The Amputation Of Fear

[Today’s guest post is from Laura Droege, a wonderful writer whose insights always build me up in knowledge and wisdom.]

***

Throughout my life, fear has dragged me down.

It’s like having a third leg: unnecessary, but attached so well that I can’t tell the difference between it and my legs. So I lug fear around, letting it determine my pace, and stare, wide-eyed, at people who run.

I need an amputation.

God must agree, because He keeps sending me one message, over and over: Fear not, for I am with you.

It started with a job opening. A part-time position as blog editor was available. I read the job requirements; I might be qualified. But the third leg stomped on the ground, diverting my attention, and my confidence wobbled.

This was mid-week, and the deadline for applying was Saturday. There wasn’t time to dilly-dally in my decision. I had to act now. So I wrote a blog post, describing my fear, and convinced myself that I was confident enough to submit my resume.

I wrote: Bring on the application.

But I didn’t start working on it immediately. First, a message from my mother had to be answered, even though no phone conversation with her ever lasts under ten minutes. This time, it was an hour and ten minutes. In all fairness, though, she had a disturbing story about a friend (whom I know) and her young relative (whom I don’t know). I listened, offered what insights I had about the mental health care system (namely, how messed up it is), and hung up, my heart heavy for the young girl.

The story followed me. I looked at my resume, muttering about how incompetent I look on paper, and I remembered the story.

This girl wasn’t my target audience, nor was she likely to ever come across this blog to which I was applying. But there are people in similar circumstances who might, possibly, stumble on this blog, and it might, possibly, point them to hope: Life will not always be this bad. One ray of light drives away darkness. Search for that one ray, even when it cannot be seen now.

Cheered by these thoughts, I kept going. The resume had improved; I still had to write a cover letter. But now my work day had ended, my children needed to be rescued from school, I had to fix dinner and clean up dinner and finish the laundry and fold the laundry and— I was procrastinating. I knew it. Fear tingled, that extra leg waking up from slumber.

The next morning, I plopped my rear in my desk chair. I vowed not to rise from the chair until that cover letter was finished. Two hours later, the letter was finished. But I still didn’t hit “submit.” (Procrastinating again.) I had a “works published” section on my resume. I had claimed familiarity with the Chicago Manual of Style, which is both true and a job requirement. Shouldn’t I have listed the items according to the Chicago method?

I dragged out the orange-covered 15th edition of Chicago and realized that they don’t cover electronic journals or blogs. Logged on the internet. Searched for the 16th edition. Found what I needed.

In between, I did laundry, refereed my kids, cleaned the kitchen and my bathroom, supervised the kids cleaning their bathroom . . . Obviously, a dirty sink was more urgent than a complete resume. (Or so my fear said.) A dirty kitchen wouldn’t laugh at my cover letter, and a pile of laundry wouldn’t raise an eyebrow at the fourteen-year-long gap in my employment history.

Please, God, I prayed. Please. I wasn’t sure what I was praying or what I wanted. Please.

At three o’clock, I hit “submit.”

The fear didn’t leave.

I had to deal with it. So I did the only thing I knew to do: wrote. I wrote through the questions, sought answers, and stumbled over a crucial question. Why do I write?

Because it reveals the truth. Picasso famously defined art as “the lie that tells the truth.” It isn’t real—thus it’s a lie—but it reveals the truth. The truth sets us free. Freedom is good; hope is good; the response to the resulting blog post is good. All my thoughts converged and sliced through part of my fear.

But only part. It was still there, dangling.

I was totally sick of thinking about fear. But God wasn’t through with the subject.

I went to a meeting of the school ladies association. These are the folks who raise gobs of money for our private school. They’re the competent, confident, and take charge-ish sort of people. Not the fearful types. Not like me.

The president mentioned that the book fair, coming up in late September, still needed a chair. Push, shove, push, shove— God, I argued silently, I am not the chair-of-anything type. It usually involves telephones and telling people what to do, and I’m afraid of that. Remember my phone phobia? You remember, right? And what if I screw up? The library won’t get enough funds and . . .

“What’s involved?” I heard myself say.

All eyes looked at me. I was in the spotlight, another fear of mine.

Their faces lit up. “Yeah, we have a chairperson!!” one lady chirped.

Indeed they did.

