When Holding onto Fear is Easier than Facing It

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One of the most fulfilling and highly sought-after courses in college was called “Problems of Personal Adjustment.” Students were tasked to identify a underdeveloped area of their lives and complete a semester-long project of self-improvement. Most of my classmates found creative ways to better themselves. I remember one friend learned to cook, and by the end of the semester, she felt comfortable hosting a dinner party for our professor as her culminating project.

I decided this particular semester would be the time I’d finally address a long-held phobia that I’ve held onto since I was seven years old, and I signed up for the required counseling. I remember at the initial intake session, the counselor asked me if there was any reason I was holding onto my phobia instead of letting it go. I tried not to let my jaw hit the floor as I incredulously shook my head. Who would want a fear of this caliber hanging over them day-in and day-out?

Would I be willing to desensitize myself to my fear and let it go completely — or at least enough so that I could flip the channels on a TV without covering my eyes (you know, just in case the creature was lurking on the very next channel as it sometimes does). And was sitting here with this graduate student counselor how it was going to happen?

Spoiler alert: It didn’t happen. I’m still afraid. Irrationally, admittedly, afraid.

Counseling didn’t work for me that semester, but because I haven’t tried much else since, I still carry this phobia around with me. Perhaps it is because I have a definition in my head of what it is I’ll be able to do if only I am not afraid anymore. But maybe my goal is all wrong. Maybe I’m going about it all wrong by ignoring it. I realize that the extent of this particular fear is completely irrational and debilitating, but I’m also terrified to face it in order to heal. The mishaps of an inexperienced counselor were damaging enough!

In a devotional I was reading this morning, I arrived at a section called “Brave Enough to Pursue Healing,” and without even reading what Annie F. Downs had to say about it, that intake session from over a dozen years ago came flooding back. Have I been holding onto this specific phobia for so long because it’s easier to be afraid than to face it?

Have I been holding onto this specific phobia for so long because it’s easier to be afraid than to face it?

Some amount of fear is beneficial when our fear is something that is actually unsafe, as mine is. But what is the purpose of those fears we carry in silence, preventing us from taking risks that could be fulfilling and fruitful? Perhaps we are afraid of the “what might happens” — what might happen if we try to mend a broken relationship, or try to start a new friendship, or head in a direction different than the well-worn path we’ve always taken, into unknown territory?

To what extent do we let these silent fears, such as  loss of security, stability, or taking risks in friendships, become as debilitating as an irrational phobia?

“I sought the Lord, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears (Psalm 34:4, NIV).”

What fears need your acknowledgment? What heavy fears can you shrug from your shoulders and allow His steady presence to walk you through? What fears have you allowed to become larger-than-life? And–dare I ask–what fears have you allowed to control you by holding you back from the calling God has placed on your heart?

As my counselor asked, is there a reason you’re not willing to let go of this fear?

Today, ask God to help you take one small step toward acknowledging the fear that is holding you back from where He is calling you.

Making Godly Decisions

Have you ever been in the position of having two really good options at the same time? And each has advantages and disadvantages unique to that path alone? Knowing in your heart of hearts that one of the paths is where you want to step out boldly in God’s calling, but, out of habit, you begin drifting back to the comfort of the familiar, the predictable, the safe?

I begin to question whether allowing fear to step in undermines my faith in God’s plans. I believe I have a strong faith, but in situations of fear and the unknown, I tend to want to steer. To cast my own safety net under the tightrope of God’s calling as a backup plan in case I fail.

God’s calling doesn’t promise success. The fruit comes in the way we approach the decision itself. Did we lean in and listen to God, or did we build walls around our hearts out of fear and trepidation of the unknown?

Whose plan am I tending to? Whom am I allowing to steer my course? If I choose to ignore God’s tug on my heartstrings, what will happen? Will I relish the safety of my current path, even if it feels complacent, or will I always wonder, “What if?”

Will He bring another opportunity around, or is this it?

complacency | a feeling of contentment or self-satisfaction, often combined with a lack of awareness of pending trouble or controversy (Your Dictionary).

What was waiting for me down that other path? What would my life have been like? How would my faith have been strengthened? What will it look like to boldly commit to one path over the other? These are the questions I imagine will follow.

When I pray, one path stands out. But my tendency to over-analyze naturally begs the question, “How? How will this all work out if I pursue God’s call?”

In this moment, I realize I’ve been directing my question of “How?” all wrong. I’ve been asking it of myself when I should be directing it to God. God knows the specific answer. He has always known. And it is not for me to know those details right now.

Where there is no revelation, the people cast off restraint; but blessed is he who keeps the law. (Proverbs 29:18, NIV)

I think of what I stand to lose at each path, and what I stand to gain, while reminding myself to be grateful to have a choice at all. I pray how my decisions will affect those I love and whether they’d be resilient in the face of change. Who, ultimately, will gain from my decision?

I pray desperately for clarity and peace, but it seems this is one that I’ll just have to live out to find out, as peace might just hold out until the decision has already been made, and clarity may follow suit only in the hindsight of my decision.

“Sometimes a little CHANGE can open your world to BIG possibilities.” (Rachel Bright, The Koala Who Could).

What decisions are you facing today? How will you allow yourself to boldly follow God’s call in the midst of facing your big decisions? I’d love to hear how you approach the process, especially when following God’s call involves taking a big risk and venturing into the new and unknown.