1 But now thus saith the LORD that created thee, […] Fear not: for I have redeemed thee, I have called thee by thy name; thou art mine.
2 When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee: when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee.
Fear is not an accidental emotion. God created it as a warning mechanism. Think about some of the most common fears:
- Fear of heights
- Fear of spiders
- Fear of small places
All three of these are related to things that could get us hurt. Falling from a tall place? Broken bones. Getting bit by a spider? Itching, stinging, or worse! Being stuck in a small place not only can hurt, but it can make us vulnerable to a predator! Or worse, says Winnie the Pooh, being stuck in a small hole can leave us trapped at our judgmental friend’s house with no honey, waiting to lose weight while they use our rear aspect as home decor.
But what about the other kinds of fears? Most people, myself especially included, speak all the time. But while public speaking is generally not a fatal activity, (barring crazed gunmen) it is one of the highest ranked social phobias! We likely won’t get hurt by speaking in public. We’re not actually afraid of the speaking part.
We are afraid of rejection. We are afraid of judgment. We are terrified to step out of our comfort zones on the slight chance that doing so will leave a negative impression on someone else.
On our honeymoon, my husband and I had the opportunity to swim with dolphins. I’d had this on my bucket list for some time, but after we found the place and were walking around downtown, I chickened out. I made some excuse about saving the money, but that wasn’t my real reason.
I was incredibly insecure about my body. The idea of people seeing me, even dressed modestly and only preserved in a photo that I could judiciously crop, at my most drowned rat-esque was absolutely terrifying to me. We didn’t go. I regret that choice so, so much. I let an ambiguous fear of judgement steal away what would probably have been one of the coolest moments of my life.
There is a difference between feeling the emotion of fear and living under a spirit of fear.
One is a warning. The other is a hindrance.
I passionately believe that growth in our families, our churches, and ourselves is stymied left and right by the spirit of fear. We don’t reach out to others because we’re terrified of being turned down. We hesitate to respond to God tugging on our heart because we’re afraid of judgement.
Paul wrote these words at the end of his ministry and his life to Timothy, encouraging him to move forward with God given authority. Scholars believe that Timothy was a hesitant leader, young and inexperienced compared to the Apostle Paul. He lacked the charisma and power of character that had stirred men to follow Paul from the time that he was Saul of Tarsus, persecutor of the Christian church through his leadership of the same. The elderly apostle knew that in order to lead a growing church in times of deep anti-Christian sentiment, Timothy could not fall prey to the doubts, anxieties, and hesitations that accompany cowardice.
His encouragement to Timothy challenges us today.
As I laid out in my last post, this blog has been a three year journey. I hesitated. I waited. Just like swimming with the dolphins, I made excuses for why I didn’t have the resources.
But the truth is, I was and still am simply afraid.
My first post was well received; what if no one likes this one? What if someone misinterprets my intentions? What if I simply can’t hack it? Rejection. Judgement. Failure.
And on the other side of that fear, my purpose has been waiting all along.
So how do we go from being rooted in a place of fear to walking in purpose and calling?
1. Define What You’re Afraid of
Fear, as an emotion or response to a situation, is a healthy measuring stick that God has provided to protect us from a myriad of dangers. However, living in a “spirit of fear” or cowardice is neither God given nor God ordained. It’s important to understand which source is driving our feelings.
- Are you scared because of a legitimate, potential danger?
- Are you just hesitant to trigger some perceived negative outcome?
In God have I put my trust: I will not be afraid what man can do unto me.
Sticks and stones are quite capable of breaking our bones, but words and opinions hurt too. They can squish our dreams, belittle our accomplishments, and make us doubt our judgment calls.
Keeping your gifts and potential forever boxed up in the beautiful wrapping that is you is a safe strategy. That way, your gift can never be mocked. Your potential can never be dismissed. But you will also never reach the person that desperately needs your testimony. You will never grow to anything more than the sum of your potential, because no one will ever be able to encourage and challenge you to become more.
In our fear of rejection, we close ourselves off to the beauty and growth that springs from feedback.
2. If You Didn’t, Will You Wish You Had?
“The days are long but the years are short”
Is one of your dreams so big that it seems unattainable? Will it take a lot of time to get there? Is the timeline for achievement 5, 10 or 15 years long?
