I had an interesting situation happen recently. I had opportunity to need two references for a ministry position, so I asked two people who know me well. I gave them the form to fill out without reading the form myself. I did that mostly because I trust them and didn’t really need to know the questions. This meant, of course, that I didn’t know what they would be asked about me so I wouldn’t be able to do any coaching or ask them later what they said. I was blind and that was ok.
When the interview came, one of the questions was, “Both of your references mentioned fear as an issue for you, tell us more about that and what it means.” Gulp! My friends had betrayed me! They gave away my secret kryptonite! How dare they tell anyone else that I have fear issues! For a moment I felt paralyzed, I turned my head to the side and thought about how to answer in a way that wouldn’t make me look weak. Then I smiled and in my heart I laughed. Two people who know me well, but don’t know each other, said the exact same thing about me. Awesome!!
I strive to be transparent in every area of my life. I really believe that if you followed me around at work you would see the same person as if you followed me around at the mall. And guess what? Fear plays a larger role in my life then I wish it did and clearly, that shows to the people around me. Much like Paul in 2 Corinthians 12, I have begged God to take away my fears like a magician. I want to wake up one day and just feel different, knowing I no longer have fear. And exactly as He replied to Paul, He replies to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in your weakness.” (2 Cor 12:9) I have been successful in being transparent about my fear with my friends and now, I had to test that by telling strangers about it.
I took a deep breath and started to tell my story. I told them that I have PTSD and one of the ways it manifests is through situational anxiety. I shared that when I face an elevator or even the thought of flying, I freeze and am filled with fear. I then talked about Paul and his “thorn in the side” and how I believe fear is mine because it forces me to rely on God even more than I already do. I have held a lot of shame about my fear because society says things like, “just get over it”, “do it anyways and then it won’t scare you anymore” or “stop being a baby”. I’ve actually heard all of those statements from people who love me and are trying to help but are doing more harm than good. So, I had stopped talking about my fear, at least publicly. And now, in an interview with people who could stop me from moving forward, I had been ratted out by my friends and had to talk about my nemesis, fear.
Here’s what happened in that moment as I shared my fear…it became my friend. The thing that drives me the most crazy and brings me the most angst, when held up to the Cross of Christ, is that thing that makes God’s power in my life greater. Here’s the catch though, God’s power is only made perfect in my weakness if I allow it. God is huge proponent of free will and choice, this means He doesn’t force Himself on anyone. I have to choose to let His power, His Spirit, flow through me into the situations that cause fear and do that thing I am afraid of or else I’m not living out His grace as sufficient. This place is where I fall short frequently.
Every morning as I walk into my building at work and I head for the staircase because I don’t want to face the elevator. I do the same thing any time I have a meeting on another floor, and every night when I leave. The thought of the doors closing me into that box brings so much fear and dread, that I simply don’t do it. I have to make the choice that I’m going to let God empower me to use the elevator. My PTSD is triggered by being stuck in one space without the ability to get out. Doesn’t matter how small or how large the space, being stuck is my worst nightmare. I’ve spent lots of hours and money pinpointing why, now I have to activate my faith and trust, and let God empower me to get in the elevator. I no longer shame myself or judge myself, which is super helpful and a true gift from God. God’s grace and love cover me, He knows my struggle and He knows my heart as He patiently waits for the times I do allow myself to face the fears. It’s not an act of disobedience on my part to take the steps, it’s simply a missed opportunity to deeper faith.
The more I think of fear and anxiety as the enemy, as my nemesis, the more power I give it. God is showing me that the way to diffuse the power is to accept it as part of who I am and grow in my faith that His word is true and that His power really IS made perfect in my weakness. But that’s only the first part, the second part is that I need to talk more about it so that I can help others. Anxiety is a lonely place because so many people don’t understand and in their desire to help, they hurt. Anxiety causes heeps and heeps of shame and judgment which makes it feel like an elephant sitting on your chest. You dread going to new places because you don’t know what you’ll have to “be brave” through. Anxiety often leads to depression. It’s a downward spiral that can completely take over. It’s the primary reason I drank alcohol, because when I was drunk I had no anxiety. I love that Paul gave us this example of sharing our story, challenges and successes, when he said, “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” (2 Corinthians 12:10)
May we all find that our nemesis is our friend as it leads us to a deeper relationship of faith with God. His grace really is sufficient and it is waiting to walk with you whenever you are ready.