Suddenly, I was surrounded by cast-out-fear reminders. Blog posts, both mine and others. Songs on the radio, both sacred and secular. A poster on my daughter’s wall that read, “God has not given us a spirit of fear, but a spirit of power, of love, and of self-control.”

Power. Love. Self-control. The things I’ve needed my entire life, the things that God has that I don’t. I can’t amputate this fear on my own. Only God can.

Slowly, surely, God is cutting through that fear and giving me more confidence.

My fear still kicks. But it’s not as strong now, and it’ll never be as strong as God.

***

71ac72bc4dce29e471f15efe1c931e1e[Laura Droege is a wife of a rocket scientist, a mama of two daughters, and a novelist with three manuscripts in search of a good publishing home. She holds a graduate degree in literature and taught English as a second language for four years. Now she stays home with her kids, writes fiction, and blogs at lauradroege.wordpress.com]

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32 Responses to The Amputation Of Fear

  1. Pingback: Amputation of Fear (a guest post for Tim Fall’s blog) | Laura Droege's blog

  2. Tuija says:

    I love this. What a good description of the battle with fear and procrastination. You’re definitely not alone in it. I’m right there with you.
    And those “competent, confident, and take charge-ish sort of people” at your meeting? Probably most of them are either a bit further along in the fear amputation process, or pretty good at hiding their fear behind the confidence mask. (Or the money-raising thing is an area where they are confident, and fear attacks them in some other area of life.)

  3. Tim says:

    “What’s involved?” – Sometimes it’s the little things, the little words, that move us from being fearfully inert to taking action. Thanks for writing this and for letting me run it here, Laura.

    Tim

  4. Laura Hunt says:

    Wow, I have just spent a whole year in class with God, dealing with fear. For me, a lot of it stems from the messages I got from my mother–that I was never good enough and that every issue between us was always my fault. But I struggle with all those avoidance mechanisms you describe so well. And I lie in bed the night before the big day (whatever it is) and try to figure out what I will do when I fail.

    And God has been teaching me to imagine, instead, the possibility that I will succeed, and to face my fear, and sit with it, and see that it can’t hurt me. And two weeks ago I presented a part of my PhD thesis to the British New Testament Scholar’s conference, and actually enjoyed the experience.

    • Laura Droege says:

      Congratulations on presenting part of your thesis at a conference! That’s exciting, and I’m glad that you enjoyed it. Did it make a difference that this was a topic you knew very well and (I imagine) are passionate about? That makes a difference for me with public speaking fears.

      Thanks for sharing your experiences with fear and how God is teaching you.

      • Laura Hunt says:

        Well….I guess I take whatever I’m teaching or speaking on and turn it into something I know very well (through research) and something I’m passionate about (by choosing certain aspects to focus on). But one thing that did help was remembering how I dealt with fear back when I first started speaking in women’s groups and homeschool circles. The experiences of dealing with fear and seeing God’s faithfulness there made me feel that He had already laid the stepping-stones for this new environment, and that I could trust His faithfulness here as well.

  5. Deanna says:

    I identified with so much of this!! In my case, my perfectionism is tied up with fear of failure and of looking stupid or incompetent, and that leads to procrastination. But because I’ve had people in my life to nudge me along and sometimes push me far out of my comfort zone, my life can at times feel like an endless series of fears to persevere through. Like you, I have seen confidence grow, albeit slowly and still just in a few areas. Thanks for sharing Laura, this was an encouragement to me this morning!

  6. Jeannie says:

    Thanks for this post, Laura — I can definitely relate to the tendency to procrastinate as a way to deal with (or rather NOT deal with) fear. Good for you for taking on the book-fair chairperson role! What might seem like small issues for someone else can actually be a huge victory, a huge step of faith and trust.

    • Laura Droege says:

      Thanks for the encouraging words, Jeannie. I’ve been dealing with book fair issues this morning–(technical, computer issues, not fear-related ones)–but all seems well (for now). It was a huge step for me to take on that role, but it’s good for me.

      • Tim says:

        You know that we’re all aching to hear what happened with that application you sent off too, Laura!

        • Laura Droege says:

          Well, I’d like to know as well! There’s been silence from them, and I think that probably means “no” on the job. But that’s okay. There will always be other opportunities and I can try for those. Maybe I’ll even get to use my wonderful resume that I worked so hard on. 🙂

        • Tim says:

          I figure that failed applications are practice for successful applications.

