Facing Fear with Faith: Get Your Spirit in Shape

"Every person wrestles with fear on some level," teaches the Rev. Adam Hamilton, United Methodist pastor and author of Unafraid: Living with Courage and Hope in Uncertain Times. For the most part, that's good. Fear keeps us from stepping out in front of cars and getting too close to the edge of a cliff. But sometimes, our fear sensors misfire and create worries that can keep us up at night and steal the joy from our days.

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In this episode, we're talking with Adam Hamilton about facing our worry and fear with courage and faith!

Unafraid by Adam Hamilton

Adam Hamilton

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Transcript

Prologue

Adam Hamilton: Every person wrestles with fear at some level.

Joe: That’s Adam Hamilton, Senior Pastor of the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kansas, and the author of a new book called Unafraid.

Adam Hamilton: When, you realize that you belong to God it plays a role in dissipating all the other fears.

Joe: I’m Joe Iovino. And in this episode of Get Your Spirit in Shape we’re talking about fear and faith with the Reverend Adam Hamilton.

On the phone

Joe: Adam Hamilton, welcome back to Get Your Spirit in Shape.

Adam Hamilton: Joe, it’s great to be with you today. Thanks for having on the program again.

Joe: You have a new book out called Unafraid: Living with Courage and Hope in Uncertain Times. What drew you to write about fear?

Adam Hamilton: Part of it was just having been a pastor for 30 years and watching how fear motivates and shapes people’s lives. And I’m convinced that fear is one of the dominant, motivating forces in our lives. It’s one of the fundamental issues that we wrestle with as human beings, that every person wrestles with fear at some level.

Part of it’s because we’re hard-wired for fear. Our brain is wired to be constantly on the look out to see what might be a threat to our existence, and then preparing us for action. Because of that we’re prone to fear. It’s a mechanism that saves us and helps us and it allows us to survive. And at the same time it can create in us unnecessary fear, anxiety, worry, panic, all of those kind of things. My experience is that every single human being has some measure of fear that they’re wrestling with.

Joe: I love that you start the book that way, talking about fear as a necessary God-given emotion that actually helps us. Can you speak a little more to why we need some level of fear in our lives?

Adam Hamilton: Absolutely, if we didn’t fear anything… There are real threats to us. Some of them are physical threats and some of them are more, whether it’s financial or emotional or something else. But the mechanism that we have in our brain…and this is true for all animals. Every animal has some mechanism of self-protection to help it to avoid things that might be dangerous. So we have….

We call it the fight or flight mechanism, but it’s really fight or flight or it’s also sometimes freeze. So we get paralyzed. We stop in our tracks. You can see this in the animals. I mention in the book my little dog Maybelle and how we have an opossum that lives out front and comes and lives underneath the front step. When Maybelle gets out there she hears the opossum and sees it out the window. She runs out there and she’s barking like crazy. She’s got her fight mechanism going. This is a potential threat to her and her family and so she’s gonna fight. The opossum freezes. He just totally freezes like he’s dead. Then eventually he runs away. He scurries away. That same mechanism is at work in us.

Again, it’s part of what helps us survive. The challenge is…. It’s our cognitive brain that helps us understand whether something is or isn’t a threat—and again, those threats can be physical threats or they can be emotional threats. So we’re constantly on the lookout with our senses—our eyes, our ears, our nose, our taste, our touch—we’re constantly watching and scanning our environment to see if there’s something we should be afraid of. If there’s something that trips that trigger, and we might not even consciously recognize it at first, but our amygdala, that part of our brain that deals with fear, recognizes it. When it recognizes it, it starts to send a cascade of hormones, getting us ready to fight or flee or freeze.

That can be great, except sometimes we over-exaggerate a threat. Or we can misidentify a potential threat and that leaves us in this fearful state or this panic or anxiety or worry when we don’t really need to have that level of worry or anxiety. So it’s a good thing and it can be…and it can be paralyzing for us.

So in the end I say let’s recognize it’s a good thing. Let’s be grateful for it. But let’s make sure that we’re fearing the right things and we’re having the appropriate responses. You don’t want to completely eliminate fear from your life, nor can you. But we want to make sure we’re appropriately addressing potential threats and then being able to set aside things that are not real threats.

Joe: You make this distinction between real fears and false fears, like the things that we should fear and the things that maybe we’ve blown out of proportion. So for the most part in the book you’re dealing with those false fears because those are ones we need to learn to handle.

