Why did I awake from my coma
In time to feel my greatest pain?
How pathetic to wish back slumber.
The pain shall preach how alive I am.
In between obtaining my bachelors degree and my masters degree, starting in the fall of 2007, I took a ‘year off.’ I graduated in four years and was only 21 and realized there was no rush just to keep going to school.
What followed was a year I didn’t exactly map out on my own but a time where I had one guiding principle:
Now of course, not things I should obviously say no to for the sake of self preservation, or against societal morality.
Instead, I am talking about things I was scared of doing, or used the lame excuse of “I’m busy with school,” or whatever other excuse I would use back then. Truly it was personality reasons down deep as I was timid about sticking my neck out.
Me and him hit it off immediately. We are reading the same theologians. We have the same dry humor. We have the same sense of self deprivation. We both are sports nerds. We both are nerds.
And because of this bond that forms on month one of my year off, my cynicism for most things in the organized church starts to diminish.
My own personal hang ups about youth group growing up are greatly challenged when the youth pastor keeps asking me to volunteer. Actually I don’t think I have to be asked, I just simply start showing up on Wednesday nights to youth group (something I didn’t do when I was in the age range!) just to hang out since I have time on my hands and how much of a bond I was forming with the youth pastor.
Next thing you know I have a guitar in my hand helping lead worship at youth group…
…Next thing you know I am leading a small group bible study of college and career age folk, people my age or older, because our church didn’t have anything extra curricular for this age group. We start meeting in parks and our youth pastor and his wife’s apartment, forming bonds that never existed outside of church, bonds that didn’t exactly exist in church.
All because I said yes to filling a void I knew needed filled, even though I was pulling the classic ‘not me Lord, I am no preacher/leader/talker/etc.’ Classic. Because I said yes to something I told myself I wasn’t, our group of less than 20 twenty-somethings grew closer together spiritually and friendship wise.
At those meetings is where I realized, perhaps, deeper and more profound church occurred. No slight to the rest of our church or any church. But people would get up and talk about their hurts, hang-ups, addictions, and all together sins. In front of other people! What a wild idea.
But in that setting was a trusting intimacy knowing everyone had each other’s back. As I was part of the worship band that kinda hung out in the corner as the main meeting would end and the small groups would break off, I often wondered why I didn’t go into the small groups. I was challenged to wonder why the whole church didn’t participate because the truth is we all could break down into this setting.
And I realized all the more by saying yes to helping other’s worship on a Monday night in a converted garage, they were helping instill in me a taste of what vulnerability really looks like, what coming together and confessing sins to one another means, and what healing and helping each other can do in each other’s lives.
Well, as cross country as you can get by starting in Detroit (sorry east coast!).
Me and two friends packed a Pontiac Sunfire to the brim and set off for San Diego in February. A great time to go when you live in Michigan. Not only had I not taken a road-trip like that before, I had never been west of the Mississippi.
By saying yes to a road-trip I’d otherwise say no to because of ‘studies’ or ‘homework’ or other lame but important things, I got to experience travel and logistics and conflict resolution (tons of that with three guys in a Sunfire!).
All while seeing America the slow way. No fly over and jump to the heavenly beaches of San Diego. First we had to see Des Moines and Tulsa and Indianapolis in all their winter glory.
By saying yes to this trip my friend prodded me to go on (who was in college himself and simply took a week off), I saw the country instead of seeing pictures online of the country in the undergrad library.
And things I could have never planned for myself were molded into my heart at an incredibly impressionable time in my life.
Stepping up and serving a church body not out of fear but out of love to get people together.
Witnessing vulnerability first hand, which set the early stages for me becoming vulnerable myself in safe community later on.
Bonding with friends and problems solving their way across the open roads of America.
I said yes to not being afraid. And my dreams finally enlarge themselves.
One of the most helpful books I have read in a while is Mastering Fear by Robert Maurer and Michelle Gifford. Here I share two major observations.
The first is how the authors establish very quickly an important corrective argument to conventional wisdom: fear is good. It’s not bad. Fear, as it turns out, is truly a life saving mechanism. Our survival counts on it. You can see it in the natural world, and for humans, we are no different. Fear triggers our survival mode and gets our senses on high alert.
When working with the idea that fear is good, I connected it to my Christian worldview and stumbled upon an incredible re-focusing on a somewhat perplexing concept. The scripture commands “do not fear” so frequently that you begin to figure out this is a very important piece of advice. People throughout the biblical narrative are constantly told not to fear.
But here in Maurer’s work, we discover fear is actually a good thing for us so long as we do not apply fear to the wrong objects or over inflate the situation at hand. Is this conflicting information?
This is incredibly intriguing because the scripture does in fact offer us something to fear. It’s a Person. Fear the Lord. Fear God. We come to find God is asking us to not fear our situation, our accusers, our circumstances…but to fear only God.
To me it was always strange and off putting that we are to fear God. What does this phrase mean in a deeper sense?
In light of Maurer’s work in Mastering Fear, an explosive reality kicked in for me. I am to fear God literally for my benefit. Not out of an unhealthy fear. But the type described in the book as the mechanism which heightens our senses, directs our focus on the object which we must pay attention to.
