Saturday, July 30, 2011

F.R.E.T. part 3: Suicide by Stubbornness

In this final installment on what it means to fret, resentment and envy take center stage. These two were the core of my personal acrostic, bookended nicely by fear and turmoil (see two previous posts).

In those dark days of depression I turned to the book of Job because I wanted to read about someone else who felt beat up, someone with whom I could relate. I was stunned to find my R and E falling from the lips of Job’s friend.

“Resentment kills a fool and envy slays the simple” (Job 5:2 NIV).

The very things I had been clutching were killing me. Suicide by stubbornness?

When I resent someone who has not lived up to my expectations, or resent an unforeseen situation that alters my plans, I fill up a place in my heart with poison. When I envy others who have succeeded at that to which I aspire, I add bile to the mix: a deadly concoction.

Confession broke the vials of resentment and envy; brokenness was the big break I needed.

Do not fret. Do not fear, resent or envy, for turmoil results. It’s a simple directive not easily carried out unless I follow His instructions. And I find them in Psalm 37 where this whole fretful journey began for me. It tells me over and over that God is with me in this struggle, and it tells me what to do. How can I have time—or space in my heart—to fret if I am trusting, doing, delighting, committing, listening and waiting for Him?

For me as a writer, it is a war of words and the battlefield is the mind.

Norman Vincent Peale said, “Change your thoughts and you change your world.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “The ancestor of every action is a thought.”

A hard-nosed Jewish lawyer waylaid by the living God said, “… we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (II Corin. 10:5 NIV). That’s the winning catch phrase for me. Because of Jesus and His power, I’m no longer a prisoner fretting my life away. When I fix my mind on Christ, and remind myself what He has said and what He has done, I find freedom.

Thank God, I don’t have to fret.

Saturday, July 16, 2011


In my personal acrostic of the word “fret,” fear was the first and most obvious element. It took up most of the room, so I had to push it out, make a conscious effort to get rid of it—something I could not do on my own. Of course that realization led to more fear, so I turned and ran straight to God’s word.

The breed of fear I battled was not the kind we read about when we’re told to fear the Lord. And we shouldn’t be surprised to find two different meanings, just as we do when we say we love our spouse and we love lasagna. Not the same thing.

I found wonderful things in the Bible about fear: “God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and love and sound mind” (I Tim. 1:7); “Perfect love casts out fear” (I John 4:18); “I sought the Lord, and … he delivered me from all my fears” (Ps. 34:4). These tell me God didn’t send the fear, His love will chase it off, and He’ll snatch me from its clutches.

I also read a fabulous novel by J.M. Windle titled Betrayed. I highly recommend it. In the book, the main character hears the biblical story of Sarah and how her husband’s fear landed her in a harem. The character learns that God rescued Sarah, and that she can be like Sarah if she will “do what is right and do(es) not give way to fear” (I Peter 3:6). I won’t say more because it’s a great read and I don’t want to spoil it for you, but did you notice the “do” and “do not”?

The “do” part fills in the vacuum of the “do not.” Psalm 37—where I first discovered “fret”—is full of “do’s.” Trust in the Lord and do good. Dwell, enjoy, delight, commit, be still, wait, refrain—all this in just the first eight verses.

Fear is a paralyzing poison that immobilizes us into doing nothing. Why do you suppose the big cats roar? The intimidation tactic turns their targeted prey into hotdog-on-a-stick.

Franklin D. Roosevelt said we have nothing to fear but fear itself. He may have been thinking of Psalm 34:4. John Wayne said courage is being scared to death and saddling up anyway. Sounds like the first eight verses of Psalm 37.

But Jesus said, Don't be afraid, I'm here.*

In the middle of the night when all I see is darkness and all I hear is the beating of my own heart, what Jesus said wins out over the platitudes of men who once lived.

When I need help, give me the words of the God-man who still lives—the One who will back them up with His presence.

*Mark 6:50; Matt. 14:27; Matt. 28:20

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Don’t worry. Chill. Relax.

The singing King of Israel tells us three times in the 37th Psalm, “Do not fret.” He’s not suggesting we shouldn’t play the guitar—he’s talking about an attitude of the heart and mind.

“Do not fret because of evil men or be envious of those who do wrong … do not fret when men succeed in their ways … do not fret—it leads only to evil” (Psalm 37:1, 7, 8 NIV).

That is exactly the kind of teaching I need: clearly repetitious.

Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary defines the word fret: to cause to suffer emotional strain: VEX. The Hebrew language defines the word with more sensory detail: to glow or grow warm; to blaze up, burn.

The dictionary definition summons images of Elizabeth Bennett in Pride and Prejudice. The Hebrew version sounds more like me.

The “frets” of this Psalm crystalized for me one day when I went openly to the Lord and confessed my sin. My journal entry that morning read, “I have three bed fellows: fear, resentment, and envy.”

The confession had a cleansing effect, as if the Lord had said to me, “Come clean.” When I did, release began.

Further journal entries examined the objects of my fear, resentment and envy, and as I wrote—a process akin to prayer for me—the recorded words of Jesus spoke in my heart:

“The truth will set you free.”

Only then did I see that the ancient acrostic poem in Psalm 37 had become an acrostic for me: Fear, Resentment, Envy—the first three letters of the word fret. So where was the T?

“Torment” was a possibility, considering the way I felt. But I found what I was looking for in the book of Job, the last two verses of the third chapter:

“What I feared has come upon me; what I dreaded has happened to me. I have no peace, no quietness; I have no rest, but only turmoil.”

That was the word—turmoil. Turmoil and peace cannot coexist in one’s spirit. Turmoil and quietness do not walk hand in hand. Turmoil does not allude to the restful presence of God.

Turmoil roiled in my heart.

If you know what it’s like to heave on the waves of turmoil, join me over the next several weeks and dig deeper into what it means to FRET—and what it doesn’t mean.