Adam Hamilton: And you know, when you think about those false fears they play a key role in a lot of the negative things that happen in our world. When we falsely fear another human being…so racism is…underneath it is the fear of the other. Because we don’t know you, we don’t understand you, we feel fearful. You’re different than I am, and I’m worried that you might be a threat to me in some way.

That’s true not only when it comes to race, but when it comes to religion. We see people who look differently from ourselves. We see people whose religious practices are different from ours. And we feel a bit of anxiety about that. Then we get to know them and suddenly when we make friends with somebody of another faith or somebody who’s of a different culture or race, suddenly we don’t fear them. We feel like, “Hey, this is my friend,” and we enjoy being with them. But it requires us to actually get to know that person. Otherwise there’s a natural tendency to be afraid of the other.

Joe: You share some stories about ways that you have intentionally reached out to those who are different you. I love your example of Troost Avenue, which is this street that divides Kansas City.

Adam Hamilton: It is the major racial divide in Kansas City, and it was sort of set up that way. As the city of Kansas City was developing, it was kind of intentional that neighborhoods to the west of Troost had covenants and restrictions that did not allow people who were of color, didn’t allow Jews into certain neighborhoods. And so there was a whole list of people that were not allowed to buy property or even live in the houses on that side of the line. And that came up in the 1920s and 1930s. Today it’s unthinkable for us, but these are still covenants that are in the law books to the present time.

So Troost became a real dividing line, and to this day in Kansas City Troost is the dividing line. Everybody knows that who lives here or if you’ve lived here for any length of time. And so we erected a border, a wall, and we solidified it with covenants and restrictions. And it was all based upon our fears.

As I was growing up I was… I don’t know where I picked it up. But when I was kid it was sort of ingrained in me that kids that look like me don’t go to the other side of Troost. It was scary. You know, something could happen to me over there. And what I found with my friends who are African American and live on the other side of Troost is they were told the same thing about coming over to my side of Troost Avenue. So both sides had this fear we instilled in our children that something bad could happen to us if we went to the other side of the line.

That happens with a lot of us. And this is the cognitive kind of stuff. When you go to a counselor to deal with fear or anxiety, one of the therapeutic methods is cognitive restructuring which basically means that you begin to question the facts as you understand them and really try to find out what are the accurate facts or the actual facts behind that. And pretty soon if you get enough of those facts and reinforce that with experience you find your fear level beginning to be what they call extinguished. You begin to find your fear level going away.

Joe: That amazing. It’s fascinating that it works that way.

You give some tips and use an acronym which spells our FEAR, and I was wondering, are you okay if we go through each of those?

Adam Hamilton: Yes. Sure. Absolutely.

Joe: The first one is “face your fears with faith.” Tell me about that.

Adam Hamilton: So the last one is gonna deal with our faith in God. In this case it’s not faith in God necessarily, although that really helps. But it’s having a bias of hope.

I can imagine the worst possible scenario in every situation. And if I imagine that I’m gonna be afraid. But I can use the same emotional energy, the same cognitive energy, to imagine the best possible outcome, and I won’t be afraid. So when it comes to facing our fears with faith it’s this idea that I’m choosing to, and I’m trying to cultivate and train my brain to, not immediately go to the worst possible outcome.

I find this with folks who’ve been diagnosed with cancer. As a pastor, when I’m visiting with somebody who hears from the doctors the C word, immediately we begin going into, “I’m gonna die. I’m gonna die.” Well, most cancers are treatable today. And most of the time the forms of cancer that we’re…you know, most of the forms of cancer that we discover today, in members of my church when they receive a diagnosis are not gonna lead to death. But immediately that’s where our mind goes, and we become overwhelmed with fear.

So facing our fears with faith is trusting that I’ve got good doctors. I’m gonna get the best doctors I can. I’m going to go through this process, that there is great research that’s been done, that I have a high likelihood that I’m gonna survive this. But it also says this, and this is where our Christian faith comes in, “But even if I don’t survive it I’m gonna be okay.”

I think about Zechariah 9:12. In Zechariah 9:12 the prophet was speaking about the Israelites or the Jewish people as “prisoners of hope.” And I love this idea of being a prisoner of hope, that I am choosing to cultivate the bias of hope.

