The possibilities of fear.

A friend asked me a question this morning, one of those questions that causes you to hold your breath a moment before answering.  In that split second, you size up yourself, the question, where it’s coming from, the possible consequences of answering it honestly or of being flippant or diplomatic.  Have you ever been asked a question like this?  One that makes you wonder whether honesty is the best policy… or whether you’re about to say something even you are not quite ready to know about yourself, let alone share with another human being? 

I confess that I’ve often prided myself on being afraid of pretty much nothing.  I think risks are important, and trust is something God and I work on together every day, so it’s the two of us together pushing me to do things that make me feel challenged or uncomfortable or horrified or stretched, to grow the edges of my self out into a more Jules-shaped form, to strain against the space and categories I’ve tried to create to keep myself safe.  I’ve learned over time that fear isn’t a bad thing, necessarily – it’s a warning, a caution, a help.  It can also paralyze, constrain, and cripple the soul if allowed to master you.  Sometimes, I’ve let it do that. 

She asked me, “Random: are you afraid of anything, and if so, would you be willing to tell me what?”  It came out of pretty much nowhere: “random” is the perfect word.  But it’s randomness made me actually sit and think about it seriously, wonder how important my answer might actually be, without context, without possibility for shaping it, without extensive reflection.  So I answered on instinct.  And scared myself.  What am I afraid of?  Well, sharks, for one thing.  Those are some creepy creatures, and I have a deep respect for them.  Falling and breaking my elbow is another.  Knives.  But those are human fears, situated in genes and the very fact of being an animal in a world of natural danger.  Peeling back those fears, looking farther inside myself, I found that there is something very sharp and hard inside of me, a fear that rides me hard and, sometimes for my good and at other times for my harm, shapes who I am. 

I’m afraid that I’m settling for being the best where I am, rather than taking a risk of being less than the best in the place I’m supposed to be. 

Until recently, I wouldn’t have articulated it this way.  Another friend helped me think this through earlier this week, though not from the same perspective.  The problem of being afraid has come up over and over again for me during the last year, for various reasons, some of them related to the painful emergence from the protection of graduate school into the real world, some based in personal relationships whose broken places have only recently become evident, some related to the constant, necessary reflection about my purpose in life that happens during faith development. 

But the question keeps turning up: can I, should I, step over the edge into something new and infinitely more difficult, definitely unknown, where I may fail extravegantly and painfully but where, perhaps, I might also flourish and find nourishment, grace, challenge, and beautiful fulfilment of my potential?  Or can I, should I, stay the course and be the best of me where I am right now, growing into that place and doing the respectable and important work of trusting that this, too, is good… is perhaps exactly where I am supposed to be?  Both feel risky.  Both feel permanent.  These are options, possibilities, choices, that will continually arise throughout my life.  Neither is obviously better or worse than the other, depending on what it is I decide I value.  But I have to know what those values are.  I am afraid.  And I was honest with my friend.  Now I have to be honest with myself and decide whether to step left, step right, or stand right where I am and camp out.  Then, harder yet, I will have to trust that it was the right choice, made in faith.

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3 Comments »

  1. April Blaine Said:

    You are indeed brave my friend. I continue to be blown away at the ways that you are willing to ask the hardest questions of all and look inside yourself in ways that are honest and difficult. Naming our fears in such a clear way is harder than just about anything…
    No matter what happens – I don’t think you will ever be accused of not truly engaging life at all levels… risks and all.
    Blessings…

  2. April Casperson Said:

    Wow. Intense honesty. Thank you.
    Mine? Fear of failure, and the fear of settling.

  3. jim bingman Said:

    Remeber that you don’t have to make these decisions alone. I will be there for you and so will your friends and family. We are with you, trust in that.


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