Fear, Faith and Finances

Mary Hunt

Over the past year I’ve gone through a lot of changes. Some involve the DPL organization that I founded more than 20 years ago, while others have been in my personal life.

I’m the first to admit that I don’t like surprises and I don’t care much for change, either.

Right there you can see that I like to be in control. I want to know what’s coming so that I have penty of time to anticipate the change. I want time to plan, adjust and prepare. And control the outcome.

So when change (and I’m talking about both good and bad) hits me from out of the blue, it messes with my emotional center of gravity. It throws me off course, makes me feel all crazy and out of control. And fearful.

I struggle with fear - fear of drowning, fear of growing old and financial fear, too.

Fear for me is a big problem because it is so contradictory to my faith.

In my head I know that I should simply trust and not be afraid. That’s easy to say, but for me it is a daily challenge. In fact, sometimes I think I have some kind of internal button that defaults to “Fear.”

There is a lot in our world that promotes financial fear. Take for example:

Unemployment remains high in the U.S., and it is affecting so many people. And, it has a ripple effect on all kinds of businesses and service providers.

With fewer people working and paying into things like Social Security and Medicare, the prospects for those programs to survive continue to wane.

In 1940, for every person receiving Social Security benefits each month, there were 159 workers paying into the system. Today the ratio is just 2.9 workers paying in for every person receiving benefits.

Food prices are soaring.

Taxes in the U.S. are poised to skyrocket come 2013.

College tuition costs are up another 4.8 percent over a year ago.

I mean, even if you have a good job, what makes you think you’ll have it tomorrow?

Or if you have a nice retirement nest-egg, how can you be sure it will continue to grow and not be cut in half the next time the markets crash?

I could go on and on, rehearsing and rehashing all of the reasons we should be terrified half out of our wits over issues relating to finances. I am quite good at zeroing in on all kinds of things that could scare you out of your mind.

But, I have a much better idea: Let it go! Here are the ways I use faith to let go of my fear:

Face it. Rather than trying to ignore it, which only makes me think I’m going nuts, I look fear straight in the face and acknowledge it. “You, Fear! March right up here and let me take a look at you.” Often if the fear is irrational, that pretty much dispels it. But if not, I go on:

Identify and rate it. I’ve learned that not all fear is bad. Often what I call fear is really a warning that I need to take action. So I rate my financial fears on a reality scale. How likely is it that the U.S. economy is going to collapse this week, rendering all currency totally worthless? Ok, so I think about things like that. Don’t judge. Just know that I have also given it a “1,” as in not likely to happen anytime soon.

On the other hand, if we have a slow month at DPL, I can be faced with a fear of what will happen if we can’t pay the rent? That’s a fear that can rate as high as “8” depending on other factors that any business faces from time to time. That’s a fear that calls for action.

Change my thoughts. This is not easy for someone like me who can so easily obsess on fear. But I know it is possible. And with practice I’m getting quite good at it.

When fear is real but I cannot do anything about it, I have to stop thinking about it. I force myself to replace that fearful thought with thoughts that are good for me. I have a very personal list of “Things That are Lovely” that I keep tucked away in a special corner of my mind. I know where it is, I know what’s on that list and I pull out lovely things on purpose, when my mind is much more prone to wallow in fear and pity.

My thoughts determine my attitude. To change my attitude I have to change my thoughts.

Be grateful. Just last week as I watched the stock market take a dive, I got a momentary feeling of panic and fear. I quickly went through the steps above and landed breathlessly on this last step.

I determined that there is nothing I can do about the stock market. Nothing. And for that I decided to be grateful.

If I did have the power to control the stock market, just imagine how much I would be in demand. I’d be summoned to Wall Street. I would be pulled from one bank to the next, compelled to work my magic in that bank’s favor. As good as I might be, ultimately no one would be happy with the ways that I controlled and manipulated the market.

This would lead to being hauled into a congressional hearing to be grilled before the senate finance committee because, believe it or not, it is quite illegal to manipulate the markets.

Of course, this would not end up well because I would be sent to federal prison. As nice as some of those Club Feds are known to be, incarceration would only create new fears that I do not want to deal with.

So, I gave thanks for my woeful inadequacies in being able to do anything about the financial markets.  So much for that fear.

Hand it off. In the end, whatever fear remains, I ask God to take it. I picture myself handing it off to him, in faith. He knows my needs and cares about my wants. I can only see a few feet ahead, a day at the most. He sees my entire life. He never sleeps so that I can.

Years ago, my husband and I were driving through California’s Mojave Desert at night on our way across country. It was my turn to drive, while he slept. Let me tell you, it was dark!

What struck me in the black stillness of the night, was how the headlights were not lighting the entire way. Those two beams of light illuminated about 30 feet in front of us. From my spot behind the wheel I could easily see where the light ended. But as I moved into that light, the light moved ahead just a little bit more—lighting the way to our destination, thirty feet at a time.

Playing a game of chicken with myself, I got up the nerve to turn off the headlights for just a couple of seconds just to see how dark it really was. Not a good idea. Intellectually, I knew we would be fine for just a few seconds, but my brain could not overcome my emotions. Instant panic sent chills down my spine.

Without the light we would have come to a full and complete stop—stuck in the middle of the desert until daybreak.

Darkness can immobilize other areas of our lives as well. If we don’t know how to switch on the light, we become paralyzed with fear—stuck in the dark.

As you face the dark places in your life, remember this: You need only enough light for the steps you’re on. Move forward into the light.

Take that leap of faith and you’ll be amazed how the light will move ahead providing just enough light for the next step, the next and on and on until the fear melts away as you reach your destination.

This article appeared originally at Debt-Proof Living on October 31st, 2012. 

"Debt-Proof Living" was founded in 1992 by Mary Hunt.  What began as a newsletter to encourage and empower people to break free from the bondage of consumer debt has grown into a huge community of ordinary people who have achieved remarkable success in their quest to effectively manage their money and stay out of debt.  Today, "The Cheapskate Monthly" is read by close to 100,000 Cheapskates.  Click here to subscribe.

Publication date: November 12, 2012