Fear is good for us so long as we direct our fears on the only thing we should fear. Because as the brain kicks in with hyper focus we will spend time trying to figure out the object of our fear with closer attention.
The second major observation is what the author’s offer as the healthy solution to utilizing fear. Since fear is good, we must use it correctly and place it on what only matters. But how we cope with undesirable fear is striking. The authors suggest the only healthy response for humans found through several studies and research is the following: we must reach out and support each other.
Built into us is the natural response to reach out to other humans when we are afraid. This is observable in children especially, but not long after or during childhood we begin to toughen up or begin to lose trust in people. And so we resort to not asking challenging questions or reaching out to other people when we find ourselves scared of terrible circumstances or events in our lives. Or even simple situations we may personally become fearful over that others do not find terrifying at all.
If we can only muster the courage to reach out and express what it is we are fearful of to other people we will find not just step by step solutions to our fears. The act in and of itself, reaching out and asking for help, is what calms our fears.
I find this incredible in light of what God’s answer is yet again for us. Christian community is foundational to the faith. The Trinity itself, as perplexing as it is to comprehend, offers something intrinsic to our nature. The Trinity has been in eternal community on it’s own. The essence of God is community.
So it is no wonder when we are created in His image, we are created as individuals who need Him and need others. Christian community is called throughout scripture to love one another, help those in need, to confess our sins to one another so we may be healed, etc. Much of the New Testament is instructing the Christian to become more unified with each other. To be able to share everything with each other.
We must share our fears with each other. It is literally how we are wired. And it is the only answer to calming our fears.
We hardly even need a step by step answer to get us out of our situation. See Job and his friends for that one. We simply need to be with each other silently for days if it takes. But we need to be able to come to each other with our fears and be both receptive enough to listen to each other’s fears and also willing enough ourselves to let our guards down.
I sense there is need for a ton of support out there based on what so many people are afraid of today. We are afraid of so much, when instead, we need to recognize how good fear is if we direct it towards the only Person worth our intense focus. We need to reach out to others when we are afraid because we are designed to cope with each other.
The authors of Mastering Fear tie handling fear in a healthy manner to the laws of success. They state, “successful people recognize their need for support and consistently see reaching out to others as a strength rather than a weakness.” (P. 51) The authors’ desire was to figure out elements of successful people and found their approach to fear being a key factor.
I make this final note because it means when we are viewing a person who has made it in our field or conquered a major obstacle in life we do a great disservice to ourselves believing they just toughed it out or set out on their own and made their course corrections all by themselves. Not at all. They became fearful just like anyone else but found the humble courage to ask others for advice, to express their fears and to move forward by doing so. We truly are wired to help each other.
One day, an emo girl goes to school wearing a complex layering of autumn clothes she purchased at Urban Outfitters because she likes the way the outfit looks. For one day she has traded in her black band shirt, black skinny jeans, black backpack, and black finger nail polish for orange, red and brown. And layers. Lots of layers.
But she faces ridicule. Peers have no idea who she is trying to be. She shouldn’t wear the outfit according to the hipster kids and the emo kids. They’re all letting her know it.
And she knew this was going to be the reaction from everyone. So she never wears it.
Actually never buys it. She just plays the above scene in her head in the fitting room and leaves.
This scenario is me within every corner of life. If I feel I want to change something, I end up not changing because of the fear of drawing attention. I can’t get past the initial hour of being noticed. Or minute.
Every now and then, miraculously, I get through something new for a month. But that’s only a month. Is this really me?
But once the shock value of a month has worn off with every single person in my life I encounter, a funny thing occurs. They stop noticing. They will start to see me for who I am plus this change.
Outer changes like clothes or a new haircut are the most striking changes and have the greatest initial reaction.
But what if we want to go to the gym more often? This fear is rooted in something that makes no sense at all.
Can’t do something different because I can’t draw attention to doing something new.
Can’t face the hazing that will come from people who just know I won’t follow through and keep going to the gym.
I kid you not, those fears would flood my mind when it came to working out. You know, to do an activity designed to literally change me for the better.
We fear quitting to smoke because we forgot what it’s like not smoking. We fear changing careers because we are known only for what we have worked on up till now. We fear making ourselves better because then we have to explain how we got better.
You have to value yourself enough in order to make the changes you know you have to make. And yeah, people are going to notice. But as long as you know you are becoming more yourself, keep on changing.
Stop fearing becoming the better version of yourself you know you’ve wanted to become.
Wow. What an absolutely lame form of fear.
I was given the key a long time ago,
Fear kept it tucked in my back pocket,
Shame convinced I was at the wrong door,
Love just wants me to kick it down, it’s not even locked.
When you live with a shovel in your hand,
Tossing dirt on yourself in the pit you made,
You are dead.
When you live adjusting your mask so others see it just right,
Assuring others are fooled with your perfected painful presentation,
You are dead.
When you live running past opportunity,
Fearful of all the failures you foresee,
You are dead.
But when you find your identity
you serve others,
When you live your identity
you live wide awake,
When you rest in your identity
you honor what you are made for.
Sit still with the future version of yourself you desire to become.
It’s already breaking through the fear painted across your skies.