Friday, March 15, 2013

Wit and Wisdom for Sidestepping Life’s Worries


 Fear, Faith, and a Fistful of Chocolate:
Wit and Wisdom for
Sidestepping Life’s Worries

As much as we would hate to admit it, most of us struggle with some kind of fear, worry or anxiety on a regular basis. Whether the fear is something that seems insignificant to some (like spiders) or is more common to mankind (like the loss of a loved one), we need to find the faith to hand our worries over to God to handle. In Fear, Faith, and a Fistful of Chocolate: Wit and Wisdom for Sidestepping Life’s Worries (Barbour Books/February 1, 2013/paperback/ISBN 978-1620291696/$9.99), Debora M. Coty uses her trademark humor to draw readers out of a lifestyle of worry and anxiety and into living life with the security of knowing that God has everything under His control.

An interview with Debora Coty,
Author of Fear, Faith, and a Fistful of Chocolate

Q: In the introduction of Fear, Faith, and a Fistful of Chocolate, you write that you conducted a survey of 500 random women from age 18 to 80 to pinpoint their fears. That sounds like a major undertaking! How did you pull that off, and how long did it take?

The survey took about four months to complete and consisted of wonderful ladies at my speaking engagements, those filling out the survey online through my blogs and website, and various church and civic groups throughout the country who were kind enough to participate. I was overwhelmed by the number of responses; I was originally hoping for 200 responses and ended up with more than 500, which increases the validity of the data and ensures that the information gleaned is reflective of the real fears of today’s women.

Q: What are the three top things women fear most?

The number-one fear of women surveyed is loss of a loved one (spouse/children/parent); number two is debilitating or terminal illness; number three is fear of failure. You may be surprised at the other seven in the top ten — I was!

Q: “Fear not” is the most repeated command in the entire Bible. Why do you think it had to be reiterated so many times?

Fear is a natural by-product of man’s fall. Adam and Eve feared facing their Creator so much after the first sin that they hid. I think mankind (and womankind) has been hiding one way or another ever since. Fear first worms its way into our thinking processes, then it affects our actions. If we allow fear to continue to wreak havoc in our lives unimpeded, it can eventually erode our self-esteem, relationships, and even our faith.

Fear is passion in a negative direction. Our fears spotlight what matters to us most—those hidden corners of our lives in which we trust Papa God the least. These are the hot spots we need to work on, and that’s what Fear, Faith, and a Fistful of Chocolate is all about.  

Q: Why is it so hard for us to give our worries and fears over to God?

Fear is really about losing control. It’s dread that those things over which we feel powerless will sneak up and whack us over the head — things looming in our future, taking shape in the present, or haunting us from the past. 
                   
The bottom line of worrying is a lack of trust that Papa God can — and will — take care of us. We believe we’re protecting ourselves by obsessing over what the future might hold so we won’t be taken by surprise. Like good little Girl Scouts, we want to be prepared.

By dwelling on our fears and troubles, we think we’ll somehow become enlightened with magical answers that will change inevitable outcomes. Fretting and stewing and fussing seem perfectly normal because we’re so used to it. But over time, worrying inflates our problems to appear huge. Enormous. Insurmountable. Even bigger than Papa God.
     
We can easily fool ourselves into thinking we’re doing the responsible thing by worrying. When we worry, we’re desperately trying to maintain control. We keep our manicured fingernails clutching on to every shred of our lives because underneath it all, we’re afraid to relinquish complete control to the Lord. Why? Because things might not turn out the way we want them to.

We think if we can somehow maintain control over things that happen to us, we’ll be able to cruise along in happiness, peace, and tranquility. No surprises. No unforeseen pain. No disappointments. But being in control is just an illusion. We may think we’re in control, but the fact is, we’ve never been in control. And we never will be.

For some of us control addicts, that’s the most frightening thought of all.

Q: One of your chapters is devoted to the “vultures” in our lives. Explain what you mean by vultures.

Related to fear of failure, these spiritual vultures are the fear-mongers lurking over our shoulders, hovering, waiting to humiliate us by picking at the bones of our failures, such as ruined relationships, incomplete projects, abandoned dreams and hopes, and once-good intentions now dead and rotting. These lowlife predators can paralyze us, making us afraid to do anything for fear of doing it wrong.

Q: How is guilt related to fear?

Undiffused guilt accumulates in our spirits like layers of gunk in a sink pipe and eventually chokes the flow of faith. And without faith, fear flourishes.  

Guilt’s effect is kind of like a vitamin in reverse. Instead of nourishing our bodies, it depletes our spirits. And yet we faithfully keep popping that vitamin G (Guilt) every day as if we can’t live without it.

For many women, it’s hard to imagine life without guilt, a state of contentment, and joy devoid of what I call ice cream guilt (behaviors that can be changed, such as scarfing down a half gallon of Chunky Monkey before bed) or I-scream guilt (obsession about things completely out of our control to change).

But I do believe a guilt-free existence is absolutely possible. And it has everything to do with Romans 8:1-2 (NLT): “There is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus.” No condemnation. No accuser. No more guilt. Only all-encompassing forgiveness and acceptance. The guilt wall dividing us from spiritual freedom comes a-tumblin’ down under the relentless power of the wrecking ball of mercy.  

Q: Fear can often result in a lot of anxiety. What are some of the steps to overcoming anxiety when we feel it pressing in on us?

