Feeding My Faith…..Right now, this minute, 10:25 PM, Monday, October 11, 2010, I am full of fear. If someone would say to me, “Why pray if you are going to worry and why worry if you pray.” I would feel a combination of feelings. I think a guilty feeling would come first accompanied by anger. I know I would try to remember that some very good people have said things like that to me, but I would still feel that remark was superficial and shallow.
I would be frustrated because I spent many years trying to find a way to have that kind of faith which is so wonderful for some people, but so impossible for me. Some people are able to hear something and instantly adopt it and in that way find relief and comfort.
I have suffered so deeply from fear. My worst fear episode was many years ago in 1986. That year, I had a suicidal depression.
When a friend asked me how it felt to be so depressed, I told him about a time when I was about 10 years old that I was riding my bike to school in Coronado, California, which is a part of the San Diego area . A great big dog came out of nowhere and charged my bike. The dog grabbed the calf of my leg with a powerful bite and knocked me off my bike. Within a short time someone pulled the dog off of me. When I got to school, the school nurse arranged for me to go to the doctor. I was not seriously injured.
However, during that first moment that the dog charged, my heart filled with terror. The strength of the dog’s bite seemed so powerful to me that I felt sure he was going to tear my calf muscle from my leg. I was so frightened. For those first 30 seconds, there was no room for any hope in my heart.
When my friend asked me what being in a depression was like, I told him it was like living in the terror of being unexpectedly charged by a huge dog all day every day. That was an awful year. I am not in that kind of fear all the time now because of my program, but my personality is ravaged by fear to the extent that dealing with my fear is close to being a daily battle.
How did I get so fear based? I had an angry and abusive mother. From there, fear layer was added to fear layer. I compare it to a child who falls behind in his first few years of school. The failure to succeed in school, most likely for reasons that had to do with actions taken to and against him by other people and not because of his own actions, has begun as an “Academic Failure”. From there on, failure in school begets further failure. Unless someone wise and wonderful steps in, the problems in school grow and grow and become a permanent part of his personality.
Similarly, my childhood fear became a way of life. Fear has been a driving force In my life. I have accomplished many things in my life because I felt that one more accomplishment was the thing I needed. If I accomplished one more achievement, I would find the acceptance and freedom from fear for which I so desperately longed.
Then something happened that gave me a sense that at last could win me my place in the world. If I succeeded I would feel accepted and not so afraid. In 1986 I took over a large Los Angeles skid row institution as its president.The most immediate problem was the Mission had to build a huge new building both to meet the burgeoning need of the homeless and also because the mission was being pressured by the city to move.
The mission got its new building. It came in on time and under budget and paid for in full. The new building was three times larger than the building it replaced, yet cheaper to operate than its predecessor. It was well enough designed to win national awards for its architect. It was one of the most beautiful buildings in downtown Los Angeles.
The credit for the success goes to God and to hundreds of people. Nevertheless, it got built when I was the Mission’s leader. As soon as became clear that the that the money was coming in and that building would get built, my bosses forced me out of my position.
That made me even more afraid. If I succeeded far beyond the level of success I thought I could succeed and still lost my job where was hope for me.
All my successes, accomplished at the cost of my health and the sacrifice of my own personhood had not gotten me the acceptance and serenity for which I so deeply longed for I needed a new source of hope. That was the experience that drove me to Al-Anon.
I go to many meetings. The rooms are filled with people who have treated me with a decade and a half of kindness and respect. I have found in their eyes their faces, their hugs, their words the very thing I have always longed for, love and respect. I found love and respect that was freely given not earned. Still, after 16 years in my recovery program I fight fear almost every day.
That makes me feel guilty. How come I still so often experience fear? A I not working my program correctly? Am I a defective person. No, I work a good program. No I am not a defective person. Instead, I was given a fear based personality by the way I was raised.
I recently led the largest meeting I attend. I began to lead the meeting by saying, “I have a fear driven personality.”The old side of me was afraid to say those words for fear of losing the treasure I had found in the eyes of the people to whom I spoke. The healthy program side of me allowed me to say, “I have a fear based personality.”