The time will pass anyway.
I don’t know who I’ll be in 5 years, or 30. I don’t know who I’ll be at the end of my life. But I’m tired of my potential being weighed down by the regret of what I haven’t achieved yet. And even if I bomb, at least I’ll know I tried.
3. Goal Setting
Sometimes, scary things only seem scary until the lights are turned on.
I shared a room with my baby sister until I was 14. She was 4 years younger and insisted on having a nightlight every night. Being like, sooooo much more mature than she was, I complained about that nightlight pretty much every evening from age 10 till I finally got my own room.
That first night by myself with no nightlight was terrifying. And having volubly fussed and griped about the nightlight for the last four years, I couldn’t tell anyone! Hunched under the safety of my quilt, I watched this weirdly moving shape in the corner for what seemed like hours! Finally, summoning all the courage I possessed, I leaped out of bed and scuttled to open the bathroom door.
As I flicked on the switch, blessed light flooded my room, illuminating the jacket I’d thrown over a chair, fabric slightly moving under an air vent. Under the pretense of using the bathroom (fake flush and hand washing included), I threw the jacket into my closet, shut the door, and darted back under my covers, eyes squeezed shut against the darkness.
Our amorphous dreams can be just as scary in their shapelessness as that jacket was to me 15 years ago. Turning dreams into achievable goals is how we turn on the light, removing the sinister unreality and throwing the possibilities into sharp relief.
Goal-setting is both illuminating and energizing. Sitting down to map out a realistic view of what you want to do, a deadline for when it needs to be done, and a plan for breaking the overall plan into a manageable timeline is incredibly powerful. Suddenly, this huge dream that you never thought you could accomplish is in bite size chunks. You can visualize the resources you will need for each step. You’ve eliminated the pieces that aren’t core to the dream. You’re left with the reality of what could be.
4. Walk With Someone
Starting this blog, I defined that I was afraid of people not liking my writing, admitted that I would always regret not starting, and laid out a basic plan.
Then, I did what I think has been the biggest key to attacking this particular fear so far: I told people. I went to my dear friend, Allison, and ran the idea past her. I talked to my parents. I told my husband. I involved my sisters and my friends. I included people that love me and encourage me, and I made myself accountable to them. I said, “Hey! This is what I’m doing! What do you think?”
Not only did I get great feedback, but I then had to make good on my word! Each day, I think about how encouraging they’ve been and the ideas they’ve pitched to me. They give me the courage to ignore the negative voices (which so far haven’t materialized) and try again.
And it was incredibly special to hear the deep faith that these people had in me. While I was explaining my idea to my dad, he redirected my focus from my first post topic to the one I ended up writing. I was planning on writing about how someone else’s story inspired me. But what I was telling him was how my own journey was the true root of what I wanted to create. He challenged me to tell my story instead. As we were talking, tears sprang up in my eyes and honest to goodness goosebumps stippled my arms.
I would have never had the courage to open my heart so frankly without my dad walking alongside me.
5. Do It Scared
There’s no magic step to completely eliminate fear. At the end of the day, there’s just me, my dream, and this laptop. And all the planning sessions in the world, all of the visualization exercises and positive mantras won’t create this community for me.
I have two healthy, adorable boys. In having both of them, I hit this emotional wall of sheer terror, convinced I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t have a baby. I couldn’t be a mom. I couldn’t be a mom of TWO!
Enormously pregnant, in labor for hours, I tearfully and completely seriously told my husband that I changed my mind and we were going home. Actually, in the delivery room waiting for my second baby, my mom says I told everyone, multiple times over, “I can’t, I can’t, I can’t, I CAN’T!”
I don’t remember that. But I did it. I didn’t have much choice! 41 weeks into growing a human is no time for cowardice.
And wherever you are in your dream is no time for quitting.
The world needs your spark. Your dream. Your voice. Don’t delay walking in your purpose and calling until you aren’t afraid.
You will never not be afraid.
So, do it scared. Let the terror of things that go bump in the night chase you toward achieving your dreams. You can hide under the covers and wonder what could be, or you can sprint to the light switch.
I know which path I’ve chosen. Come with me!
It’s less scary to walk with a friend.