1)      Postpone worry. Set aside 15 minutes a day as your designated worry time. Then, whenever a niggling fret worms into your brain during the day or night, jot it down. Now that you’ve recorded it, you can forget it and not waste precious living time dwelling on it.
2)      Believe you have a choice. You don’t have to be controlled by your emotions (fear, anxiety, panic). Discern the difference between reacting and responding. Understand that feelings don’t dictate truth — it’s actually the other way around. Emotions are subjective and can change with the twist of a hormone. Search for biblical truth and allow it to manage your runaway emotions.   
3)      Feed your boldness, starve your triggers. Surround yourself with people and things that nurture, encourage, and uplift you. Strengthen your emotional muscles like you do your physical muscles — by practicing fearlessness.
4)      Tap into Papa God’s supernatural strength.
5)      Morph worry into prayer. Worry is a non-productive waste of energy, but prayer is the nerve that innervates the muscles in the hand of Papa God. 
6)      Action defuses anxiety. When you start to worry, get your hands busy and your mind will follow.
7)      Exercise intentional gratitude every day.
8)      Consider a fret fast.

Q: What are some of the fears you struggle with most?

I’d say fear of the unknown in the form of the what-ifs has been my most persistent personal struggle. I have a hard time living out loud the reality of Proverbs 20:22 (NASB): “Wait for the Lord, and He will save you.” Instead of relaxing in that promise, I charge ahead into the fantasy world of the what-ifs and wrestle with real and imagined fears. What I would do if this happened? What would be the best way to handle that remote contingency? In short, I’m attempting to save myself. 

This, of course, only serves to magnify small worries into HUGE anxieties and self-perpetuates my fears. I’ve been told by many women that they suffer the very same problem.

Sometimes it’s what we can’t see that’s the scariest. Fretting over the what-ifs causes many a long, sleepless night as we sculpt features onto our faceless anxieties, effectively giving fear laser eyes, supersonic ears, and a cavernous mouth.

Q: Is there a fear in your own life that you have been able to overcome?

In the second chapter of Fear, Faith, and a Fistful of Chocolate, I share the story of a specific fear in my life that took four decades to overcome. It has to do with the saturating fear of humiliation that was planted deep within me during an embarrassing episode in the sixth grade. It affected me ever since in ways I never realized until one fateful day, when the long-repressed memory seemed to roll up the shades in my brain and the angels sang that full-bodied, eight-note “Ahhhh” chord that means something important just happened.

Q: You group common, everyday fears into five basic categories. Can you tell us more about these different kinds of fears?

Each category starts with an “S” to help readers remember:

1)      Spurting fear: the naked reactive emotion to something usually related to previous experience. A good example would be my daughter Cricket’s curling iron phobia. When she was six, I accidentally burned her forehead while attempting to tame her hair, and throughout her entire life (she’s now 28), she has refused to come near a curling iron. She actually breaks out in a cold sweat and begins hyperventilating at the sight of one.
2)      Savory fear: the delicious temporary thrill we subject ourselves to because we know there’s no real danger involved such as watching a scary movie or riding a rollercoaster.
3)      Saturating fear: the invasive kind of fear that often originates in childhood and permeates our lives in ways we don’t always see. An example would be putting up with abuse from your husband because as a child you were abandoned by your father and are terrified of being alone.
4)      Simmering fear: fear of the unknown, of things we’ve never experienced but have developed an underlying dread of based on other people’s experience and our own speculation. An example would be fear of death.
5)      Sovereign fear: born of respect, this is the subjection under which we willingly place ourselves to those in authority over us. It’s not the tremble-from-head-to-toe, wet-your-pants kind of fear, but instead a trust-based, intentional submission. The best example is the “fear of God” which is mentioned hundreds of time in scripture. 

Q: What verse on fear do you meditate on most?

My first gut-reaction flash when fear body-slams me is a scripture I learned as a little girl: Psalm 56:3 (NIV): “When I am afraid, I put my trust in you.”

Several others I’ve come to lean on in crisis situations are:

·         “Be strong and courageous! Do not tremble or be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9, NASB),
·         “Don’t be afraid . . . take courage! I am here!” (Mark 6:50, NLT)
·         “God is our refuge and our strength, an ever-present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1, NIV)

I believe it’s crucial that during the times when doubt assaults our faith, fear threatens to devour us, and disaster hovers overhead like a cyclone, we’ll be able to recall instantly the times when Papa God’s merciful hands rescued us in astounding ways. We must develop what I call miracle memory.

Having treated athletes in physical therapy clinics for more than 30 years, I know something about how repetition of specific movement creates muscle memory. That’s how pitchers learn to hit the inside corner, gymnasts land a back tuck precisely on a four-inch balance beam, and pianists memorize 20-page concertos. Muscle memory.

Practice, practice, and more practice establishes an instantaneous default system for muscles — they automatically “know’ what to do in a specific circumstance because they’ve done it so many times before.

Miracle memory is the same thing. By remembering what Papa God has already done for us through Christ, we’ll automatically default to faith rather than fear when difficulties come our way. 

Q: This is your second book with chocolate in the title. Do you by chance like chocolate?

You betcha! It’s my sedative of choice. That’s why I wanted to include it in the title — chocolate has the capacity to give us emotional comfort, physical pleasure, and a bit of spiritual tranquility when our daily battle with fear reduces us to quivering masses of hair-yanking angst. 

Q: What is your favorite kind of chocolate?

Cadbury milk chocolate with almonds. I also adore Ghirardelli brownies. And those Godiva wafer thingies. Mmm. During the winter I sip a dainty china teacup of fat-free hot chocolate every morning (only 40 calories and tastes terrific). I pride myself on being an equal opportunity cocoa-scarfer; I can’t remember ever turning down any kind of chocolate. I am, after all, a world-class choco-athlete (that’s the step beyond chocoholic)! 

Learn more about Debora Coty and her books at deboracoty.com. Readers can also keep up with her via Facebook and Twitter.

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