You have been out for the evening and you are now walking back home alone late one Friday night. Your route passes through a narrow alleyway, which cuts the walk short by several hundred metres. Then about halfway through the alley, a gang of youths, about four or five of them in all, enter the alley where you are due to exit. They were high on alcohol, one of them picks up a stone and throws it at a semi-derelict window, cracking the glass, while laughing and guffawing at their misdeed.
You feel your heart beat faster to force oxygenated blood into every muscles of your body, your skin crawl and your hair as if standing on end. Your breathing becomes heavy, and within the bloodstream, extra platelets are produced in readiness of a possible wound, within the blood coagulates faster, saving on blood loss. And sitting on top of each kidney, your Adrenal gland pumps an endorphin, Adrenaline, which alert you to either fight or take flight.
Even if you run, they get exactly what they wanted and start chasing you, nevertheless you run, and run fast! Because you know that by confronting them, you would have been the loser, ending up in hospital with a smashed face or as with these days, a stab wound, possibly fatal. This little drama is the result of fright, a magnificent mechanism in ensuring self preservation. This reaction to an emergency is caused by a rush of adrenaline into the bloodstream, a direct result of the warning message passed to the brain from the eyes and ears. Afterwards, the spent endorphin will then be disposed of by the kidneys after the threat is past. I guess it is of no coincidence that the Adrenal glands happen to be located sitting on the kidneys themselves.
The same when a domestic cat is confronted by a dog. The cat arches its back, hisses, its heart races to pump adrenaline-rich blood to all the muscles in its body and the cat flees, usually up a tree or over a nearby wall. Fright had taken its course again.
Fright reaction is caused by a massive injection of adrenaline into the bloodstream, and it is for self-preservation in the face of a potential, life-threatening situation. But fear is something very different. Another term for fear is worry, and I think that there is no real difference between the two words, except that fear is to do with a potential physical uncertainty, while worry has more to do with uncertainty of the future.
For example, if you are fearful, then you will look down the alleyway and hesitate to take the short cut, and despite that all is still and quiet, you decide to avoid it, and take the longer but more safer route. During that moment, adrenaline is pumping into your bloodstream, even if there was no cause for concern. In fact the fear could quite well continue, even once you're safe in bed. It's just the thought of what could have happened that keeps the fear alive, and doing so, the Adrenal glands continue to pump the endorphin into the bloodstream, and if prolonged, can cause lasting harm to your health.
Worry is related to fear, and it means uncertainty of the future. One of the biggest causes of worry is money. Do we have sufficient funds to pay our creditors? In my younger days, before Direct Debit, anxiety over the quarterly power bill always preceded the arrival of the bill itself. Back then I had no real idea of the total the bill will display at the bottom of the column. The worry was, would the figure be so high that I didn't have enough to meet it? I had ideas of facing a Court hearing, possibly a jail term - such stirring of imagination caused by an uncertainty had a detrimental power over my health, particularly to one who was a natural-born worrier. Thank goodness for the arrival of the Direct Debit system. This arrangement in regular payments had lifted a very heavy burden of worry.
Payment of bills was one cause of worry, another was in preparation for travel. If you check my profile, or click on to one of my previous articles, Vagabond! (8th May, 2011), you will see that I have traveled a good part of the world. But it was the weeks leading up to the day of take-off. Would I fall ill? Would I be faced with a sudden, unexpected expense? And this was the big one - would there be a strike grounding the airplane? A threat of a strike had always been a worry when preparing to travel. When I flew to New York in 1978, take-off was right in the midst of the French Traffic Control dispute. That meant all flights to the Continent were delayed or postponed. While I was boarding the Transatlantic flight, right on time as well, a group of people at the next gate were told to return to the lounge. Their flight to Spain postponed yet again after a night stay at the departure lounge. A young man, about my age, rolled on the floor in hysterics, his screams of frustration echoed the length of the corridor. That scared me. No wonder that, just a year later, in 1979, the Labour Prime Minister Jim Callaghan was soundly defeated by Tory Margaret Thatcher in that year's General Election.
It is unfortunate that 33 years later I still have areas of worry. And here I want to be honest and avoid the idea of portraying myself as a "super-saint". As a committed Christian and a self-employed window cleaner, a loss of a client brings fears of the future. As with bill payments back in the 1970s and 80's, I try to imagine what it would be like being without a job, leading to homelessness with my wife Alex and I begging off the streets. Or to move across to the other side of the country just to engage in a dead-end job I wouldn't enjoy, or to have a cruel boss who takes delight in condescending upon and feeding on my personal weaknesses. And with many of my present clientele aging and drawing their pensions, along with a large proportion of the younger generation believing that we window cleaners are a waste of time and money, indeed there is much ground for worry and fear for the future.
Walking hand-in-hand with fear is anger, mainly at unfairness of life. Last week I lost a client who informed me that he now has his own ladders, and now prefers to clean his own windows.
