Sunday, 10 July 2011

Dread: “A ship in the harbour is safe, but that's not what ships are built for.”

The other morning I was walking to my car, about to set off, when I saw a woman getting out of hers about to go into the large school room, for an exercise class. I looked at her, nodded, smiled and said hello. She had a terrified look on her face and then she began to speak. She said “Every week I come here and when I set off I do not know why I am coming.” She continued “Every week I have this horrendous feeling of dread in my stomach, I almost feel sick with fear” “And yet every week once I get started I really enjoy it and feel so much better afterwards.” We spoke for a few minutes about, fear anxiety and faith and then some of the other women arrived for the class, so I left and went about my business. It was interesting to note that although she dreaded coming every week, she was still the first to arrive.

Anyway I drove off and began ruminating about Dread! Like you do!

Fear comes in many forms. Fright is a vital part of our human make up, we really need it. It points to danger etc, it’s a warning signal. There are though other forms of fear which are not useful at all. Perhaps the most debilitating is dread.

Dread is a crippling form of anxiety. It is fed by our desire to control what is beyond our control, the world in which we live. We want to be safe, we want to be secure, but is this realistic? Is life really about being safe and secure? I am not convinced that it is. Sadly, it would appear, when some folk begin to see this reality they can become crippled by the dread of life itself.

Dread is the ultimate in negativity. It can make everything appear bleak. It dulls the senses, turns colours into shades of grey and takes all the taste out of life. It leads to folk projecting all their anxiety and worry onto everything that they do in life and thus takes the very life out of living. It leads to misery.

At it’s worse dread can lead to us into a pit of depression. It traps us with the very things that we believe protect us from the dangers that we see in life. As a result we go deeper into ourselves, until we become lost and trapped within our own black hole. It can be very difficult to find our way out of this black hole. We certainly can’t just dig ourselves out.

I am of course familiar with dread, it did in days gone by rule much of my life. From a young age it would often come over me on Sunday afternoons and evenings, usually when Bullseye was on or Surprise Surprise, I think that’s why I preferred to out of the house, so as to deny the reality of returning to school. It was the same in my late teens and twenties, but by then alcohol had become a solution to that hideous feeling in my stomach and everything else for that matter. I really didn’t enjoy having to conform to reality. I am of course a much different man today. I have discovered the gift of reality, I know that this is where the joy of living is to be found.

A friend of mine recently posted this on Facebook:

“A ship in the harbour is safe, but that's not what ships are built for.”

Of course this isn’t entirely true, ships aren’t always safe in the harbour. Think about the destruction of the American fleet at Pearl Harbour. That said I did get her point. By living safely in what we know, the old familiar we may well remain safe, but that really isn’t what life is about. It’s about living, it’s about taking risks, it’s about being out of this state of control from time to time. We cannot protect ourselves from life’s dangers, from suffering. In fact by even trying to do so we end up suffering from something far worse “The suffering within the suffering”, we end up not living at all, we stagnate, we lose everything that makes us human, we do not make best use of the gifts we have been given. What a waste! Dread can be soul destroying and life taking. It disconnects us from life itself.

Grief can often lead to dread, whether through the loss of a loved one or through repeated failure or rejection in life. These losses, these defeats can lead us to believe that we will never know joy again. As Forrest Church highlights Dread combines the fear of death with the fear of life. It makes us fully aware of the fragility of life, but  without  an appreciation of its preciousness. Therefore the risk required to find colour and flavour in life is seen as hopeless. We say “why take any chance”; we say  “nothing ventured, nothing lost”; we say “Why bother?” We withdraw from life, retreat into ourselves until it all looks grey and bleak again. We lose our taste for life. We live disconnected lives.

So what’s the solution? Well for me it’s quite simply to have a little faith; to not allow that feeling in your stomach to rule. The lady I met outside the large school room seemed to have it, in spite of her fear, she just needs to learn how not to spoil her morning before arriving at the class. But does this truly deal with the causes of dread? No not really, it only offers a temporary solution to the immediate difficulty. It deals with anxiety one dread at a time, but it doesn’t fully solve the real problem. What about the big picture?

Well it won’t surprise my regular readers to hear that I believe Forrest Church offers a solution.

He said:

"...When suffering overwhelms hope, as it sometimes will, life’s burden feels too heavy for us to shoulder; it may in fact be too heavy to shoulder on our own. We must then turn to others and to God for strength. And for encouragement. Encouraged, we once again take heart. In the face of dread’s most persuasive argument, mustering the courage to act, love, and be, we answer fear’s no with a saving yes”

We are not alone and we do not need to try and face life alone. By reaching beyond ourselves we can find the courage to live and to be all that we are able to be. If we do we will see life in all its colour and taste it in all its flavour. Sometimes that will mean we will get hurt and even seemingly fail, but at least we will be fully alive. We will be connected to life itself.

So yes a ship is seemingly safe if left in the harbour, but it really isn’t what they are made for. 

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