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?