“Sometimes fear does not subside, and we must choose to do it afraid.” – Elisabeth Elliot
When have you been most afraid?
I could tell you about breaking my leg in the wilderness and lying on the ground for two days waiting to be rescued. I could tell you about when the school thug/bully promised he would kill me because I was dating his former girlfriend. I could tell you about being in alpine caves when leg and back cramps from the contortion of crawling on my belly inside the cave 300 feet from the entrance to the cave caused me to question my sanity. I could tell you about leading seven friends up Broken Hand Mountain and all of us nearly dying of hypothermia when we got caught in a summer storm.
But one of the most frightening moments of my life was far more pedestrian than those. In 2003 I had been out of ministry for nearly four years to rebuild and restore my marriage. And yet, I dared to attempt to interview for a pastor position in Alamosa, Colorado.
I drove down from Poncha Springs where I was staying with my father. I got to Alamosa early and went to a coffee shop to pray. Self-doubt and otherworldly accusations began screaming in my ear. That I didn’t belong in ministry. That I was a loser. That ministry would finish off my marriage. That I was washed up and useless to God.
I sat in that coffee shop waiting, as if for my execution, with every muscle taut. My legs were bouncing. My tongue was cotton-mouth dry. My heart was racing. I couldn’t breathe. It felt like a piano was sitting right in the middle of my chest. I couldn’t make spit to talk.
It was as if all the cumulative failures and fears of my entire life were being squeezed into this one singularity event in a coffee shop in a little town in the San Luis Valley of Colorado. All hope, love, faith, and light were disappearing in the blackness of my French Roast coffee on the table in front of me.
It was about then that an inner voice seem to say, “Son, why are you so afraid?”
And suddenly, with blinding clarity, the truth of my life came into shape right before my eyes. I had always only had one fear in my entire life—the fear of being rejected. It is this fear that keeps me from speaking the truth to someone I love. It is this fear that keeps me from writing a novel that has been in my brain for years. It is this fear that keeps me from leading with boldness. It is this fear that keeps me from being completely vulnerable in my deepest relationships.
I muttered, “I’m afraid of being rejected, Lord.”
God said, “By who?”
“By Your Church!”
“But you are my son.”
“Okay,” I said.
And with my heart beating like a bass drum through my chest, I stepped outside into the crisp air, took a deep breath, and went to the interview with those words ringing in my ear—“You are my son.”
The interview went well. The little church said they wanted me to be their next pastor. I went home, and Lynette and I prayed and finally decided the best thing for our family was to withdraw my name as a candidate.
It would have been hard to articulate at that time but looking back the panic attack actually revealed the truth that I was not ready to pastor yet. The soul wound was still too raw. It was a complicated kaleidoscope of a situation where God was trying to teach me something about the false narrative by which I had been living my entire life (fear of rejection) and that he had other work for me to do on my soul and in his kingdom in the Pacific Northwest.
The writer of Hebrews reminds us,
It was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the pioneer of (our) salvation perfect through what he suffered. (2:10)
You can’t really have courage in the face of your fears and suffering until at the very center of your life, down where the knobs are, there is a knowledge that Jesus has actually entered your suffering with you. And though you may suffer terribly, you can sleep at night knowing that there is no suffering that God has not identified with and has promised that he will walk with you through it all.
For the last many years, I have been learning to rest in the truth deeper than my greatest fear—that I am His son, His beloved.
“If I have the smile of God, all other frowns are inconsequential.” – Tim Keller
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