On fear

Fear is going around. It’s a lot like the flu, or strep, or bronchitis, because it’s pretty contagious, and all you can do is take precautions and  wash your hands. But it’s also not really like any of those things, because it’s a lot more subtle, and a lot more dangerous.

Some fears are circumstantial. Fear of a major upcoming decision, an interview or audition or tournament. Fear of having a particular conversation with a particular person. Fear for someone else or fear simply of flying or falling or the dark.

But I think most of these circumstantial, temporary fears that surface according to impending events and then fade from memory are not so intrinsic to themselves as we’d like to think they are. In reality, they are reflections of larger, more innate fears, fears that are not so temporal or transient–the fear of the future, the unknown, fear of failure, fear of not being the one in control.

I think a lot of us, without realizing it, are living a lifestyle of fear. Biologists would call it an evolutionary advantage: fear of dying is what makes you run when a saber-toothed tiger jumps at you. And some fears are healthy–you should have pepper spray in your hand when walking alone in a dark parking lot (better safe than sorry). But maybe we’ve let this go too far. I think we’ve let it go too far when it’s become so ingrained that we don’t even realize it’s there.

Fear is at the root of a lot of human behaviors beyond the saber-toothed tiger and dark parking lot. Fear is what keeps us from saying hi to strangers, from trying something new, from breaking societal norms. But a lot of times, fear is not so much what keeps us from doing things as it is the root cause of why we do do things. Fear is the reason for our anger at the mere mention of an alternate political ideology. Fear is the cause of our desire to hold on tightly to our possessions and keep our finances in reserve. Fear is the source of our intense drive to succeed. Fear is behind our dishonesty, our pride in reputation, our obsession with planning. Fear of being wrong, fear of loss, fear of failure. Fear of vulnerability, fear of being rejected, fear of not being the one in control.

Most people consider fear to be a negative emotion. The recognition of fear’s negative impact is already present. But the danger is that most people don’t realize quite how present it is in their lives. It’s like the disease that spreads without any symptoms until it’s far too late. And I would argue that fear is not an emotion, it is a habit. It is a habit ingrained into us since birth, by our parents (“Don’t touch that hot stove!”), by our peers (“You’re seriously going to wear that?”), and by society (“Buy this or face the consequences!”). But it is a habit that can be broken.

Maybe not completely, because this world is fallen. And maybe it shouldn’t be. The Bible talks about the “fear of the Lord,” a healthy reverence. And it’s probably smart to not touch that hot stove. But the little ingratiating ones, the ones we pass off as merely innate human desires and emotions, such as anger, pride, and ambition? Those can be broken.

It’s not like breaking a stick or a piece of glass. It’s more like chipping away at a rock. It happens slowly, but every strike weakens it. So how do we chip away at fear? Here’s what John has to say on the matter:

“There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out all fear.”

Not courage or bravery or boldness or just “sticking it out,” but love. Love casts out fear because, as John says, “fear has to do with punishment,” but “he first loved us,” long before we did anything to deserve it. That’s the kind of love that makes everything else not matter, because we don’t have to fear not being alone. We don’t have to fear not being in control, because he is. We don’t have to fear being rejected, because we are chosen. We don’t have to fear our loss of reputation, because we no longer move with the current. Our feet are planted on solid Rock.

When we fully realize who God is, all of our fears are overcome.

“Take heart, for I have overcome the world.” If our God is for us, who can stand against us? His love overcomes our fears, but more than that, it enables us to overcome the fears of others. By loving boldly, we move past our fear, and preempt the fears of those who receive our love.

And this is a choice. As much as fear is a habit, love is an action. And it can be just as addictive.

Blessings,
Bre

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Identity Crisis (Part I)

1. You are not your opinions.

I know, it’s an election season, and I know, if they would just listen to the powerful, compelling arguments you’re shouting over their replies, then they would see the light, they would make the right decision, and they’d be so, so grateful to you for opening their mind to the truth about the state of our country and how your candidate can finally fix all the world’s problems. Am I right, or am I right?

Listen to me, and listen well: you are not your opinions. Sometimes we hold so tight to those–and I’m not just talking in a political context–it’s as if we’re afraid that if we let go of them, if we let them change, we’re losing a part of ourselves or compromising a fundamental truth. But get this: you’re not. As a full-fledged, God-created human, you’re so much more than your agenda. There are things so much more important than your opinions–including your values and relationships.

It may be an uncomfortable experience to realize you’re wrong, but you know what that is? That’s pride. And you know what? You can move past it. And I think usually, this leads to increased understanding and a better existence for all of us.

