Tuning Out the Inner Voice of Fear

This blog by Shelly Mayer was originally published to Every Square Inch on Sept. 4, 2017, and subsequently deleted during a server upgrade.

This fall, I’m going back to school. Again.

Several years ago, I began taking online courses through CCEF, a Christian counseling organization, as a way to better equip myself to help the many women I found myself talking to who were going through separation and divorce. Tackling these courses one at a time, I have been sloooooooooowly working my way through CCEF’s counseling certification program.

Psalm 139:5In the past, when I took these classes, I was watching little ones out of my home. Though certainly it was challenging to manage my time around the unpredictable sleep schedules of four toddlers, I somehow got the majority of my classwork done during my “work day.” Two years ago, I stopped watching children out of our home, however, and began working more hours at The Crossing. Since this shift in the landscape of my days, I had not tried to also work in another class. Until now.

At first, I was excited about the idea of getting back into class. But as I started looking at the course requirements and the number of assignments associated with this class, I found myself assailed by doubts and fears. They sound mostly like this:

  • “You don’t have the time to do this well. You’re going to do a mediocre job at best.”
  • “You’re wasting your time and money taking this class. You don’t remember any of what you learn for any length of time, anyway.”
  • “You’re not as smart as people think you are.”

There is some real truth to those statements. My schedule has never been more chopped up, and I am going to have to being really intentional about my time management if I’m going to keep up with the classwork. Also, I am more like a stone than a sponge when it comes to retaining details; I can read a book and retain the information long enough to take a test, or participate in a discussion with others, but over time it seems to me that I lose a fair amount of what I gained from a study.

I recall that in high school I could easily study for a test and do very well, but there are things I can’t even remember studying…though surely I did. (Surely my high school English teacher had us read some of the classics? I can’t recall a single one.) Even when watching movies, this happens. I can vaguely recall watching a movie but can’t remember what happened in it. While it seems that both my husband and my 11-year-old can recite key scenes from every movie they’ve ever watched, I’m doing well if a “famous” movie quote sounds vaguely familiar to me.

These half-truths have teamed up to assault me even as I started this class, and it occurred to me that the fear that lies behind them is tempting me to hide, to pretend to be something I’m not.

That’s the thing about fear…it’s always encouraging us to run and hide. Fear tells us that we’re not good enough and that we need to hide our true (inferior) selves behind a mask. Fear says that we have to be inauthentic in order to be accepted. Fear encourages us to pretend to be something we’re not, while the real “me” is in hiding, and alone.

Just as I found a hint of truth behind the fears assaulting my decision to take a class this fall, there’s usually a hint of truth to most fears. At the root of many of our fears is the statement, “You’re not good enough.” In and of ourselves, we know that we’re not good enough. Even those of us who think “I’m a pretty good person” know that there are things about ourselves that, if brought into the light, might cause other people to cringe. The Bible agrees with this; it says that there is no one who is good, not one (Romans 3:10-12). Jesus says that we are all lost, like sheep without a shepherd (Matthew 9:36). Because these fear statements spring from a truth with which even God agrees, we are tempted to follow the path that fear points us to.

But God’s Word points us to a different path.

While affirming the truth that yes, we’re not good enough, it also tells us that Christ died for us because He loves us so much (John 3:16). It tells us that God will never leave or forsake us, no matter how badly we fail (Deuteronomy 31:6). It tells us that God knows every detail of our being (Psalm 139), He knows every word we’re going to speak before we say them (Psalm 139:4), He knows the intentions of our hearts, so that we cannot hide from him…and yet He still loves us. We cannot not be loved by God. Perhaps most importantly, it tells us that we are not alone; because of what Christ endured for us on the cross, forsaken by God, we will never see God’s back turn from us (1 Peter 3:18). We are never alone, and these affirmations have absolutely zero to do with our intelligence, accomplishments or abilities.

In other words, God’s Word tells us to run with our fears to Jesus, to find freedom in being known as we really are and to be embraced despite our inadequacies. When we live in the light, we find freedom, not abandonment. When we give voice to our fears, they tend to melt away. When we name the things that crawl around in the dark corners of our thoughts, they most often lose their power over us.

When I confessed to my husband my fears about returning to the classroom, he made fun of me. (Exactly what we fear, right?!) In a lighthearted way, he helped me to see that I was listening to lies, most of them coming from my own insecurity. I was worrying about what others might think of me if I didn’t do well or if I didn’t understand a concept and needed to ask questions. I was looking at this challenge as if I were tackling it all on my own. When I brought all of these thoughts out into the light of day and saw them for what they were, I was able to repent of the unbelief I found, and let go of unhelpful thinking.

This unmasking of my fears didn’t solve all my problems; I am still not sure how successful I will be about managing my time from a practical standpoint. But the weight of this new effort feels manageable to me, having been reminded I’m not doing this all in my own strength, but alongside the One who is with me in all things, and that His love isn’t the least bit contingent on the marks I receive on my term papers.

Romans 5:6-8 (ESV)
For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person – though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die – but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

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