Don’t be shy!

by Annette Bridges. ©2009. All rights reserved.

There have been many times in my life when I’ve allowed shyness to hold me back. There were the boys in school that I longed to be friends with, but I would never dare make eye contact with them. There was the part in the school play I would have loved to have auditioned for, but I didn’t. There were the questions the teacher asked I could have answered, but I never raised my hand.

It doesn’t matter how you define it, shyness is rooted in fear. Fear of rejection, humiliation, loss or failure incites shyness — or perhaps I could say — insecurity.

It’s no different than when we allow ourselves to become introverted, sheepish, timid and guarded after a relationship ends badly or unexpectedly. If it was a bad experience, we may be questioning our judgment and doubting our ability to make a better choice in the future. If death ended a relationship, we may be afraid we will face loss and grief again. Either way, the result is probably the same — shyness that results in being cowardly, wary and alone.

The problem with being shy is that the impact is far-reaching. We are not the only one who loses or is hurt.

Not long ago I read an article about a basketball coach who explained how hesitation and timidity leads to passing the ball. He said, “If a player has an open shot that she can make, and she decides to pass instead, that player is being selfish and hurting the team.” Fear of failure sheltered this basketball player from her likely success, the coach further explained, and could have cost her team the game win.

Indeed, other people need you. They need your intelligence, insight, skills, talents and help. Hiding behind shyness, you limit the benefit you can be to others.

Shyness almost always leads to assumptions and assumptions are almost always wrong. This is especially true when we believe that the other person will not like us or will not be interested in what we have to say. Our fear will intimidate us into missing an opportunity to make a new friend. The fact is other people may have the same fears and inhibitions we do.

I’ve often been inspired by the story of Ruth in the Bible. Ruth was described as a warmhearted and unselfish woman who trusted and loved her mother-in-law very much. After Ruth’s husband passed away suddenly, Ruth traveled with her mother-in-law back to her homeland.

This was a more gracious act by Ruth than it might sound. Her mother-in-law, Naomi, was not only a widow, but all of her sons had died as well. She would have been traveling alone to her homeland if Ruth had not returned with her. Plus, Ruth had to be courageous to go to an unfamiliar land and be around people she had never met before — especially during a time when she was facing her own grief and uncertainty as a young widow.

I love the fact that Ruth was willing to embrace a new experience. She didn’t over-think or speculate about her future. She didn’t wallow in her doubts. And even though she had no certainty of what would happen next in her life, she moved forward.

Ruth and Naomi arrived at their destination. Among strangers in a strange land, Ruth could have been apprehensive, anxious, nervous and cautious, but she wasn’t. She boldly took initiative to gather food in nearby fields. She even, without hesitation, asked one of the women gleaning grain near her for the name of the man who spoke kindly as he went by. It turns out the man, Boaz, was the owner of the field.

And I bet you can guess the happy ending to this story. Ruth and Boaz soon married and Ruth’s mother-in-law lived with them and helped care for the son they eventually had. Their son, by the way, would become the grandfather to the famous King David.

Sometimes a shy person will say self-consciousness keeps them quiet. But I would say — what self are you being conscious of?

You are the man and woman of God’s creating — made in His image. Your innate nature includes the qualities of poise, confidence, strength, courage, compassion, love. Be true to yourself, my friends. Happiness is found in being who God made you to be.

You can do it. Your thinking is your most powerful weapon. Use it. Follow your heart. Don’t hide your light and love. Be the spiritual self that God intended. Don’t be shy. Be yourself — freely, unconditionally and fearlessly. You’ll be much happier if you do.

Prayer or panic

by Annette Bridges. ©2009. All rights reserved.

There is panic today in the hearts of many. Some are disheartened because they see no solution in sight. Some believe they can trust no one for viable answers.

A preoccupation with fears and worries often incites panic.

When multitudes desperately begged Jesus for help and answers, he taught them a prayer that was described by Christian healer, Mary Baker Eddy, as the “prayer which covers all human needs.” (Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures)

Prayer enables us to feel God’s presence and know we are enveloped in His love. And there is power in His presence.

I have suffered many times from panic attacks. When faced with conflict, dilemmas, or any turmoil — whether it was real or perceived — I’ve often become a physical and emotional wreck. So I can testify that when the going gets tough, leaning on God is better than panic.

Taking some deep spiritual breaths in times of crisis, pressure and immense stress, enables us to be comforted and reassured by God’s ever-presence. Panic is replaced by peace, and peace quiets fear and calms anxiety. We reach a state of mind that fosters inspiration and revelation. And then, we can see solutions realized and implemented. Problems that at first seem huge or beyond repair become small (or much smaller) and fixable.

“Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee.” (Isaiah 26:3) More than a promise, this is a fact and a lesson I have learned — and I must admit — sometimes need to relearn.

The Psalmist wrote, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me….” (Psalms 23:4) It could be said that the “valley” represents any difficult or terrifying experience we face. “For thou art with me” is an eternal Truth that dissipates fear.

The Lord makes us strong when we are weak.

Several days ago I felt like I was getting hit with one catastrophe after another. I found myself waiting for the next shoe to drop. And it did. The pressure in my head and chest was building until one night I could not even lie down and breathe normally. I felt like I was going to explode.

