In Sheryl Sandberg’s book, Lean In, she asks her readers, “What would you do if you weren’t afraid?”
This hard-hitting question sent me into a minor tailspin. After some extensive journaling, I came up with the following list:
1) I’d quit my job
2) I’d go on a date
3) I’d write a book
4) I’d leave Fresno
5) I’d travel
6) I’d get my PhD
This was in October 2013.
It’s now April 2015.
To date, I’ve done the following: quit my job, been on 26 dates, and am hiking through Zion and Bryce Canyon this summer. I have not: written a book, left Fresno, or gotten my PhD.
I give myself kudos for conquering 50% of what I'm calling my “unafraid” list. I’m still struggling with the other 50%.
Over the last two years, I’ve gone five, five minute rounds in The Octagon with God, myself, professors, friends, and family regarding getting my PhD (which would lead to me writing a book and leaving Fresno). Despite numerous conversations, exhortations, and check-ins, it remains on my “unafraid” list. The reason: I’m scared I won’t cut it, and don’t believe I have what it takes to get a PhD or survive in academia. The bigger, main, underlying reason: I’m gripped by fear.
Fear is a necessary instinct. In many situations, it's good. It's what keeps us alive. Yet, this inherent safety mechanism becomes dysfunctional when we let it dominate our decisions; when it continually holds us back; or when it becomes the primary posture from which we approach our relationships, professions, and day-to-day existence. When fear takes up residence in our minds, hearts, and souls, we risk missing out on present possibilities, and are left lamenting unrealized and un-pursued opportunities.
Additionally, fear is idolatrous—something I didn't realize until last Sunday.
When we allow fear to grip, consume, and rule us, we elevate it to a status that only God deserves. When we allow fear to dictate our lives, we give it the reverence that only our Creator should receive. Considering we spend so much time and energy entertaining our angst and investing in our fear, what would it look like to reorient this? What would it look like for us to convert our fear into a fear of the Lord?*
By fear of the Lord, I'm referring to biblical fear. Unlike worldly fear, when Scripture's authors use this term, it most often conveys awe, reverence, and respect. It's a recognition of who God is. It’s an understanding of his power and sovereignty. It captures his overwhelmingness in comparison to our underwhelmingness.
In light of this, we should ask ourselves, how does spending more time revering God, leave less space for honoring our fear? How does glorying in his overwhelmingness free us from fear's overwhelmingness?
God asks us the same question as Sheryl. I believe he wants us to respond with a similar "unafraid" list; a list which captures courageous acts of obedience, bold love, and Kingdom-oriented service.
For now, the PhD remains on my "unafraid" list. However, in contemplating this endeavor, God seems to be telling me: "get off the jersey cow and ride the bull." **
*White, Andy. “Risk and Fear.” Legacy Christian Church. April 19, 2015.