        • Laura Droege says:

          Yes! I don’t know if this is theologically correct or not, but in The Sound of Music, one of the nuns (or Maria) says, “When God closes a door, he opens a window.” This particular door may be closed, but windows may be opening elsewhere.

      • Tim says:

        The window/door metaphor is a good way of expressing how we experience it. Biblically, your comment reminds me of 1 Corinthians 1:20: “For no matter how many promises God has made, they are ‘Yes’ in Christ. And so through him the ‘Amen’ is spoken by us to the glory of God.”

        It’s not that everything we desire – jobs, relationships, pleasures – are always given to us with a cheerey “Yes!” from our loving Father. But we are promised that everything good is given us with a “Yes!” that resounds through all eternity.

  7. Ruth says:

    A cheery yes from God! Wow, exactly my recent experience amongst the stresses of life. I’ve just started back at relief teaching, and God gave me a wonderful Christian school to return to, where I did volunteer and paid days to get enough days for my reregistration. As well, some great professional development opportunities. I have been agonizing over this for some years, illness, family needs etc always seemed to block my way, now I know why! I’ve never worked so hard, going to every class level from prep to year 12, and endless yard duty, and I loved every minute of it and found such a peace and clear minded ness I haven’t had for ages. I’m finally back where I belong, with kids, big and little, in a Christian environment…bonus on bonus! So blessed and refreshed, until I leave and feel life closing in again, but God has been teaching me deeper lessons about faith and trust, not my strong suit at all, and how my marvelous time in a fulfilling place can be had where ever I am because He made the experience, for me, to teach me a lovely lesson about Him! 🙂

    • Laura Droege says:

      Ruth, thank you for sharing your story! Relief teaching sounds demanding, and I admire you for stepping up to the challenge and doing it. And at a Christian school, too: now you can pass along your experiences with God to the kids. 🙂

  8. Erica M. says:

    This describes almost exactly what I’ve been through looking for a job lately. I always seem to convince myself that I don’t have what it takes for some of the faster-paced jobs. Like you, Laura, I just got so tired of it. I’ve got my fingers crossed for one job, but I’ve also got a few others in mind as well. Thanks for the encouragement!

    • Laura Droege says:

      I’m glad this encouraged you, Erica. The job of job hunting can be confidence-draining: I’m the person who was turned down by Target (for a seasonal job) and the public library (twice. Ironically, my mom is getting a job at the same library; it’s essentially the same position I applied for, but she’s much, much more qualified!) All the “failures” can convince lot of us that we just don’t “have it” (whatever “it” is). But the rejections may be opening the door for something else that’s better for us. Best of luck with getting a job!

  9. I related to this post. I still have anxiety at times, also a fear of failure. My dad was (and still is) a very negative, critical guy who shamed my siblings and myself when we were younger over our physical appearance, or whatever else. Dad liked to (and still likes to) make jokes about other people’s mistakes, too something I picked up on as a kid.

    So, the lesson I learned as a kid, among others, is that it’s shameful and wrong to make mistakes, that to avoid shame (and maybe earn dad’s approval) I have to be perfect all the time. (I am now having to UN-learn all these things).

    What happens when I had those mindsets is that I did not even bother to try at various things. I wouldn’t try new stuff out because there was a risk of failure. I figured unless I knew I could pull “X” off perfectly (whatever “X” may be), to not even bother to try “X.”

    So, I also relate to what another poster said above, about not wanting to look stupid or incompetent. That is tied into things too.

    My mother was also very preoccupied with impressions and “what would the neighbors think” type mentality. (She was also codependent and conditioned me to be codependent too. Once I learned a couple years ago -from reading books by psychologists- that it’s okay to have boundaries, that lessened my fear of people a lot.)

    I am now having to learn in mid-life that it’s okay to mess up and make mistakes, and it’s okay if other people don’t like me. I learned it’s okay to try at something and then fail at it. I no longer feel ashamed and embarrassed if I try at something and fail at it, or make a mistake.

    So, in the past few years, I’ve tried things I never would have in the past, and I’ve had success.

    In the last couple years, I’ve entered contests and have won, for example. The “old me” never would have even bothered to enter those contests in the first place. The “new me” figures, “eh, so what if I don’t win, so what, no loss. And hey, what I enter and I *do* win, that would be great.”

    And I have won a few contests. It really is quite a mind shift, and very freeing, to go from, “What if I lose,” to getting excited by thinking, “What if I win.”

