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Voices of Faith: How can I, a person of faith, overcome feelings of dread?

  • McClatchy Newspapers
  • Published Saturday, June 23, 2012, at 12 a.m.

Feel God’s presence

The Rev. Holly McKissick, pastor, Peace Christian Church in Kansas City, Mo., and Overland Park, Kan.: She dreaded the day when her youngest went off to college. While other parents were tender and, at times, sad, she couldn’t bear the thought, or the empty feelings it brought to the surface.

Underneath her dread was emptiness; she had no life of her own, coupled with fear about what would be left when her child left — not much. Her marriage had little connection or spark apart from the children it had produced.

Dread — like anger, fear or any negative emotion — is unpleasant to feel, a painful sign that something in our life is out of place. Such feelings can be valuable if we use them as a signal that change is needed.

There is no pass from this work for the faithful. Faith does not protect us from challenges and disappointments. If anything, it opens our heart, leaving us more sensitive and vulnerable to that which is broken in our spirits and our world.

Look at Jesus. He is still wet from the waters of baptism when he is led into the desert.

What faith can give you is this: a confidence in God’s presence and abundance that sustains you through the dreadful moments, a community that offers acceptance, support and guidance, and, finally, a call to serve a world where the dreadful and the delightful are mixed, painfully and wondrously, together.

Draw closer to God

Rabbi Avi Weinstein, head of Jewish studies, Hyman Brand Hebrew Academy, Kansas City: “True sacrifice to God is a contrite spirit; God, you will not despise a contrite and crushed heart.” (Psalms 51:17)

We experience dread usually in anticipation of something where the outcome is unknown but one feels could potentially be catastrophic.

Some would argue that one should have faith that whatever happens is for “the best,” while others might say that dread is the appropriate response to those things in which our control is limited and we are at the mercy of fate. I fall in between, believing that whatever lot has been cast, God never gives us more than we can handle.

At the very least these feelings of dread should create an opportunity for introspection, a sense of humility and an acknowledgement of a “crushed heart.” All these feelings should accompany our prayers, understanding that these pristine moments are occasions for deep connection.

If dread is accompanied by a “contrite spirit,” then the focus changes from whatever one is dreading to how this sense of being overwhelmed can be used to be closer to God. We are empowered by our feelings of despair to realize the limits of what we control and the need for support from the Holy One.

We don’t have to be grateful for life’s challenges, but we can use them to be more empathetic, loving, generous and kind.

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