fear / soul care / spiritual practice

one question to ask fear

Some days I wake up in peacefulness, just totally OK with myself and the fact that I have a day — a whole day! — ahead of me that I get to go live however I want.

By ‘some days’ I mean ‘a few’. I think there were six or seven days last year but there have already been maybe four or five this year, so I am working towards a personal best. We have to start somewhere.

I am a morning person and most days I wake up fully alert and flailing for the panic button, either because I have too much to do or because I don’t know what I have to do, but there must be a ton of it and I haven’t even figured out what yet. My quiet times are called such because my soul is hyperventilating and God has to quiet it down.

As I said, we are making progress here though, and there is a little bit less hyperventilating now then there was a year ago. Especially a year ago. A year ago I was a big over-committed, people-pleasing mess, a mess I look back at with a bit of terror but also gratitude. I don’t really ever want to be there again, but I am forgetful and probably will back to that place someday. But I am grateful because I know God leads us out of the messes we make for ourselves and I am grateful to have seen how wrecked we can get when we give people permission to run our lives.

So we can celebrate that I am less of a mess today than I was at some point in the past. But there is also the truth that I woke up one day last week feeling unrested and anxious because I had a lot I had to do and a lot I felt like I should do. And in those places it’s so hard to tell which is which and who is talking, which is probably how my hard-of-hearing Grandpa feels most of the time, and so, like him, all I wanted to do is turn my hearing aid off and sit in my chair and look out the window.

If only it were so easy to turn off those voices.

I started planning out how I was going to do it all and then, God interrupted with a question:

What would you do today if you weren’t afraid?

I’ve heard that question a hundred times before from people, but it didn’t make sense. Because I would not skydive today if I weren’t afraid of skydiving and that’s all I thought I was afraid of.

But there and then, it was just the question I needed to hear. It felt like I was given permission to breathe. And maybe even to have joy. It was relief and a challenge all at once.

I knew the answer immediately: I had a family member I wanted to go do a quick, ridiculous, fun thing for. I was worried about how I’d fit it in with all the rest of my have-tos, but the question made me realize that this silly act of love was my have-to and the rest was just optional.

I think most days, if we weren’t afraid, we would love.  

We would love people around us if we weren’t afraid of not getting our stuff done or of looking foolish. We would do something for our kids that they need and that only we can do, if weren’t afraid of being too tired and that we won’t have enough left over for ourselves. We would go play with someone if we weren’t afraid that people would silently scold us for wasting time. We would even do something for ourselves if if we weren’t afraid that we weren’t worth it.

So right then, I got on my ridiculous plans. I loaded my kids into the car, along with some “old people clothes”, and we went to the store and bought doughnuts and then we put on our old people clothes and stopped by my dad’s office for a 15 minute “Old Person Birthday Party”. He was turning 60, so we thought we would join him on his first day of oldness. It was the best.

And do you know what? All the rest of the stuff, it got done. It all got down-graded to “low priority” and it still got done.

Most days I ask myself what I need to do that day. If I get around to it, I ask what I want to do that day. But neither of them are really the best question. Because when we surrender our lives to God, when we surrender our lives to Love, those questions don’t even apply.

Probably what surrender means is making those lists of what we need to do and want to do and what we feel guilty about not doing and then burn them. And then say “OK. What now?”

It’s not so much that we shouldn’t do what we should do — not at all — it’s about what’s behind the “shoulds”. There is a lot of fear behind my “shoulds”, fear that I will let people down and that I am in charge of saving myself. My “shoulds” are reacting to my environment rather than proactively creating a space to be fully alive.

When we are afraid, we think about what we can do to make the fear go away. But fighting fear is, as Anne Lamott says, “an inside job”. Fear starts inside of us, not outside. We blame it on the outside and we try to fix the outside, but fixing the outside only gets us so far.

When I am afraid of not getting my work done, I feel a deep sense of urgency (also known as panic) to get it done. And so I hurry to do it. The whole time I’m working is misery because I’m still afraid it won’t get done even though I’m doing everything I can. And then at the end, when the work is done, I no longer worry about getting it done…and start worrying about whether or not it is good enough.

My fear is not fixed by doing. It is not solved by taking action or accomplishing.

The solution to my fear begins inside. I have to see that “not getting my work done” is only a big deal if I am afraid of what people think and of not having enough and of messing up. Once I give up those fears, getting my work done still needs to happen, but it is a friendly mutt to pat on the head and walk around, not a big, scary monster to run from or to fight.

What would I do today if I weren’t afraid?

I would tell you how great it is to not be afraid.


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