By Elaine Knudtson
“Whistling in the Dark ” by Oscar Hammerstein–“The King and I”
Whenever I feel afraid
I hold my head erect
And whistle a happy tune
So no one will suspect
While shivering in my shoes
I strike a careless pose
And whistle a happy tune
And no one ever knows
The result of this deception
Is very strange to tell
For when I fool the people
I fear I fool myself as well!
I whistle a happy tune
And ev’ry single time
The happiness in the tune
Convinces me that I’m not afraid
The power of whistling a happy tune, thinking positive thoughts, focusing on good karma are wonderful self-help techniques, but they don’t work. At the heart of it, I am not easily fooled. When I’m steeped in worry, anxiety, fear, or negatively, I need to be rescued from myself; not rely on myself to do the rescuing.
At no time in my life was this more evident than when I received a cancer diagnosis in my early fifties. Everyone stood in line to wish me positive thoughts, offer prayers and tell me stories about their encounters with the big “C”. But they weren’t there in the middle of the night when I woke up gripped by fear.
It was like drowning in an ocean of fear. I would come up for air, only to be pulled under by another cold wave. No amount of positive thinking helped. I needed a lifeboat.
The help came in a series of encounters with scripture that were truly “God-breathed”. The Bible is a book like no other; it is living, ever changing, just as I change. Passages that I may have read dozens of times suddenly grab me in new ways and speak God’s words to me as clearly as though He were sitting next to me. It was those words that rescued me. And, it is on those lessons that that I rely to get me through moments of anxiety.
The interesting thing about fear is that it doesn’t matter the cause, or the source, it all feels the same: cancer diagnosis, difficult meetings, physical pains, financial uncertainties, taking a test, waiting for results. Once the fear button has been activated, I’m back in the water again, anticipating the next wave of fear. True, it may not last as long, but it can be just as intense as the first time.
That’s when the three life lessons I learned through prayer and contemplation are brought to mind :
- “Fear Not”
- “Be Healed”
- “Peace Be Still”
But the angel said to them, ‘Do Not Be Afraid’. Luke 2:10
The shepherds were terrified by the encounter with the angels, even though they were bringing good news of great joy. They couldn’t grasp the message because they were too afraid to listen. At times, I need to press the “pause” button on my fears long enough to allow the spirit of the living God to bring me peace. A common cliché in the 70s was “Let go and Let God”.
“Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace.” Luke 2:14
“Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.” Mark 5:34
The woman who had a hemorrhage for twelve years was desperate. As Jesus passed by, she grabbed the hem of his garment, hoping to receive some mystical power from that physical touch. How many times had she wanted to be healed during her twelve year ordeal? And yet, it wasn’t until she encountered Jesus that she was able to be released. It took his confirmation for her to finally let go and receive full healing.
I was in constant prayer for healing until this story was brought to mind in the middle of a very dark, sleepless night. Just as Jesus said to the woman, “What do you want”, I heard those words being spoken to me. And my response was the same, “I want to be healed.” At that point, the dialogue went off script and became personal. “Elaine, I have healed you. You can keep coming back and asking again and again, but my work is done. It’s up to you to accept it.”
At the Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth, there is a 13th century sculpture of Jesus and this woman. Paul has this large poster over his desk. Every time I look at it, I’m reminded that God has completed the work; I need to accept it.
PEACE BE STILL
“Suddenly a furious storm came up on the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat. But Jesus was sleeping.” Mt. 8:24
These words were spoken to the wind and the waves in the midst of a storm on the Sea of Galilee. The disciples were sure that they were going to die, and Jesus was asleep on a cushion. “Don’t you care that we’re perishing!” they screamed as they did everything in their power to keep the boat from overturning. Where was Jesus when they needed him the most? Asleep.
As I went into the catscan, I asked the same question. I was very much alone. “Jesus, where are you?” I prayed. “In the boat” was the reply. He didn’t rescue me from my circumstances, but He was there with me, in the midst of it. The creator of the universe could speak the words and rescue me; instead he let me go through it and on the other side—I found peace.
This was the hardest lesson of all. However, it is a continuous source of strength that I rely on whenever I start to feel the panic emerge once again. “Jesus is with you in the boat.” I remember and go back to that place of peace.
I am embarrassed that I can so easily be spooked by life. It robs me of the joy of each day. But it is a reality. Just as the fear feels like a force outside of myself, the journey of faith is the antidote that is found outside of my fears. I cannot save myself. Only in Him do I find relief.
I can’t take it anymore.
It’s too hard for me, Lord.
I feel that cold wave again. Where are you? Will I survive?
I’m alone. It’s dark. You’re silent. Morning may never come.
“Peace be still.”
The morning star peaks through the window underneath my half drawn blinds.
The morning star always appears when the night is the blackest,
just before the dawn.
You are my morning star.
Breathe your spirit into me.
Free me from the grip of fear.
Grant me peace.
“Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and YOU WILL FIND REST FOR YOUR SOULS. “For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” Mt. 11:28-30
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Phil. 4:6-8