The way we say it a lot around Church of the Resurrection is: The worst thing is never the last thing. That orientation comes from Easter. Christ is crucified, dead and buried. The disciples saw it and that seemed like the worst possible thing. Then Christ on the 3rd day is raised from the dead. In essence what he’s saying…. I mean, he’s essentially through his resurrection saying to the human race, “The worst thing is not the last thing.” Evil and hate and sin and even torture and death will never have the final word.

So that’s what I’m talking about when we talk about facing our fears by faith is cultivating that trust or that faith that whatever’s gonna happen—the worst thing is not gonna be the last thing. Somehow we’re gonna make it through this. And even if I don’t I’m still gonna be okay. So that’s facing our fears with faith.

Joe: That phrase that you use twice, I think, in that answer was this bias of hope. I love that phrase. I’ve used it several times since reading it. Because I just like that idea of not going to the bad side, that’s how I perceive that. I think that’s something that’s sorely missing in our highly anxious society today.

Adam Hamilton: Absolutely. And you know, if you watch the news, when we watch what’s going in our world, we naturally have a bias that is despair. I think if we cultivate a bias of hope….

I found this with the election. When President Trump was elected there were some people who cheered and some people who jeered. In the people who jeered, there was a lot of fear around that and I understand that. I totally understand that. Part of what I needed to be able to help some of our people do is, “Look, if you’re somebody who has a strong frustration or disappointment or fear related to the person who’s just been elected president I want you to remember that our nation has survived a lot of interesting people in the presidency. And we have a system that’s set up with checks and balances. And if we can remember that I’m pretty confident we’re gonna survive 4 years or potentially 8 years of a president that you’re afraid of. We may not like it, but things can always be changed afterwards.” I said the same thing for people who were afraid when President Obama was elected.

I pastor a church and Methodist churches tend to have both Republicans and Democrats in them. I had some folks who were just certain the sky was falling when President Obama was elected. When we was re-elected one of my good friends who stands further on the right in terms of basic politics told me. He said, “I cried when I heard that he won the election again because I so disagree with some of his policies.” But you know, somehow we survived and we’re gonna survive this, too.

You know, you felt that after 9/11. How easy it was for those of us who were alive then and adults, to feel overwhelmed by this. Yet we survived Hitler. We survived…you know, as a human race we, in the end, evil is defeated. Goodness prevails. And we’re gonna make it through this.

That’s again that bias of hope. It works individually for us, and it certainly works as a society that we can either be in total despair.

One of the examples I give in the book is the children’s book many of us read when we were growing up, Henny Penny. “The sky is falling; the sky is falling.” Really, the sky is not falling, but there may be things we need to act upon. There may be things we need to stand up and speak out about. But somehow we’re gonna survive even this.

Joe: You’re kind of…we’re kind of leaning in to the E in the acronym: “Examine your assumptions in light of the facts.” You talked a little bit about how knowing the history helps us to understand it. How else does examining our assumptions help us?

Adam Hamilton: What I find interesting is so many of the things we’re afraid of, if we actually checked into the facts, we would find there’s less reason for us to be fearful.

So it’s been said that we live in a time where we’re more afraid than we’ve been maybe ever, and we have less to be afraid of than ever. So if you go back to biblical times, you know, people didn’t understand weather patterns. They didn’t understand earthquakes. They faced illnesses. The likelihood of dying from giving birth was high. I mean, all of these things with little really to hold onto except for their faith in God.

Today we have information that helps us understand. We have early warning systems for earth. We have all kinds of interesting things… information that we have at our fingertips. And with the Internet we’ve got information at our fingertips. There’s good information and bad information.

So, as an example I think about Americans are currently, over the last few years, experiencing all-time highs of our fear of violent crime. Studies show that people are afraid. What are we gonna do about that? We buy guns. We get security systems. We move into gated communities. All these things are meant to help us cope with our fear of violent crime. And yet when you actually begin to delve into the statistics you find that violent crime is at a near 50 year low. It’s declined by more than 50 percent in the last 50 years. So we are more fearful, but if you actually go to get the facts you go, “Oh, wait a minute; maybe I don’t need to be as afraid of that.” And so that’s where I think the facts can be really helpful.

