Clergy Corner: Don’t be Afraid of Your Shadow

When we start by depending on God’s help, it sets us on the right path for conquering our fears instead of letting them overwhelm us

Photo courtesy of Hemet Valley Christian Church
Dr. Richard Puls is senior pastor
at Hemet Valley Christian Church.

■ Dr. Richard Puls / Contributed

Every year, Groundhog Day occurs on Feb. 2. On that day, a groundhog named Punxsutawney Phil emerges from Gobbler’s Knob in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. According to Groundhog Day lore, if he sees his shadow and returns to his hole, it means that winter weather will continue for another six weeks. If he doesn’t see his shadow, it indicates an early spring. Since this tradition began in 1887, Phil has seen his shadow 103 times and has not seen his shadow only 18 times.
It appears that the groundhog fears his shadow many more times than not. Similarly, the world often seems fearful to many of us. Worry becomes second nature. We become anxious about having enough money, meeting new people, losing loved ones, working a job, learning a new skill, feeling safe, developing an illness, going out in public, or making any change in our routine. Fear can paralyze us, cause us to avoid any social contact, disable us from making important decisions, and generally make us miserable. A moderate amount of anxiety can make us cautious. Excessive anxiety can make us unwilling to take any risks, unable to enjoy a potentially fun adventure.
Anxiety is as common among the old as it is among the young. I remember walking on the rocks alongside a river with my family when I was a teenager. My grandmother didn’t want to join us for fear of twisting an ankle. I’m now ten years older than my grandmother was on that occasion and I still walk on rocks by rivers. My grandmother’s anxiety kept her from enjoying a pleasant experience. Perhaps my lack of fear will lead to future injury, but I’d rather take the chance and have some fun.
Many of us suffer from some type of excessive fear, which we call phobias. These include: claustrophobia (extreme fear of confined spaces), acrophobia (extreme fear of heights), agoraphobia (irrational fear of crowded spaces or enclosed public places), or, my favorite, triskaidekaphobia (extreme superstition regarding the number thirteen). Yet, more subtle fears can produce effects just as disabling: the fear of making a wrong decision; the fear of offending other people; the fear of failure; and even the fear of success.
Overcoming anxiety and fear begins with God. As recorded in Isaiah 41:10, the Lord says, “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” When we start by depending on God’s help, it sets us on the right path for conquering our fears instead of letting them overwhelm us.
On Groundhog Day, Feb. 2, Hemet Valley Christian Church will offer a workshop entitled, “Don’t be Afraid of Your Shadow.” You will learn ways to face your worries and move forward in your life with joy and a sense of anticipation. We invite you to join us.

Dr Richard Puls is the senior pastor at Hemet Valley Christian Church, located at 330 S. Franklin Street, Hemet, Ca 92543. Dr. Puls has more than 30 years of pastoral experience. He received his bachelor’s degree in pastoral ministries from Hope International University, a master’s degree in Christian education from Grace Graduate School, a second master’s degree in counseling psychology at Pepperdine University and a doctorate in psychology at American Behavioral Studies Institute. As a therapist, he has counseled hundreds of individuals and couples, spoken on topics of change and growth, led seminars on psychological issues, and taught graduate courses on therapy.

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