Good Christian Fears: Is Fear Crippling Your Walk With Christ?

I’ve never considered myself a fearful person. But recently, I’ve been discovering just how much my deeply-buried fears and anxieties have influenced and continued to influence my life. These aren’t conscious thoughts, or even things that I initially recognized as fear. But as I reflected on the decisions I’ve made and the things I’ve written over the past two decades, several themes came into focus. I’m sharing them in case you can relate.

Fear of Failure/Letting God (and Others) Down

Okay, this one I knew about. I’ve worked on my more mundane expressions of perfectionism and avoidance, but there’s still nothing that paralyzes me more than the fear of messing up in God’s eyes.

Of saying something God didn’t want me to say.

Of not doing something God wanted me to do.

Of writing something, sometime, that includes a theological error.

Of not being a good enough mom.

Of generally not being a perfect, sinless person who has it all figured out, and lives accordingly.

This is unfortunate, because I’m doomed to failure–at least when I focus on my own behavior, instead of Christ’s. Too often, I let my human shortcomings overshadow Christ’s sufficiency, let my failures overshadow Christ’s victory. And that is a definite theological error.

Oh, there are people who use God’s grace as a “get out of transformation free” card. But the desire of my heart is obedience, not rebellion. And it seems to me that people who truly want to obey God are even more likely to find themselves bound up in chains of fear, shame and legalism that may look impressive, but cripple our capacity for doing good while slowly suffocating the life out of us.

Fear of Not Belonging

Here’s a personal one, something I’ve usually experienced as an ache, not a fear. As a child, I was part of a small, tight-knit community. I knew and was known, loved and was loved. I slid into my place in the jigsaw puzzle of my community with a resounding, satisfying click.

And then we moved to Liberia.

Sometimes I feel like my whole life since then has been a colossal search for belonging. Not acceptance–I am blessed enough to assume that I will typically be accepted and appreciated–but I struggle to feel like I fit anywhere. Acceptance is nice, but my heart’s cry is to belong.

This doesn’t seem like a fear at face value. But if you look at the next fear in light of my desire to belong, you can see that the fear of not belonging is a major player. And I can’t believe I’m the only person who, instead of finding their identity and security in Christ, has tried to find it in human relationships, and has hidden, shut down, of killed off crucial parts of themeselves in order to experience acceptance or a sense of belonging.

Fear of My Own Potential

About ten years ago I drafted a novel that was very different from my usual writing. It came to mind after a conversation I had this week about how authors’ thoughts, values and experiences impact their writing. What in the world did that novel say about me?

The answer was almost immediately clear. I was petrified of my own potential, my own power.

It sounds strange to say it that way. But here’s the thing. I was a young woman who was trying hard to be the prototypical Christian homemaker. I was homeschooling at the time, and the primary influences in my life pushed me more and more toward quietism, toward subservience, and even Quiverfull ideologies.

At the same time, I had this gift inside me, screaming and roaring and clawing to get out. I had a calling that was impossible to ignore.

But women weren’t supposed to have “that” sort of calling, were they?

A spiritual battle of collossal proportions was raging through my heart and head. And as in any battle, there was damage. Oh yes, I was right to be afraid of the battle, but not the calling. Turns out, it was the pretty, religiously-sanctioned chains of “biblical womanhood” I was decorating my life with, the power I gave those expectations and limitations over my life, that I should have been afraid of.

God had gifted, called, and annointed me for a purpose. He had given me the power and authority to fulfill the role He created me to fill in the body of Christ. And like many biblical examples, I recoiled in terror, while simultaneously yearning for what God was holding out to me with my whole heart.

This is a battle that is still raging in my life. Call it approach-avoidance, call it “humility,” call it self-doubt, call it appropriate female restraint–I call it a spiritual battle seeking to cripple my capacity, and stand in the way of what God wants to do in and through me.

There. I named it. Now get thee behind me, Satan. I’m following God, not man.

I think many women may be able to relate to this. Power, authority, and annointing aren’t a currency Christian women are taught to trade in. They’re hardly even words that we are allowed to use (submission, meekness, and silence sound better falling from our lips). We are taught, by word and example, to leave the power and authority to the men. After all, it wasn’t Adam who was decieved, but Eve. Bad things happen when women take the lead.

But friends, when we step out into our callings, we aren’t stepping out in our own power and authority. We’re stepping out in God’s, in the power of the Holy Spirit and the authority given to us in Christ. We need to stop being afraid of that, stop holding people back in the name of religion, instead of urging them forward in the name of Christ.

Whew–well, there’s my therapy session for the day!

What about you? What fears do you deal with? How do they hold you back, from your freedom in Christ, from your calling, from the abundant life Jesus promised his followers? Do any of the struggles I have described resonate with you?