When you look at cancer rates there’s a fear of cancer. For many young people, especially I think when you get in your 30s or 40s you start having these anxieties about this because you may know somebody who had cancer at a younger age. But the statistics are that under the age of 70 your chances of dying of cancer are very, very slim. Cancer is largely an older person’s disease. That doesn’t mean people don’t get it younger. There are certainly people who get cancer younger, but it is a very small fraction of the population. If you look at the percentage and then you look to see… If somebody said we have a 12% chance of rain tomorrow, would you be really be worried about it raining? Or would you say,”The highly likelihood is that it’s not gonna rain. I’m not even gonna take my umbrella with me.”? When you start looking at the statistics you get information.

This is also true when it comes to Islam. I think about terrorist attacks and Islamic extremism in particular. These are really high profile things when they happen. You hear about cars running over people in London and other places… you know, the nightclub shootings.

But when you go to actually look at here in our country…. And this isn’t to say that we don’t need to be diligent, we don’t need to be constantly… that our government isn’t right to be constantly looking to protect us. But if you look at the number of people who have died as a result of Islamic terrorist attacks since 9/11 here in the United States, last time I checked… (And this was as I was writing the book.) …it was 94. So 94 people in America over the last 16 years who died from Islamic terrorist attacks. And many of those were just in a couple of, a handful of incidents. So we look at that and that in that same period of time over 9 thousand people died of lightning strikes. So you were a hundred times more likely to die of a lightning strike than you are of an Islamic terrorist. But what are we more afraid of? Then you go from that into car accidents. And 500,000 people have died in car accidents during that same period of time. And yet we still get in our cars and drive.

So, we’ve hyper-inflated certain fears and that leaves us fearful of people of that community, not having all the facts even about who is Islam. My point is that when we examine our anxieties in the light of the facts, often we find that the facts fly in the face of the things that we’re really afraid of.

In the book I take a number of different examples of this and how people look at them to see, okay, here are some of the facts and how that helps us be able to what the therapists call re-structure cognitively or cognitive restructuring. And that can be really helpful.

We have a tendency to be either/or kind of thinkers. We have a tendency to see things black and white. We have a tendency to catastrophize, to assume that catastrophe is coming. And when we get the facts it helps us. So that’s just one step among these four.

Joe: I have just one anecdotal thing for me. I have what I think is a very rational fear of high places. And there was a time in my life when I did not want to fly. But then I became a limousine driver, driving people to the airport and began to realize how many people do this every single day. And somehow the next time I had to get on a plane I was like, this is nothing. People do this all the time. The facts changed the way I thought about airline travel now.

Adam Hamilton: Absolutely. By the way on that, your brain… your amygdala is kind of functioning based upon the information that’s in your brain that it has access to—the cognitive information. So again, part of what you’re doing is you’re helping your brain rethink what is a real threat. So when your amygdala encounters that, when you’re sensing, you’re getting ready to walk on an airplane or whatever it might be…you see somebody of a different faith…. When your brain has the right facts it checks the amygdala and the amygdala says, “Oh, that’s not a threat. I don’t need to worry about it.” So part of this is gaining the right information that your amygdala acts upon when it’s observing the world around you.

Joe: Wow. Then the A is “Attack your anxieties with actions.” Tell me about that.

Adam Hamilton: So often we are fearful and our fear leads us to be paralyzed. We freeze or we flee from the thing that we’re afraid of. Unfortunately, what that means is we don’t take risks. If we give in to fear we don’t take risks, and risks are where the fun in life comes, right?

Whether that risk is flying in an airplane to go to Europe to visit Europe in your example, or whether it’s like getting on a roller coaster or it’s skiing down the mountain. There’s something about that. We take a risk and it’s a reasonable risk. In the stock market it may be investing in the stock market or putting everything in CDs. If we decide that we’re only going to go to the minimal risk possible, then we put everything in CDs and we’re gonna earn…well, over the last few years a half a percent, maybe one percent per year. And you’re gonna find that your savings gets outstripped by inflation and you have less money when you retire than what you put in. So that can’t work. Somewhere along the way we become either risk averse or we choose to face our anxieties with action. And we take the risks.