In my anguish, I prayed. I began with The Lord’s Prayer. As my uneasy thoughts began to calm, I let go of the internal struggle. I put aside all the details weighing on my heart. I stopped my mind from hurrying to tomorrow or next week or next year. And I focused only on feeling God’s presence.

“The Lord will bless his people with peace.” (Psalms 29:11) And He blessed me with peace. My weary night turned into restful breaths and sleep. And the next morning, I awoke refreshed and still confident of God’s ever-presence.

Stay grounded in your spirituality, dear friends. Rest your thoughts on the spiritual rock, or knowledge, that affirms God’s presence, omnipotence and goodness. Then you’ll be like that wise man Jesus told about in the parable who “built his house upon a rock. And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock.” (Matthew 7:24-25)

Panic paralyzes, cripples, blinds and stifles. Panic is a reaction — an unconscious choice — that serves no good purpose and isn’t helpful or productive.

When our first instinct is to panic, we can consciously choose to pray. Prayer reassures and reminds us that anything is possible, that possibilities are infinite, and that God is with us. And prayer will enable us to move forward, reach new heights, overcome hurdles, and break new ground.

There is no good time to panic, my troubled friends. Pray and you will persevere.

Facing down fear

by Annette Bridges. © 2007. All rights reserved.

“Trick or treating”on Halloween became one of my earliest lessons in facing down fear.

Although I was very comfortable and even boisterous in familiar surroundings, when confronted by what was new and different, unusual and uncertain, I was shy, anxious and intimidated. It was amazing, actually, how my fear in such moments could completely change my disposition and behavior.

Some say that fearful feelings are not always a bad thing, as they do cause us to pause and check for safety, which is a good thing. But being afraid doesn’t always mean we’re in danger. More often, fear is a debilitating and life-limiting emotion that creates much anguish, and generally all for naught.

Going “trick or treating” hand in hand with my mother provided me a sense of security and protection as we approached neighbors my mom knew and I didn’t. I loved candy, so the thought of filling my bag with candy was an incentive to go forward, even in doing that which I was most uncomfortable in doing.

Moving forward, walking the line between scary and safe, helped me to know that fear can’t and shouldn’t be allowed to stop my progress. My confidence was strengthened by my actions, and I learned a lesson in facing down fear — that fear is often baseless and has no other reality other than my attention to it.

Henry Ford once said, “One of the greatest discoveries a man makes, one of his great surprises, is to find he can do what he was afraid he couldn’t do.” Indeed, many people don’t live their dreams because they are too busy living their fears.

I had many more opportunities in my childhood to face down fear. At one time, sleeping in a dark room was scary to me because I was frightened by strange shapes and sounds in the night. I was paralyzed in my bed by fear, and I could not sleep without a light on or my mom sleeping with me. It didn’t matter that what I feared was illusion, nothing more than a feeling existing only in my imagination. Fear had become a bad nighttime habit that seemed impossible to break. I knew that I didn’t need to be afraid, and I longed to conquer the crippling feeling.

The more I learned about God, the more I believed He was always with me, loving me and caring for me. I began to get a comforting sense of His presence, just like I did when “trick or treating” with my mom, with my hand secure in hers. This knowledge increased my courage to face the fear of darkness.

Reading how Moses responded when God told him to throw down his rod and it became a serpent was also helpful. The Bible says that at first Moses ran from the serpent. God then directed Moses to grab the serpent by the tail, and when he obediently did so, it again became his rod (Exodus 4:2-4). It was an interesting direction that God gave to Moses, since generally speaking, grabbing a snake by its tail is the most dangerous way to do so. Moses’ obedience to God’s direction was grounded in his trust and confidence in God, so he didn’t question the wisdom of the instruction. Boldly grabbing the serpent by its tail resulted in the “false evidence” disappearing.

I’m reminded of what is known by many as an acronym for fear — false evidence appearing real. Moses’ example along with this acronym was the impetus needed as I prayed and spiritually reasoned, enabling me to grab my fear of the dark by its tail. Reassured with the knowledge that God was with me, each time I thought I heard or saw something, I simply turned off the horror show in my mind that was feeding the fear and got out of bed to prove there was indeed nothing to be afraid of. And soon enough, I was able to sleep peacefully alone — and without a light.

I once read an analogy that compared fear to a projector. If you step back with your fear projector, the images being projected get bigger until they become a formidable image. But if you move forward with your fear projector, the images become tiny and shrink into nothingness.

Confronting and challenging our fear will weaken its hold on us, and fear will soon diminish until it disappears. Knowledge of the facts — both spiritual and physical — dispels illusions and the dark imaginings of the mind.

Being afraid is not a natural, normal or God-ordained feeling. God certainly does not want his beloved children to be tormented. He surely gives us the qualities and abilities we need to be well, happy, successful and productive. “For God hath not given us a spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind” (2 Timothy 1:7). God is giving us all we need to face down and conquer any fear and prove it powerless in our life. But there is never a fear we must face alone. He is always with us, helping us to do whatever we need to do. With our hand securely held by His, we are safe, secure and protected.