And of course, the 70 or so people in the room that Sunday responded with love as they had so many times previously. Admitting that I was fear based did not lessen their love for me or respect for me, but I did notice that some of the newer members of the group displayed strong feelings of relief on their faces, as if to say, “Oh thank God, I am not alone.”
But saying those words, as scary as those words seemed to me as I began to speak, were a kind of coming out and a kind of self validation to me. I now say them to you. “I have a fear based personality.” That is to say that fear is a problem to me on most days, or as I have said many times since that Sunday, “My default emotional position most mornings is fear.”
I can see it best from the point of view of the Serenity Prayer. “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change.” That fear base is to be accepted and not run from. If I am going to accept that fear base, I need God to grant me the serenity I need so I can accept that deep personal adequacy fear is a permanent part of who I am.
My baby days were fearful. My whole youth was effected by the fear that so many people used to get from me what they had no idea how to give themselves. I was assigned to give adults, who must have seemed like giants to me, relief from their sense of not being loved. They got what they wanted from me by giving me the idea, maybe without knowing it, that my only hope of getting the nurture I so desperately needed was to make all these giants smile. In that way, layer upon layer of fear was built into my soul. Self acceptance demands that I accept my fear as part of who I am.
Being fear base makes a certain kind of sense to me. The truth, without God’s help, I am overwhelmed by the universe. If healthy shame is the quality that allows me to see and accept my limitations, then feeling overwhelmed and afraid when I feel apart from God is healthy.
Of course, no one is asking me to live my life apart from God. Once when I was in a career situation where I was afraid of my potential for failure, I prayed,”God, whoever in your Human Resources Department told you I was capable of doing this job needs to be fired!”
God’s response was, “Your mistake is you are looking at the situation as if you were all alone. George Caywood without God is an imaginary being, like Mickey Mouse. He has never existed in the past, he does not exist now and he will never exist in the future. I have always been with you, I am with you now and I will always be right by your side”.
Back to the Serenity Prayer. “The courage to change the things I can change.” Since I am so fear based, it is necessary for me to put on sanity in the morning like I put on my clothes. I need to find ways to feed myself the faith I need so I can live in the knowledge of God’s presence, or in other terms, to live in Conscious contact with God.
I have methods I have found that help me do that. I want to assure you that with the help of your Higher Power, you can discover the methods that work for you. Most certainly mine will be different from the methods that work for you, but none of us in program have to ever be bowed by the feeling that we are fear based and there is nothing you can do about it. The tools of the program work.
I do notice this, that the Twelve Steps include 19 words that tell me that I cannot do it in isolation. Those words include the first word “We”. Then there are words like our or ourselves. In addition there are steps where the “we” is implied, such as “Came to believe.” I think the power of the steps is best discovered in an intimate fellowship with other program members.
A friend said that faith is to fear as food is to hunger. I can look at my fear as a signal that I need to seek out a source of faith for myself, that my spirit is hungry for faith. That way, when I am afraid, I am not doing something wrong, neither am I somehow at fault. I simply need to be willing to seek out the faith I need and for which I am hungry.
Many times I can find the faith to my fear is signaling me I need by myself. In fact, the writing I am doing at this moment is supplanting my morning fear with faith. However, most of the time I need your faith. In an hour or so I will talk to my younger sister Ruthie. We talk and share most mornings. I plan to go to a morning meeting in a few hours. Since I am retired, and the weather is gorgeous I will probably take a walk on Seal Beach Pier and eat a bean and cheese burrito while I look at the ocean.
Those are the ways I will feed myself the faith I need today. It is unlikely that my faith feeding pattern for today will work for you or even be possible for you today. I grant you I am a very blessed man. But my more than eight decades of living have taught me that God is available. I never have to pray him in from Chicago.
If my fear can be equated with a hunger for faith, then finding my source of faith comes under the second aspect of the Serenity Prayer. Building faith giving activities into my life is something I can do. I can make those changes.
So here is what I have to accept and can not change. I have a fear based personality. The thing I can change is to find the sources of faith I so desperately need.
If faith is to fear as food is to hunger, then several ideas present themselves to me. First, most of us need to eat every day. I can not load up on food one day and then not eat for several days and expect to be healthy. Secondly, most of us need to eat several times a day. In the same way, I need to feed myself faith several times a day everyday.