A couple of examples I give early in the book. One is in a little girl named Tess Carlson who was 10 years old. Her dad was a radio journalist, and she had this terrible fear of roller coasters. He said, “Okay, so we’re gonna do something.” He took her Six Flags and they went on the kiddie roller coaster together. She was terrified to get on it, but she did it because her dad was there. She felt like, “Okay, I guess I’ll do it but I’m really scared.” She made it through the kiddie roller coaster and it was like, “Man, that wasn’t so bad.” So they went to the next one. She was terrified. And they got on and they took the medium roller coaster, and she survived that. And so finally in the end you listen to this radio… (I heard this on NPR several years ago.) …and Bob saying to his daughter, “Okay, here we are. We’re on the biggest roller coaster at Six Flags.” It was a double loop upside down. Then you hear her go on the roller coaster. For a minute and a half you hear screaming bloody murder. And then you get off the roller coaster and she is just filled with an exhilaration. At the end of it she ends up saying… Here is her quote: “I just rode a looping roller coaster for the first time in my life and it wasn’t even that bad. I’m a different person than I was a minute ago.” I love that. But that’s the idea, is that you face your fears with action.

And sometimes the action is get involved. If you’re afraid about climate change then get involved. Do something about it. If all you do is sit and think about it, nothing’s gonna change. You know, you’re gonna find you’re gonna just keep worrying and worrying. But if you actually step up and get involved in whatever it is, you know, to engage…to get involved with action, it actually dissipates the fear. It gives us the ability to take risks and to face our fears with hope and with courage.

I actually give a number of examples in the book. But one of them is my daughter who told us…. She was half-way through college and we went over to see her. And she said, “I have something to tell you guys.” And we’re like, “Oh no, what is it?” She said, “I’ve been taking skydiving lessons.” Her mother has tears welling up in her eyes, and I’m like, “What were you thinking? Why would you jump out of a plane? For 20 years we’ve protected you. We made you wear your seatbelt. We tried to keep you safe, and you go jumping out of a plane.” And she like, “Yeah.” I said, “Well, why did you do this?” She said, “Well, because I knew that I have a propensity towards being afraid. And I thought if I did the scariest thing I could think of and I survived, then it would help me not be afraid in life.”

I had her send me a picture. There’s a picture of her after she got off from her first jump, and she’s got this huge smile on her face. She wrote to me about what the experience was like. She said, “I faced death today, and told it ‘not today.’”

She chose to address her anxieties with action. And that actually extinguished her anxiety. It eliminated a lot of her fears because she did the thing she was most afraid of. That’s typically how it works. You do the things you’re afraid of and you find that you don’t have as much to fear as you thought.

Now there’s certain places where that’s not true. You know, I fear rattlesnakes and I’m not gonna go pick ‘em up and start playing with them. So there’s a place where your fears are reasonable. And you’ve got to say, “No, I can’t do that.”

Joe: That’s understandable. Laughter. Then the R is: Release your cares to God. So, tell me more about that, too.

Adam Hamilton: I love the passage in 1 Peter, “Cast all your cares upon him for he cares for you,” and this idea of being able to trust God with our fears. This is the answer you find throughout the scriptures.

140 times—some people say 365 times, but I can’t find that in the Bible—but 140 times I can find where the Bible says, “Don’t be afraid.” Or some variation of that—fear not; don’t be afraid.

As you look at those, consistently the reason why we shouldn’t be afraid according to the scriptures is because God is with us. “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil for you are with me. Your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” Jesus says to the disciples in the boat when he’s walking on water, “Don’t be afraid. It’s me.”

That ability to be able to tell God, “I am afraid of this and I need your help.” There are certain practices we can cultivate, spiritual disciplines like praying the scriptures. As we pray the scriptures we begin to trust that God is with us in the middle of the situations that we fear.

In the book I talk about these various practices of how we cultivate the presence of God in our lives, how we experience God’s presence. In the back of the book I’ve got 31 scriptures that I encourage people just to take one a day and spend time starting in the morning and throughout the day mulling over that Scripture, praying over it, listening to it, allow God to speak through it. As you do that, you begin to find that Scripture also plays a critical role in addressing our fear.

One of the key things I think about is throughout the Bible there’s this admonition to fear the Lord. That’s kind of a troubling idea. This is where I end the book, talking about this idea of the fear of the Lord, and that the one fear we’re meant to cultivate in our lives is the fear of the Lord. So what does that mean? Does it mean we’re supposed to be terrified of God?

