On weekends our adult special needs son rides Tri-Rail commuter train from his group home near Hollywood, Florida sixty miles north to the Mangonia Park station near our home. At the end of his stay he heads back to Hollywood on the train. Conductors know him and make sure he gets off at the right stop.
One Sunday we put him on the train, phoned his caregiver when he would arrive. But Jeff didn’t show up as scheduled. He wasn’t on the next train. We prayed. Waited. Texts and phone calls intensified our worries. Scenarios began to race across our minds: someone took Jeff off the train to abuse him, kids lied to him, got him off the train and then abandoned him, or Jeff got confused and got off where he shouldn’t. We called the Tri-Rail office and got a recorded message. Frantic, we determined to call the police with a missing person report. We formed plans to drive down there and begin to search… because we had to do something. Then our phone rang. Jeff was fine. The conductors had gotten distracted and an hour later when they got to the end of the line they realized Jeff was still on the train. Such a simple answer. Why did I assume Jeff was in trouble? Why did such strong emotions sweep over me? Why did I create such fearful narratives?
Brene Brown, a research psychologist who recently wrote Rising Strong, observes that it is part of the human condition that when we don’t have all the facts of a story, when we know part but there are many missing pieces, we fill in the blanks out of our imagination and they are almost always negative. But they create powerful emotions within us that are nothing more than the figments of our imagination yet seem to be very real.
In the Bible, the Apostle Paul’s assistant Timothy had been left in the city of Ephesus to strengthen the fledgling community of believers. They had all kinds of issues that were perplexing, even traumatic, to Timothy. Paul wrote him, “God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love and self-discipline.” 2 Tim. 1:7
A spirit of fear does not come from God because it turns us inward. We become self-absorbed. Fear stimulates a fight or flight reaction which is often relationally destructive. We often feel alone; our thinking goes negative so we believe God or friends have let us down. A spirit of fear shuts us down, narrows options, misdirects energy and brings confusion. That’s where I was headed when Jeff went missing.
God’s gift is a spirit of power, love and self-discipline.
For years I thought that meant God would make me powerful, overwhelm me with love and infuse me with self-discipline. But that never happened. His promise was actually that He would give me himself. His Spirit would begin to work with power in my situations. He would help me love when that seemed impossible and as I submitted myself to His leadership He would lead me to a place of discipline.
When God’s Spirit is released within us, He will begin to reframe how we approach life. He will open our thinking so creative options emerge. As we are upward in our thinking, He will help us become outward in our living. We will respond to others with love so that we will respect, listen and value them. We will find ourselves asking God to help us align our lives to His purposes and the fruits of that fresh perspective are disciplined priorities. We will discover the freedom that comes in living within His power and love.
That will change how we fill in the missing pieces of the story of our lives.