"After all," he concludes, "during this economic crisis I must save on my expenses as much as possible."
Then only yesterday I read in the Daily Mail an excellent article by columnist Max Hastings, titled Looters in Suits. In it, he tells of our personal and economic hardship was primarily caused by the ferocious greed and incompetence of the City bankers. Starting with the collapse of the Lehman Brothers in New York during 2008, their greed caused our banks in the City of London to the brink of collapse, had it not been the bailout rescue from the tax-payer. Then after that the bankers continue to reap incredible high incomes and bonuses despite the rest of us tightening our own belts to stay out of debt. Little wonder I get angry at times!
Worry, fear and anger. The three most powerful emotions that are detrimental to our health. I have a book written by Dr. McMillen. Although the updated publication was in 1980, it is very much up to date as the first copyright in 1963. Dr. McMillen wrote that many physical illnesses, such as vomiting, diarrhea, asthma, diabetes, arthritis, along with bleeding ulcers, kidney disease, heart attacks, high blood pressure, backache, tiredness, fatigue, colitis, strokes, goiter, arteriosclerosis (a hardening of the arteries) and many other ailments are caused by these and other similar emotions.
Yet it was Jesus Christ who, during his ministry, gave a straightforward piece of advice. He said:
Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds in the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?
And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labour or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his glory was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he much more clothe you, O you of little faith?
So do not worry, saying, "What shall we eat?" or "What shall we drink?" or "What shall we wear?" For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.
This Scripture, when mixed with faith, can be the David who defeated the giant Goliath. No doubt, when Jesus was teaching this, he did not have just our spiritual well-being. He was thinking of both our emotional and physical health as well. What he was actually doing was providing the key to happiness guaranteed to keep the doctor away if this advice was perfectly followed. This can only be done through the Holy Spirit dwelling in us.
Instead, to most people, this piece of Scripture is as far away from reality as it can get. The question here is trusting God, or faith in him. It can be very difficult to have faith in that which is invisible and intangible.
Yet these verses apply to everything I have mentioned above. Trusting in Jesus Christ and his goodness. Should this deliver me from worry and anxiety, fear of the future? It should do!
Let me go back to the things I have mentioned. Starting with bill payments - the fact is, since I flew the nest in 1976, then aged 23, I have never known to miss a bill payment. In 1980 I went through a period, just over a year in duration, when I had no job and hardly any money. I existed on a low benefit, which I had to sign for every week. One day I called at a house of a fellow church member for something, and I saw their table spread with such succulent dishes, that my eyes for a moment was transfixed. Then I walked home to my meager supplies, literally weeping tears. But then, I never went hungry. God knew what my needs were even then. Then a red-letter phone final reminder bill arrived, and I spread it on the kitchen worktop and prayed over it. Soon afterwards an anonymous envelope dropped through the door, containing enough to pay the bill. This happened a couple of times.
It was then I started my window cleaning business and became self-employed, signing myself off the benefit payroll. I have been working for more than thirty years and I have never felt in need. So if I lose a customer from time to time, I should not panic. After all, if God had taken care of me for all this time, why should he dump me in it now?
But sometimes he does. Job in the Old Testament, a very wealthy but a good man, lost everything including his health and just barely clung to life. Yet his faith in his God actually confounded the arguments of his three closest friends who tried to blame him and his sins for his losses and sorrowful state. Yet his faith triumphed. How would I react?
In travel, so far I had never been delayed by an industrial dispute. And I started traveling as early as 1972, when as still a teenager, flew to Spain with a college mate (and we are still close friends to this day). The only delay I suffered was in 1993, when a fault in the 'plane's hydraulic system delayed us for six hours at Gatwick.
Trusting in an invisible intangible God is often very difficult. He doesn't talk back audibly like a friend does. That is why prayer is essential. I have found that nothing is a better tonic than when faced with a crisis, is to bow the head in prayer, spilling out my fears and anxieties to my Heavenly Father and asking for the filling of the Holy Spirit.
But alongside prayer, we have the church. Church is not the building with a spire, it's the people in it. It is said that Jesus Christ had two bodies after his Resurrection. He took one with him to Heaven, leaving the other behind. And it wasn't on a whim or by forgetfulness! His body was left behind for a purpose.
Worry is a debilitating emotion. When a Christian finds it difficult to handle it, the members of the church are there to encourage and build up faith. At last week's loss of a client, I attended a prayer meeting that same evening. I shared my plight with one of the elders who happens to be a very good friend, and one whose spiritual life I look up to. The outward situation didn't change but I felt an inner strength to handle it better.
My encouragement to all Christian believers is to be involved with your church. The church is a group of fellow believers in Jesus. As such, it is the visible, tangible body of Christ with whom God can speak to you audibly. And together we can defeat the giant.