I think it means that we are aware of how great God is and how small we are. If God is great and I’ve actually come to believe that, and I trust that he’s with me all the time, I walk in the sense of reverence and awe and fear—but fear as you would fear lightning or as you would fear something powerful. When you realize that power is on your side, that you belong to that power—so you fear the Lord and at the same time you know that the Lord loves you, and that you belong to God. It plays a role in dissipating all the other fears.

So in the end, the fear of the Lord is the one fear that can help shake us loose from all of the other fears. The book kind of drives towards that conclusion. And my hope is that when people get there it…it’s one more…it’s sort of been touched on throughout the book. But it’s one final place to say, “Okay, I get it. And maybe if I can keep remembering these things and practicing them I can live my life unafraid with courage and hope.”

Joe: There’s one section of the book that I think is important, and I just want to touch on for a few seconds. There are a few pages that your wife LaVon wrote about her issues with anxiety. I’ve come across so many people that have dealt with similar issues. What can you teach us about that or what does LaVon have to teach us about that?

Adam Hamilton: First of all, it’s just a fact that ordinary people, people who love God and who are healthy people, are prone to… we’re all prone to anxiety. But there’s certain folks who can experience an anxiety at a clinical level. So a lot of times people think, “Well, a pastor’s wife; surely they wouldn’t experience anxiety.” Well, no. Even pastor’s wives sometimes experience anxiety and panic.

We went through a series of episodes about 15 years ago where LaVon felt like she was having…it felt like a heart attack to her. Her heart was pounding and it was beating irregularly. Her palms were sweaty. There was just a whole host of symptoms. I remember taking her to the emergency room, and really being concerned there was something seriously wrong with her, and she was concerned there was something seriously wrong. The doctors couldn’t find anything. So we’re in and out of the emergency room multiple times over a several month period of time, and in the end the doctors say, “You know, we think maybe this is anxiety.” And she’s like, “I have nothing to be anxious about. I’m not anxious.”

In fact, it was really frustrating to her that people would suggest that this might be anxiety, because it felt like a failure on her part. But what her body was saying was the amygdala was hyper-functioning. It wasn’t that there was something wrong with her.

I liken it sometimes to an alarm system in your house that’s going off. The other night our smoke alarm at our house that is 16 years old, 17 years old start going off and I can’t figure out what to do about it. Apparently, one of our sensors had gotten something in it, and so it was sensing something that wasn’t there.

It’s the same way with panic and anxiety. So physiologically it’s not that there’s something wrong with the person; it’s that physiologically our sensors are malfunctioning. That can happen from biochemical reasons. It happens sometimes during menopause. There’s a whole host of reasons why this can happen. Sometimes it can happen just when stress comes to play.

So when that happens our body’s early warning system is triggered and we start having the symptoms that go along with that. So when you have the fight or flight mechanism, your heart starts pounding, your palms get sweaty, your mouth gets dry, your pupils dilate, your breathing gets more shallow. All of these things are part of the fight or flight mechanism. When they happen and there’s no apparent reason for it, it can begin to feel pretty scary.

She shares a little bit of her experience in the book. I asked her if she would do that. It’s outside of her comfort zone to put herself out there like that, but I felt like and she felt like maybe there are other people. We know that there’s about 16% of the population who at any given time wrestle with panic or anxiety at a clinical level. That’s one in six people. So we thought maybe if she could share her experience, and she survived that. You know, when you’re in the middle of it you think it’s always gonna be this way. I’m gonna feel this way forever. And the truth is that today she still has, every once in a while, a bout with anxiety. But by and large that’s not how she lives her life today.

She lives, again, with courage and hope that she’s been freed largely from that. But again, every so often there’ll be something comes up and it rears its head again, and she has to go back through the process of journaling and doing a host of other things that help her be able to say, “Okay, this is my body responding to something that’s not something I need to be afraid of.” So I was really proud of her and grateful that she shared that. In the videos that go along with the book... So we’ve got 5 video segments—15 minute video segments—for small groups to use.

Joe: I wondered about that.

Adam Hamilton: I actually interview her in one of those. So people can actually hear her tell her story in that. We also interviewed a neurologist from… I think from Vanderbilt University, if I remember correctly. And he describes the physiology of fear also.

Joe: Fantastic. Well, I enjoyed the book. I think there’s a lot of really good stuff here. We’ve barely scratched the surface. There’s lots more for people to dig into and how they can begin to address their fears and live life a little more unafraid.

Before we go I like to ask our guests about how they keep their spirits in shape and maybe a recommendation they would give to us of things that we might be able to try out.

