When was the last time you did something really scary? The kind of scary that knots your stomach and weakens your knees. The kind of scary that makes you feel like everything is out of control.
Fear is an interesting emotion. It protects us from doing the really stupid stuff that would win us a Darwin Award, but it also hinders us from taking important risks and doing what we know we should. I’ve come to think of fear as an acronym. Which acronym you use says a lot about how you approach scary things.
For example, F.E.A.R. could mean:
False Expectations Appearing Real
This is my most common mistake. I allow my imagination to run wild and come up with the most implausible outcomes. It makes me want to:
Find Excuses And Reasons
…for not doing what I should be doing. I get the paralysis of analysis as I look at the thing I’m afraid of from every possible angle. Before long, I’m ready to:
Forget Everything And Run
…far, far away from my responsibilities and my calling. I suspect that F.E.A.R. has been much more detrimental in my life than a saving defense against foolish action.
I had an interesting experience this past summer. God gave me a five-month vacation. Really. Of course, it was without pay, but I have to say that during that entire time, my family had enough to eat and the soles of our shoes did not wear out (little biblical reference there).
But even though we didn’t have holes in our soles, we nearly wore one through the lining of our stomach worrying about how we were going to earn money. I came up with all sorts of plans, but none of them panned out. Slowly at first, then quickly as the money dried up, I began to panic. Panic led to paralysis, and I was afraid to do anything outside my comfort zone. In retrospect, this was the least effective course of action for me to take. What I needed was some risk-taking.
To make use of all this time off, I invested my time, talent and treasure into an important event in my oldest son’s life; he was turning 13. I wanted to set up some standing stones in his life to mark this birthday as a passage into the beginning of manhood. You may think I was a little premature, and maybe I was, but I felt it important to start him thinking like a man before he had to start making decisions like one. Those decisions come all too early to kids today, and many are caught unprepared and ill-equipped.
So, my oldest and I engaged in a series of ten challenges intended to give us opportunities to learn and talk about important relationships and responsibilities in his life. We went white water rafting to learn how important it was who you chose to have in your boat with you (your friends) when you hit life’s rapids. We climbed Pike’s Peak to learn the value of endurance with a worthy goal. (Incidentally, we learned the importance of having someone to make the trek with you – “two are better than one…if one falls down, his friend can help him up, but pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up.)
We took on a 20-hour project to clean the family garage to learn good stewardship, and we built things together to serve our community. We served at a soup kitchen and talked about who our neighbor was and how we were supposed to treat him. We read the four Gospels to learn how much God loves us, and we fasted for 24 hours to understand the importance of waiting for something good (this was a lesson about sexual purity).
But the reason I tell you about these challenges is so that I can tell you about the one dealing with courage. I took my son to the Royal Gorge outside Colorado Springs, CO. It didn’t take him long to realize why we were there – the Royal Rush Skycoaster, a giant swing that pulls you 100 feet up in the air and then drops you so that you freefall and swing out over the 1,200-foot-deep Royal Gorge at a speed of 50 mph.
I didn’t want to go – I had chickened out once before – but my desire to create a teachable moment for my son outweighed my reservations. After a sizeable fee was paid and we were harnessed in, we stood in line making nervous jokes about dying with the couple in front of us. The good news about standing in line to do something scary is that you get to see with your own eyes that people survive the experience. The bad news is that you get to hear with your own ears their screams as they are dropped 100 feet over a large, cement slab.
When our turn to fly came up, I couldn’t believe that I was doing it. All kinds of worst-case scenarios played through my mind. Most involved snapping cables and free-falling to the Arkansas river at the bottom of the Gorge, so I was just a little irritated with the casual conversation of the two teenagers responsible for strapping us in. “Did you see that hottie that came in here this morning?” “Dude! She’s out of your league.” “No way, Dude!” “Yes, way!” (Need I elaborate?)
Before we knew it, my son and I were soon high enough in the air that we couldn’t hear the hormonal dialogue anymore, and we really didn’t care. We were in a life-or-death moment. When we were wenched fully to the top, I considered asking my son not to pull the rip cord. Maybe we could just stay suspended like that until rescue workers could be summoned. But from far below, we heard, “3….2…..1!” and my son, obviously eager to meet his Maker, pulled the handle and released us into an airless atmosphere where I could no longer breath.
But then….but then! Having reached the end of our rope (so to speak), we swept out over the gorge and saw the glorious handiwork of God! It was so beautiful, you had to scream for pure exhilaration. We made five more sweeps and tried desperately to drink it all in. Too soon, it was over, and we were hauled in to be released.
A little wobbly-legged, we descended the stairs and headed toward the exit, but my son asked if we could stay and watch the next two people endure the test. (A little sadistic, I think, but we felt entitled.) We stopped and watched the magical transformation from fear to exhilaration happen mid-swing. My son turned to me, and with a sparkle in his eye, said, “Let’s do it again!”
So we did.
And here’s what we learned. F.E.A.R. really is False Expectations Appearing Real most of the time. If you push through it, you’ll find that it has a very thin skin and that it was probably keeping you from something important and worthwhile. Also…
- Scary things are easier to do when you do them together.
- Doing something scary expands your comfort zone and makes the next scary thing easier.
- Humor (even very dark, nervous humor) kills F.E.A.R.
- It’s easier to do something scary if you have already made an investment.
- Examining the worst-case-scenarios helps you deal with F.E.A.R. more realistically.
That day, I made my son a promise. I promised to stop being so afraid that I did nothing. I promised to take a scary risk in the near future so that I could keep expanding my comfort zone. It’s funny how a lesson you plan for someone else can end up being more about you.
A few months later, a very scary job opportunity came up. It involved uprooting my family, selling everything we owned and moving to a foreign country. I didn’t recognize it as the “scary risk” I had promised to take at first, but I soon came to recognize it for what it was. God was asking me to make good on my commitment to my son. I swallowed hard and then pulled the rip cord.
F.E.A.R. now means something different to me. It means:
For Everything A Reason
…because God works ALL things for the good of those who love Him. And…
Face Everything And Recover
…because I can do all things through Him who strengthens me. And…
Faith Erases All Reservations
…because we are called for a purpose. Let’s get after it!