When I gave up fear for Lent, I knew I was headed for some fun. And some challenges. Now Lent is over, and I get to be fearful whenever I want. Since I am forgetful, here are some highlights so you can remind me in a couple months:
1. Fear and action don’t play well together.
More often than not, fear — not laziness — is what keeps me from taking action. So I decided early on that anything worth doing is worth doing now. I called people instead of emailing. I made appointments and sent messages and asked questions when I thought of it (as long as I wasn’t driving, which unfortunately, is when I remember everything) instead of putting it off for later.
Action is so clarifying. I come from a family that suffers from Decision Making Deficit Disorder and have spent most of my life asking God for clarity and direction. In the past 40 days, God gave me very clear direction in four areas I have been stuck in for a long time. I took steps without having any idea what I was doing, which was too scary to do before. But as I moved forward, answers dropped in front of me.
I probably lived twice as much life as my normal living rate by giving up fear. And that was amidst allergy-induced fatigue. I wrote more. I accomplished more. I connected with more people. I had more fun. I played more with my kids. I did not clean my house more; please do not come check the state of my toilets or closet, please.
2. Love multiplies when you give away.
When I heard Bob Goff say this and I thought he was lying, just trying to trick us into loving people. I am strongly introverted; my favorite music is silence, I hate parties and people exhaust me, even the people I really like. Maybe love multiplies for extroverts, I thought, but me, I’ve got to ration it so I don’t run out.
But Bob wasn’t making it up. I decided to go for broke when it came to loving people. I’m not well practiced at loving people, it doesn’t often occur to me what or how to do that, but I decided that if a person came to mind, I would listen for how to love them. If I had an idea or the slightest inclination towards loving something, I decided to just go ahead and act on it.
I truly honestly thought I might end up in the hospital in a state of complete physical deterioration.
But that didn’t happen. In fact, I feel more alive than ever. And the more I decided to love people, the more I wanted to love more people and the more I loved the people I already loved. I found out that I am God’s favorite, which is evidenced by the fact that he put all the very best, most amazing people in my life. Sucks to be you, but wow, am I ever so lucky.
3. Fear and self-effort are BFFs.
Maybe not everyone is this way, but I am my own worst slave driver. I’m always breathing down my neck, telling me I should be doing something more productive and why haven’t I taken care of this yet and what I just did was not good enough and the next thing I do probably won’t be either. Fear is the one behind all these ridiculous claims.
The advice I would give most people about most everything is this: calm down and stop trying so hard. (To most of the other people I would probably say “get off your butt and go do that thing you want to do”. Some people would get both pieces of advice.)
And mostly this is the type of advice I need to tell myself. But somehow I feel like if I don’t freak out and claw maniacally towards perfection that the ground will open up underneath me and swallow me up.
But love can let go because it knows Somebody will catch me.
These past weeks I got a fresh taste of what it feels like to shift my reliance from self to God. A couple times I wrote down my day’s agenda and then gave it up — allowing it to be a backup plan instead of a do-or-die list. I asked God questions and sometimes even remembered to take time to listen for the answer. Some mornings — especially the overwhelming ones — I asked myself what I would do that day if I weren’t afraid and then I did that instead.
It was so freeing to realize that I don’t have to try so hard, that most of what I have, what I do, who I am, is good enough.
4. Fear is an inside problem that can’t be fixed by outside solutions.
When I’m overwhelmed and anxious, I usually believe that doing more stuff will probably help me feel better. I even add more tasks to my must-be-done-now list, really important things like sorting my receipts.
I say things to myself like “Once I do this or figure out that, then I will be OK”. But fear comes from inside us, not outside us — unless the fear is a literal grizzly bear — and trying to fix the outside really doesn’t solve the problem, it just temporarily muffles it.
This one is still hard for me. I don’t have any 3-step, or even 12-step, solutions for how to calm down and release fear when the day’s agenda insists on the opposite. What I do have is an awareness of my old ways, the ways that let me hobble through the day, the ways that are no longer good enough. And I have a Guide who reminds me of what he told me the day before, which is the same as what he said the afternoon before that and two mornings prior.