    The failures I’ve had no longer bother me so much. When you’re not paralyzed by fear and failing, it really frees you up to try more.

    I’ve also found reading about famous people helps, or quotes of theirs about their failures and how they viewed failure, helps. Abraham Lincoln failed a billion times in a row in his political career before he made it to becoming President of the USA.

    I found this quote, attributed to Michael Jordan, the basketball player, and ones like it, inspirational:
    “I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”

    Before you reach success at anything, you are likely to fail at it a lot before you break through, and that’s okay.

    I still sometimes struggle with a lower level of anxiety, but it’s not as nearly bad now in some ways as it used to be.

  10. P.S. (I didn’t want to cram all this in one, long post. I figured if I broke this up in a part one/part two, it would be easier for people to read.)

    Re: Job Hunting
    As for the job hunting and applying, if this helps anyone, I have some information about it to share. I’ve been reading books on these very topics the last two or three months.

    One thing two or three of these books say (written by former long time Human Resources staff, recruiters, career counselors, or head hunters) is that you should not feel intimidated applying for a job wanted ad, thinking you’re not good enough or don’t have enough skills. They say go ahead and apply, even if you don’t feel fully qualified, because you have nothing to lose.

    These authors say there is no such thing as a Perfect Candidate, and the companies placing the ads know it.

    For one thing, these authors point out that job wanted ads are like Christmas wish lists, like a kid would make. Just because the kid puts down on his list that he wants a pet pony, live grenades, a machine gun, a teddy bear, a real tank, and pet lion, doesn’t mean Mom and Dad are going to get him every thing on that list.

    Just because the company who places the ad specifies, for instance, 45 qualities/skills they want in an applicant, these companies know dang well they may not get all 45 traits in each and every applicant – they may be lucky to only get applicants who meet five criteria, or only 20, or whatever number.

    Yet another book I have says that sometimes a lesser-qualified candidate may get the job offer over the more qualified person.

    One thing I’ve learned from reading these books on how to get a job is that little factors beyond your control can determine who gets the job offer (for example, the employer may like your personality better than the the other candidate), so don’t feel that because you have a Bachelor’s degree and only five years experience, and the other guys applying have a Master’s degree with 15 years experience, that you don’t stand a shot. You never know. They may prefer you over the other person for some reason.

    Don’t beat yourself up if you apply for a billion positions and don’t get much call back. The nation’s economy has been horrible the last few years, and a lot of businesses are not hiring. That’s beyond your control, so don’t feel awful if you don’t get many inquiries after sending out 100 million resumes.

    That is pretty typical. I’ve heard so many people in the last few years say in spite of sending out 200 resumes, they only get one or two calls for interviews as a result of all that effort.

    Another thing these books stress: don’t approach the interviews as though you are the lowly, meekly guy wanting a job. These companies need you as much as you need them. When you go into an interview (if you get called to one), you are there to interview THEM, to see if you want to work for THEM. It’s not a one way street where they are interviewing you, you are also interviewing them.

    • Tim says:

      Thanks for sharing with us that great advice you got from those books.

      • You’re welcome. I hope my second post with the job hunting tips wasn’t too far off.

        I realize the original post was not about job hunting per se, but more about faith vs. facing one’s fears, but I thought I’d toss the information out there, should it help anyone who is actually job hunting.

        One interesting aspect of the job hunting material I’m reading is it goes to show how many of our fears never pan out anyway, so what is the point of worrying?.

        Like, if you are afraid to apply for a job because you don’t feel you meet all their criteria? The books say don’t worry about it, because sometimes employers prefer the less qualified person over the more qualified one, that some employers care more about other things than years of experience, skills, or level of degree.

        Jesus made a similar point in the Gospels. He said worrying about things isn’t going to help you.

        “And who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his life?” – Jesus, from Matthew 6:27

        Which isn’t to say it’s an easy habit or tendency to break, but I’ve gotten much better.

        • Ruth says:

          I would live to be 500 if worry added an hour every time I did. Before I remember to hand it over again. So true that some lessons have to be learned as we mature into life, we learn until we reach Heaven, and then, well, perfection and a whole new Thing to learn maybe!

  11. Adriana says:

    Wonderful, Laura. Write-on! 🙂
    As I’ve heard wise country folk say, “The dread is worse than the doin’.”
    Love that verse you shared from 2 Tim too. My daughter and I often quote that for each other as needed. So fortifying.

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