Adam Hamilton: You know, it’s interesting. I’m gonna tie this into the physical side of our lives.

A couple of months ago I went in for a health screening here at the church. We do this for all of our employees. And I found that most of my blood levels were off. I had more cholesterol than I should have. My blood pressure was higher than it should have been. I was overweight. And when I looked at all the number I was not happy with the results. I felt like I had allowed myself to get a place where I was no longer doing the things that I needed to do to stay in shape.

We did this thing where you go in the computer and you put in all this information. You see what your actual physical age is. And not how many years you’ve been on this earth, but in terms of health wise. You know, I’m 53, and it said I was like 64 or something. And I’m like, “You’ve got to be kidding me. I’ve got to do something about this.” And so I began exercising and I began trying to eat differently. And since then I’ve lost about 14 pounds. And I was just determined. I’ve got to start exercising. And I started small.

So there was an app on my phone called “the 7-minute workout.” And I thought, “Okay, my reason for not working out is that I don’t have the time. But surely I can come up with 7 minutes.” So I started with the 7-minute workout. Then I gradually moved it up to 10 minutes. Then I started trying to walk more. I’m not doing that much really. It’s funny, but even the 10-minute workout, when I do that in the morning; sometimes I’ll do it again at night. Then I try to walk instead of driving places that I could easily walk to. And I found I started feeling better. I stopped eating so much junk food. And I started putting in…I eliminated a lot of the snacks. And I’m eating plenty, but I found that I’m eating healthier. And now when I eat like I used to eat I feel sick. It’s like too much. So I feel better. I think my health age has come down quite a bit.

I think when it comes to the spiritual life it’s very much the same. So part of this it’s a matter…it’s not just like one thing that you’re gonna do that’s suddenly is gonna make you deeply spiritual, and you’re gonna have these great encounters with God. I think it’s a lot of regular stuff that when we do it, it actually changes…it creates a more spiritually healthy person.

So that 10-minute workout for me when it comes to the spirit is starting my day off reading Scripture. It’s spending time in prayer. So by the time I’ve had breakfast I’ve prayed for 3 or 4 times already before I get to breakfast. It is throughout the day trying to be cognitive or mindful of what God is doing or paying attention to what’s going on around me to see if God is at work or needing me to do something. I think it is intentionally engaging when I’m in worship. So I start off thinking, Lord, help me to really worship today and not just somebody sitting on the sidelines, but help me to engage in the music and the songs. It’s being involved in my small group.

These are all just basic, basic things. It’s not rocket science. It’s doing these kinds of things with intentionality. And you find that you have encounters with God. You find that your faith is growing deeper. Cognitively your understanding of the scriptures of God and theology and faith more. In your heart you begin to experience that more. And then you’re living it in how you’re demonstrating the fruit of the spirit in your life.

So for me every day starts on my knees. I’m asking God for direction. I’m offering my life to God. I pray some variation of the Wesley covenant prayer. A lot of thanksgiving for God’s blessings in my life and reading Scripture, praying the scriptures, paying attention. And I find those kinds of things help me to have a healthier spiritual life than if I’m not doing them.

Joe: Oh, thank you so much. That’s so helpful and such great advice.

Adam, every time we do this I could do it all day, but we’re running out of time. So thank you very much for being a part of the podcast today.

Adam Hamilton: Joe, I really appreciate it. I love your podcasts and I appreciate you interviewing me. Thank you so much.

Epilogue

Joe: That was Reverend Adam Hamilton, Senior Pastor of the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection, and author of Unafraid: Living with Courage and Hope in Uncertain Times, available everywhere.

If you would like to study Unafraid with your small group or a Sunday school class there are leaders guides available for adults, youth and children, and a DVD to help facilitate those conversations. Go to UMC.org/podcasts and look for this episode where we’ve posted links to all of those resources.

While you’re on our page explore a little to find some other United Methodist podcasts that you may enjoy, and maybe take a minute or two to review us on iTunes. Good reviews really do help people find us.

Thanks again for listening, downloading and subscribing to Get Your Spirit in Shape, United Methodist Communications and UMC.org’s podcast to help keep our souls as healthy as our bodies.

I’m Joe Iovino. Peace.

Thank you for listening, downloading, and subscribing.

This episode originally posted on April 20, 2018.