13 Responses to Good Christian Fears: Is Fear Crippling Your Walk With Christ?

  1. Katie Sturm December 3, 2012 at 1:08 am #

    This is really powerful and lovely. Thanks for being so vulnerable!

  2. Judy December 3, 2012 at 7:27 am #

    Jenny, keep living out Eph 2:10. In the Spirit, outdistance your fears and accept the courage to walk in the good works God has prepared for you. I love how God has made you and is using you!

    • Jenny Rae Armstrong December 3, 2012 at 8:37 am #

      Thank you, Judy. You are such an encouragement, to me and many others!!!

  3. Rosanne December 3, 2012 at 7:57 am #

    I resonate with this on so many levels! Thank you for putting what I feel into words. I have to believe there are many, many more women who are right there with you. God bless!

    • Jenny Rae Armstrong December 3, 2012 at 8:39 am #

      Thank you, Rosanne. I figured I couldn’t be the only one struggling with these things. 😉 Blessings right back at’cha!

  4. Lacey December 3, 2012 at 10:03 am #

    The Fear of Not Belonging is definitely the one that resonates most with me, and that I think holds me back from authenticity the most. In particular, I find myself stepping lightly around other Catholics as I try to learn what “kind” of Catholic they are. I am fearful that, when learning about the strong beliefs I hold that are in opposition to “official Church teaching,” they will immediately dismiss me as “not really Catholic.” This fear has been “founded” time and time again, and yet, I need to learn to stay true to my conscience anyway — and to claim ALL of who I am, which transcends both religious labels and any label that anyone else could give me.

    Although I used to be afraid of “letting God down” when I was an adolescent, that was based in an anxious way of relating to the world in general, and rooted in an experience of receiving judgment rather than love from the Church, which is where we learn about God. Once I moved beyond that particular church and religious experience, the fear of letting God down fell away pretty quickly. Since then, I’ve mostly felt that God’s in my corner, even when I screw up, and that S/He is there to guide me on my “next chance” to make it right. And that is a good feeling. :)

    • Jenny Rae Armstrong December 3, 2012 at 9:10 pm #

      What you said about an “anxious way of relating to the world”–ha! 😀 As I mentioned in my response to Tim, I think my fear of letting God down actually has more to do with my personality type than anything else–I put some pretty crazy expectations on myself sometimes. I also love what you said about God being in your corner, and there to guide future decisions–LOVE that.

  5. Tim December 3, 2012 at 2:19 pm #

    Jen, you’ve articulated a bunch of good ways to take our focus off our fears and put our focus on Christ. It’s a great post on the truth found in Hebrews 12:1-2.
    For me, when it comes to a fear of not pleasing God, I don’t have one. That’s because I never displease God, and neither do you. We may still do things wrong, but there is no condemnation for us in any sense whatsoever. (Romans 7-8 covers this pretty well.) As Lacey said above, God is there to help us and correct us (what the writer of Hebrews labels discipline later in chapter 12) but nowhere are we told that God chastises his own. Instead, we are told he loves his own and has already granted forgiveness to each of us for all sins past, present and future.
    The Bible’s teaching is clear that you couldn’t displease God if you tried. You might do things that are hurtful to you, but God is pleased with you now and eternally.

    • Jenny Rae Armstrong December 3, 2012 at 9:03 pm #

      You know, I think my fear of letting God down has more to do with my personality type than my theology. I can agree with what you’re saying (although I don’t know if I could put it quite as strongly as you did), but the INFP in me has a hard time letting myself off the hook quite that easily, or making those distinctions between my actions and my essence. Yes, I am completely covered by Christ’s sufficiency, but “Jenny” is still a work in progress. My Dad and my favorite professor will probably have a theological apoplexy if they read this, but I can’t compartmentalize myself enough to believe otherwise deep down–redeemed, yes, completely covered, yes, forgiven past present and future, yes, beloved, yes. But splicing body, soul and spirit–it all gets WAY too theoretical for me, and fails to address the things that truly concern my INFP-ness. I’m not concerned about whether I’m loved, accepted of saved–I know that–but I am intensely concerned with living a life in tune with my values.

      That said, the affirmation of God’s pleasure in me is nice. 😀

  6. Robyn Afrik December 5, 2012 at 1:15 pm #

    For you dear Jenny: Your greatest gift lies beyond the door named fear. But God has given you a spirit of courage and love. Now walk through that door and claim what is yours. #blessings – see you on the other side :)

  7. Jen January 2, 2013 at 12:07 pm #

    I had an assignment for a seminary class years ago where we had to spend time with God asking him to help us identify fears we had, lies we believed and shame we carried. Then we were to search Scripture for truth and share what we found with a trusted friend. That exercise was powerful in my life. After reading this post, I want to go back and do that again. My life circumstances are quite different than when I first did that exercise. Thank you for this post!

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