I learned divorce is not always outside God’s will.  Rather, in many situations, divorce is God’s direct and perfect will.

In my case, God asked me to follow a difficult path of obedience.  That path did not lead to the marital restoration I hoped for.  Rather, it led toward further hardening of her heart, resulting in divorce.

God redeemed me from that marriage of abusive bondage in much the same way He redeemed Israel from their covenant with Pharaoh.  That divorce was a part of God’s perfect plan for my life, just as surely as deliverance from Egypt was part of His perfect plan for the nation of Israel.

God has used these experiences to drastically change my view of His heart toward His children who are enslaved in covenants of abusive bondage, or who have experienced divorce.  In recent years, I have become more outspoken about my views on these topics.

I’m speaking out, not to justify my own actions, nor because of emotional pain or bitterness in regard to that marriage.

My actions in that marriage and divorce don’t require justification, and I am now happily married to a godly woman, with whom I enjoy raising and loving children and grandchildren.

I’m speaking out against a system of biblically unsubstantiated myths regarding divorce believed by many Christians, today.

These myths lead to legalistic judgmental attitudes toward God’s children who have experienced divorce or who are currently enslaved in an abusive marriage.  They hold Christians in bondage and do not reflect God’s heart of love and redemption.

I speak out in an attempt to shine the light of God’s truth and hope in an area of blindness within the church.

I speak out in the hope someone in an abusive marriage will understand, in some situations, divorce is God’s perfect will and the godliest course of action.

In some situations, divorce is God’s perfect will and the godliest course of action. Click To Tweet

I speak out in the hope someone who has experienced divorce will better understand God’s heart of redemption and will draw closer to His heart of love.

Who do you know in need of encouragement through divorce?

 

[Linked to Messy Marriage, Wild Flowers, Wellspring, Redeemed Life, Tell His Story ]

 

Dear Anna Duggar

An open letter to Anna Duggar…and to others finding themselves in similar situations…

Dear Anna Duggar,

You don’t know me and I don’t know you or Josh.  I have, however, frequently thought of you and prayed for you over the past few weeks, as the daily news has dissected your marital relationship while exposing Josh’s infidelities.

According to reporters, your friends say “Anna will not leave him,” “She is fully and permanently committed to her marriage and her children,” and “Divorce is not even something that will be discussed.”  Your friend reportedly went on to say that you will try “on some level” to “absorb some of the blame…Maybe not publicly, ever, but privately, there will be some suggestion of whether or not she should have been more aware of the pressures Josh was under, of the issues he was facing, and how she could have better counseled him or helped him.”

Anna, your decisions and struggles during this time are yours alone, and I (a complete stranger) would not be so brazen as to attempt to tell you what decisions are right for you in this situation.

I want you to know my heart breaks for you.

I have some idea of the pain and confusion you must be experiencing, because I have faced similar situations.  Like you, I was raised believing that marriage is godly while divorce is ungodly…that divorce is always the fault of both parties…that God hates divorce…and that divorce is not an option for a true Christian.  And like you, I was faced with the reality of a repeatedly unfaithful spouse.  Although that marriage eventually ended in divorce, for many years I held the position your friend reportedly says you hold.  Determined to choose what I believed was the most godly course…to do what I believed was best for my family…I repeatedly renewed and restored fellowship, determined to avoid divorce.

My prayer for you is that you will learn of God’s grace through divorce more quickly than I did.  I pray the Holy Spirit will guide your reading of scripture and open your heart to understand God’s tremendous heart of grace and redemption toward His children who are in a covenant relationship with an oath breaker.  For your sake and the sake of your children, I pray you will at least seriously contemplate the possibility that divorce may be your best and most godly course of action.

I don’t know if divorce is the best choice for you.  How could I?  I do know you have some very difficult decisions before you.  I do know there is no easy path before you…that whether you choose divorce or reconciliation your path is filled with sorrow and anguish.  Divorce at least limits the anguish to a finite period of time allowing you and your children to heal and get on with life.  Reconciliation to an unrepentant adulterer is a path of never-ending pain and sorrow…lies continually renewed with freshly broken vows.

And therein lies the wrestling with your most difficult question, “Is Josh truly repentant?”

Your instinct will likely be (as reported by your friend) to believe he is truly repentant…because believing otherwise turns your entire life upside down.  And maybe he is…only God knows.

I pray you at least consider the very real possibility Josh may not be truly repentant…that he may go right back to the same traitorously adulterous behavior.  As harsh as that reality is to face, it is a very real possibility meriting serious exploration before making final decisions in regard to you and your children’s welfare.  Josh has repeatedly proven himself to be completely untrustworthy and entirely willing to egregiously violate his sacred marriage vows, fully realizing both the pain that causes you and your children as well the damage inflicted on your relationship.  Josh did not unintentionally ‘fall’ into an adulterous relationship with an acquaintance…rather he used the internet to actively seek out and pursue adultery.  To now take his word at face value would be neither wisdom nor faith.  Rather, it would be a refusal to accept reality.  Choosing to fully trust the proven untrustworthy is not inviting God into the situation.  Rather it is shutting the full reality of the situation out of the decision making process.

I pray you will not allow yourself to carry the burden of Josh’s guilt.  To do so is both unhealthy and unbiblical.  Yes, I’m sure you have made mistakes yourself.  That does not make you responsible for Josh’s sin.  There is a huge difference between unintentional minor mistakes and intentional egregious violations of sacred covenant vows.

Finally, my prayer for you is that God will use even this experience for your good and for His glory.  That whether this marriage is renewed or ends in divorce, you will learn God’s faithfulness in all of life’s circumstances.  I pray you will emerge from this with a deeper understanding of God’s heart of love and redemption and a fuller grace toward all of His children.

May God continue to richly bless and keep you, now and through eternity.

 

Sincerely,

Your brother in Christ, Joseph J. Pote

 

[Linked to Messy Marriage, Wild Flowers, Wellspring, Redeemed Life, Tell His Story ]

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