2. You are not your failures.

When looking at your fellow humans, it’s pretty easy to see primarily their successes. That’s because successes tend to be pretty public and failures tend to be relatively private.  Hank Green, YouTube sensation and creator of VidCon, recently uploaded a video about this very subject (you can check it out here), and John Green, acclaimed author of the best-selling The Fault in Our Stars, responded similarly (here). Both of them have experienced tremendous public success, yet both admit here the real story, the things we don’t see–the things that went wrong.

That’s not a good feeling, the feeling of failure. I’ve definitely experienced it, even in the last week. And you have that voice repeating over and over in your head: “Not enough.” Not good enough, not smart enough, not fast enough, not creative enough, not talented enough, not prepared enough, not pretty enough, not strong enough. Not enough.

But take heart: do you hear his voice? My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. Failure is something you do, not something you are. And it’s done, and it’s over. That door has been closed; do you see the brightness up ahead? The mountain peak may be obscured by clouds, but when you reach the top, it will have been worth the climb, the scratches and soreness along the way–even if it turns out to be a different mountain than the one you thought you were climbing. You are so much more than any one role you take on–or thought you would take on. You are a person, not an occupation, achievement, or involvement.

3. You are not your successes.

You are a person, not an occupation, achievement, or involvement. This one can be tempting, because we often don’t realize we’re doing it. In fact, we often choose to adopt it to counteract #2. I may have failed in THIS area, but don’t forget about… And to a certain degree, that’s good, to not let your failures crush your dreams. But maybe this isn’t quite the right way to go about it. I think in reality, the realization of the weight you put on your failures is less the opposite of being defined by your successes, and more the result of it, the other side of the same coin.

You are more than your roles. More than a title, more than a job, more than your grades, more than your status, more than your reputation, more than your accolades, more than your position. And all of those things can be taken away in the blink of an eye.

4. You are not the standard in your head.

And neither is anybody else. It’s really, really easy to get caught in the trap of comparing yourself with others, or at least, the version of others that you see. We’re surrounded by mirrors, digital and actual, that reflect back at us the standard of what we should be, bouncing back into infinity like at the hairdresser’s until they’re magnified beyond attainability. Maybe what we should really be asking ourselves is, Is that really what I want to be? Maybe what we should really be doing is redefining the standard.

Jesus set it as himself. And then he died so that you didn’t have to meet it. That’s why the curtain tore, you know. It was tearing away the division, the lies, the sin that separates us. It was torn so that you could enter the Holy of Holies, unashamed and radiant. That is the truth of who you are. You are an orphan adopted, given a new name, chosen and treasured…and loved. What a powerful word.

5. You are not your reputation.

I barely even recognize any more how much of what I do is focused around gaining the acceptance, admiration, or approval of others–whoever those others may be. Your social media followers, your classmates, your coworkers, your inner circle, your teammates, your employer, your teachers, your family, your coach. Every decision you make is influenced by the people around you.

So for one, make sure they’re good people. And for two, make sure you don’t let it define you.

In reality, there is only one accolade we should be striving for. And that is, at the end of the day, to see his face, and hear his voice: Well done, good and faithful servant.

 

May you have the strength to climb the mountains and the faith to make them tremble. Remember, his grace is sufficient for you.

Blessings,
Bre

Don’t be like the rest of them

This poem is really meant to be read out loud. Exactly as I pictured it, speeding and slowing and rising and falling like water tumbling smoothly over rocks but instead, instead the best I can do is type it out, divide it into lines, and hope that some shred of its music is retained.

Don’t be like the rest of them, darling.
Don’t listen to those voices.
You could fall or you could fly
but either way you’re in the sky so
darling, don’t let the stars in your eyes
be taken away
by the voices that say “no”–
no, don’t let them fade!
When it feels like you’re striving
and you’re all on your own and you’re trying,
oh, you’re trying so hard and you still dream of flying
but the world
keeps you chained.
Gravity
makes you stay.
Caught up in the fast-paced
never-ending race
and you run till you’re red in the face
but it’s all in a daze
until one day you wake,
until you wonder,
until you choose to try going the opposite way.
You’re a salmon
struggling upstream, carving your way through the crowd
so many voices ring loud, saying
Hey
Wrong
Quit
Can’t
Failure
Foolish
Incapable
You’re never going to make it.
And then you start to believe it but no
No, if you keep on going
the crowd keeps on swimming away
swept by the current but you–
you’re standing,
standing on top of a mountain
that you dared to climb
because you realized
that it’s worth it
to try
running the opposite way.
Don’t be like the rest of them, darling.
You could fall or you could fly
but either way you’re in the sky
and I believe you, will, rise
to the heights
and dance
with the stars that are
reflected in your eyes.
Please–
please, don’t lose that light.

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