Moths. Butterflies. Broken glass. The phone. Eye contact. Spiders. Walking barefoot in the sea. Forward rolls. Opening my eyes under water. Escalators (a little bit).
A (seemingly) random list of things that have nothing to do with each other. But in fact a list (in no particular order) of things that I am scared of. Now you may scoff, as many do, when you know that this list of apparently harmless things can reduce me to a jabbering, crying wreck. But there is a good reason for each item on the list…
Moths: They flap AT you, they’re hairy, they’re ugly and their main aim in life seems to be disrupt a good night’s sleep and punish you for leaving a window open with a light on.
Butterflies: See above, they are the same thing (And for people who say “How can you be scared of butterflies, they’re so pretty!”… if I was scared of witches and then a witch came along with a full face of makeup, I’d still be scared. Your argument is invalid.)
Broken Glass: It just seems to make sense to me… there is always that little bit left somewhere in the carpet that you find when you’re bare foot
The Phone: I’m a ball of social awkward that doesn’t really get when it ‘s my turn to talk… if I speak to you on the phone, know that I love you very much.
Eye contact: I refer you again to the ball of social awkward comment and point out that I have a very lazy eye.
Spiders: Natural, God fearing things shouldn’t have that many legs.
Walking bare foot in the sea: I had a bad experience as a child involving the sea, my bare feet and a weaver fish.
Forward rolls: I can’t do them and when other people do them I think they’re going to snap their heads off!
Opening my eyes under water: I’m not a mermaid and am therefore not equipped for such sorcery… it’s also stingy!
Escalators: I’ve never 100% trusted them… I use wisdom from Arthur Weasley to back me up, “Never trust anything that can think for itself if you can’t see where it keeps its brain.”
I’m scared of a lot of things, more things than the relatively light hearted list above. I live my life in a near constant state of fear, worry and anxiety. There is something I witness, think about or have to face everyday that will honestly terrify me. I’m scared.
I’m scared of the future. I worry about money. I’m anxious about relationships. I’m terrified about my job and what comes next. I panic about my health.
Why do I tell you all this? Why do I make myself so vulnerable? Why do I own up to the fact that, if I’m honest, I live my life in a way that is unhealthy and not massively filled with the faith I profess to have?
The simple answer to all of those questions is that I want to share some thoughts on fear that I think that some other people might identify with and possibly share. There’s got to be other scaredy cats out there right?!
The instruction to not be afraid is one of the most repeated in the whole bible, it is said 365 times (That’s enough for every day of the year, comes the trite little poster slogan). We are reminded time and time again in God’s word that we need not be afraid for he is with us. We read in 2 Timothy that God hasn’t given us a spirit of fear but rather of power, love and sound mind, in the first of John’s letters he writes that we can be assured of no fear because God’s perfect love drives out fear and one of my personal favourite verses in Isaiah informs us to not be afraid because God will strengthen and uphold us. So how come I’m still so scared of life, how dare I read these verses and still live in so much fear, right?
Well that’s what I used to think, my fear was just one of the many big sticks that I regularly beat myself up with, believing myself to be a sorry excuse for a Christian. A person of faith quaking with fear, how rude!
But recently I’ve been reflecting on the things that I am scared of, the way that anxiety affects my life and fear in general, and while I might wish not to be quite so afraid of so many things and do believe that it is God’s desire to see me live life in a little bit more freedom, I don’t believe that just because I am afraid I am a generally rubbish person.
What started this particular train of thought is a relatively new and troubling fear I’ve developed. I’m scared of talking. Let me unpack that slightly because it isn’t quite that simple.
In April I delivered an important assembly, an assembly for an interview, an interview that didn’t go well, which, for a plethora of reasons, led to a complete loss of confidence in who I am and what I can do. Something I didn’t actually realise until the end of May and I stood up to give my next assembly, I stood before a room of people terrified of speaking in front of them. (Now I realise that for many people the fear of public speaking is a fairly common and understandable thing, but as someone who used to deliver assemblies for a living, speaking in front of people was one thing that I was definitely never scared of… until now apparently)
Suddenly I find myself second guessing every single thing I have to say, worrying about the way that I am presenting and panicking about how people will take what I’ve got to say and most of all, terrified of what will happen at the end, what people will say… whether it will be good enough.
Lex… trained in drama for 12 years, been on stage countless times, will happily do an assembly in front of hundreds on her own, presents to people for a living, can’t get her to shut up…yeah that Lex is now scared of speaking in front of people. Let’s add assemblies, lessons and sermons to that list at the beginning of the blog shall we?
So how did this new phobia change the way that I view fear? Well to be honest, because it is so big, has come out of nowhere, leaving me utterly shaken and isn’t something I can easily avoid (like running away from moths, wearing shoes in the sea and choosing to email rather than phone people) I’ve had no choice but to face it head on and try to make some sense of it.
So I’m scared, more scared than I think I can actually convey, but because of the nature of my job and other commitments I (fortunately?) haven’t been able to just stop speaking to people, and have needed to “face the fear and do it any way” so many times over the last few weeks (and envision many more weeks of the same) and it is this that has made me think about this strange beast we call fear.
One of my favourite films is (absolutely unashamedly) The Princess Diaries, a story of a socially awkward, unconventionally beautiful teenager being told she is a princess by her long lost grandmother, who just so happens to be Julie Andrews (how could that not be a favourite?!?). In the film Mia, when faced with the task of actually being a princess and having to run a country, is understandably somewhat apprehensive and plans to run away. That is until she reads a letter from her dad, written before his death. In the letter Mia’s dad uses the quote, “Courage is not the absence of fear but rather the judgement that something else is more important than fear” and with that advice in mind Mia changes her mind about running away.
Fear is a human emotion, an emotion designed to keep us safe and let us know when things aren’t ok. We cannot beat ourselves up for having phobias, for worrying about the future or being scared because of a horrible experience. Yes, the Bible tells us that God stands with us in our fear and that his love can drive that fear out, but surely something that needed to be repeated 365 times was just as much of an issue for people 2000 years ago as it is today. Being afraid isn’t a sin, God longs to stand alongside us when, not if, we are scared.
I would love to be braver, I would love to have less entirely irrational phobias and I pray one day to understand more of the love that drives out fear, but in the meantime I know that I am brave in my own way. At the moment , every time I stand up to speak in front of a group of people, quaking inside, reliving what happened in April and second guessing myself (barely making it through to the end before crying), but speaking anyway, I know that I am brave. Because I am showing to myself, and my fears, that courage is knowing that something else is more important than fear. I know that teaching groups of people, in church or school, is where my future calling leads and that is more important than the fear trying to silence me.
So today I pray for those of us who are afraid. I pray for the worriers of this life, for those with a little bit of anxiety and those with a chronic phobia. I pray that we wouldn’t beat ourselves up about the fears we have. I pray that we would tangibly know God’s presence as he stands with us in the fear. And I pray that we would each know, deeply understand, how brave we are every time we “feel the fear and do it anyway”, proving to people that courage is being afraid but knowing that something else is more important than our fear.