Funny thing about fear. It’s never happy.
You give it an inch, and it wants another inch. Slowly, gradually, inch by inch, it takes away your freedom.
I learned that the hard way.
I remember moving to Lansing, Michigan as a newly married young lady in my early twenties. It was my first real experience with road rage. I was just a small town girl from a city with exactly two traffic lights, so I wasn’t sure what to make of all this angry rushing. I was out of my element, and fearful every time I got behind the wheel. Eventually, I decided to avoid driving during the busy times of the day. So I structured my schedule to avoid being on the road between 6-9am or 4-6pm.
But avoiding rush hours only quieted my fear for a little while. I saw after a short time that the aggressive drivers were out there day and night, not just during busy hours. If I wanted to avoid them, I’d have to resort to greater measures. I decided I would limit my driving to trips taken late at night, early in the morning or those that were just within a few blocks from my house. It was challenging to be sure, but I did my best to find ways to get everything accomplished during these unusual hours.
But still, my fear would not relent.
In time it got so that I wouldn’t even get groceries unless it was after 10pm, just so I could avoid people. But still, that was not enough. Eventually, I stopped driving altogether unless my husband was with me.
Do you see what happened there?
At first, my fear was doing it’s job – dissuading me from driving during rush hour. Once I gave into it, it wanted more. And more. And more. Until there was scarcely anything left of me. Sure, I was free of my road rage fears, but I had new reasons to be unhappy – like rarely leaving the house!
This is what fear does. As you give in to it, it becomes more and more powerful. It gets bigger as the boundaries of your life get smaller. It paralyzes. Stifles. Constricts. Until it finally grows into an all-consuming, joy-eating monster.
That’s what happened to me.
Turns out, I am not alone in my struggle. The more I talk about my fear, the more others have opened up and shared their own struggles. For some it is fear of rejection that sways decisions. I lived for years in a (Christian) town where folks were so afraid of a loss of social status, they would scarcely speak to newcomers, or anyone who was the least bit different from their group. For others, it may be fear of the unknown preventing them from going back to school, starting a new job or developing new friendships. Overwhelmingly, those who share their stories with me have fears related to caring too much what other people think.
This ugly fear monster is alive and well in our society, working behind-the-scenes to drive our decisions and hold us back from our true potential. I myself have been battling it my whole life in one form or another. But it wasn’t until I made a decision to live the life I wanted regardless of my fear that I finally gained control of it. All these years I had been looking for some secret recipe to make the fear disappear, when what I should have been doing was taking it along for the ride and refusing to be influenced by it.
These days, I have new kinds of fears involving mountain passes and steep graded roads. I feel the flutter in my gut, and the elevated heart rate just like I did before. But today, I have learned that the feelings don’t have to manifest themselves in actions or words. I can sit quietly, feel the feeling, and maintain my composure.
In time, as I have continued to refuse to give it audience, it has become less and less of an issue. I still struggle at times, but it no longer has the stronghold it once had. Today I have less fear and more joy! I am empowered to have the life of my dreams, because I stopped giving my fear a voice!
Case in point. You may remember me sharing a particular fear I have of going to the Grand Canyon. Something about having five kids and only two hands and visiting a giant hole with hardly any railing or anything to prevent gravity from doing it’s thing just sets my teeth on edge. I had contemplated skipping this destination during our road trip, and I don’t mind telling you, I had plenty of legitimate excuses to do so. But I knew if I visited it – and lived – I would have one gigantic victory over my fear. So I just couldn’t pass it up.
I came. I saw. I felt the fear. And I conquered.
And the more I do things I am afraid of, the more empowered I feel to move forward in the face of other fears. As I rack up more victories I can feel the courage in me building. I am convinced this is the ticket to freedom over fear – to stare it down and not be moved by it.
So the moral of the story? If a girl who was once too afraid to drive can conquer her big fears and make it to the Grand Canyon, you can certainly conquer your little ones. How many gifts and talents have you deprived the world of on account of fear? If your life feels smaller than you think it should be, perhaps it is because fear has been driving some of your decisions as it was with me.
You were born for more than an ordinary life. So go out and rack up some victories against your fear!