What do you do when you’re afraid? Quote scripture and pray? Throw back your shoulders and holler: “Bring it on!”? Don’t I wish! Too often my knee-jerk reaction to scary situations is to back down. Walk away. Clam up. Pull back. Protect myself.
Why, then, does God call fearful people (like us) to jobs, faith communities, relationships, positions, roles and situations that constantly force us to face and overcome our fears? Is He just a Big Meanie? Why won’t He let us retreat to our comfort zone in peace where we can float, unhindered, undaunted, untroubled, unchallenged…? The simplest answer is that God is too smart to give us everything we pray for. He knows what we really need and more “comfort” is seldom the answer. Faith does not get stronger in the comfort zone any more than core strength increases in a hammock at the beach. Faith is like a muscle; if you want it to grow, you have to use it.
“But God won’t give me more than I can handle!” you say. I’ve heard many people say that too and it’s always troubled me because that hasn’t been my reality. The scripture people use to back up that theology is 1 Corinthians 10:13. Read it. It doesn’t say He won’t give us more than we can handle — it says He won’t let us be tempted without giving us a way out.
The reality is, God does give us more than we can handle. If you are following Him you are likely living a much “larger, harder, scarier” life than you ever thought possible. How are you doing it? Just like I am: one yes at a time.
If your fear is holding you back from achieving your God-given dreams, let God show you one simple, immediate, possible step that will start the journey of healing. Let me illustrate: During a time not too many years ago when I found it terribly draining to mingle, making small talk in the church foyer after the service ended, I would look for a way to excuse myself “to the bathroom” and I would slip out a side door and go home. As a Christian leader and pastor’s wife, this was a huge barrier — how could I follow God and help people if I couldn’t even hang around in the foyer and talk and pray with them? Guilt and shame added to the fear and the wall between me and God’s dream for me became even bigger.
I called out to God for help and God led me to take small steps toward wellness. “Just introduce yourself to one new person each week before you dash for the door,” He directed. After I had completed my “weekly assignment,” I felt free to run. The funny thing is that once we got talking, I would relax and the need to flee would be less intense. Slowly, Sunday by Sunday, yes by yes, God healed my fear and replaced my dread with eager anticipation and even joy.
Was it easy? No. It was actually quite hard — for those of you who do not suffer from anxiety or agoraphobia, just take my word for it. But was it worth it? Oh YES! My “comfort zone” was shrinking and eventually it would have squashed me completely. God helped me push back those shrinking walls and the result was a wonderful freedom.