This is how balance beam work is supposed to look.
This is not how I looked. At all.
In college, I took a gymnastics class for fun. It is pretty much the only time in my entire life I considered PE fun. At some point, standing on the balance beam, I got the thought, Why don't I try a cartwheel? It doesn't look so hard. I mean, if I can do one on the floor, what's the big deal about doing it in the air? On four inches of wood?
Note to self: Always examine stray thoughts before carrying them out.
I got halfway through said cartwheel and had another thought: What were you thinking? You don't know how to do this! You are going to crash and fall and, I repeat, WHAT WERE YOU THINKING? So, I did. Crash. Hard. Hard enough to make the coach look around the room wondering what had hit the floor and (probably) would he be liable for it. As my gymnastics-savvy daughter would explain, I crotched the beam. Before bouncing onto the floor. It hurt. A lot.
The power of fear midway in a project is astounding.
I bring this up not to relive (really) painful memories but to open our thoughts up to the question—where else do we get stuck in the middle of things and Just. Freak. Out?
It happens when I sit down to write a talk or a sermon. I get about two days into it, and I panic. Nothing is coming together. It's a jumbled mess on paper. No order. (I love order.) No thesis and three easy bullet points. (I love bullet points.) No flow. (I do not like unflowing, jumbled messes. Although that is often what my house looks like.)
Then something miraculous happens. It comes together. It makes sense. It begins to flow, and I see flashes of actual “Hey, this is stuff worth saying.” Every time. Yet every time, I still feel that panic. Why am I surprised by the chaos? I should know. I should patiently wait for the order. But I don't. And I get mad at myself for the panic.
Yes, I do sing on stage. And yes, I get terrified.
You'd think appearing in public like THIS would
terrify me. Eh, not so much.
Do you know this feeling? Do you feel it, in the writing of a talk or an article? In the “calm discussion” with a teenager? In the studying for a test? In the taking on of a new job, the starting of a new business venture, or bright, shiny hopes for an exercise program? Things are supposed to progress toward natural order. It's clear in your head.
But it does not happen that way. It gets jumbled. Your precision gets off target. Your arguments are as fuzzy as month-old cottage cheese, and all the bright shininess you felt get a tad tarnished somewhere in the middle. You suddenly realize you don't know what you're doing, and the hard cold floor is getting real close. Cue panic.
But you know what? I'm not sure anymore that that's a bad thing.
What if, instead of chastising ourselves for the panic, we embraced it? What if, stay with me here, what if we decided to lean into the fear rather than fight it? What if that fear is part of the process? A necessary part? What if terror part way into a project actually makes the project better? And us? Could we handle that?
What I'm discovering is that crafting that speech, writing that article, learning that stage solo—if I attempt to do those things bypassing the fear stage? That terror-filled belief that “This is no way-no how going to come out good, great, or even acceptable for human consumption”? You know that one you get every freaking time no matter how often you've done it? If I try to dodge that stage--
I end up making that thing, whatever it is, all about me.
All about my ability to hone the message. All about getting my point heard. All about what people think of me. All about making me look good.
“Me” is seriously overrated.
Remove the fear, you remove the lack of control. Remove the lack of control, you remove the dependence. Remove the dependence, you remove the potential for magic. Fear opens us up to listening for magic. [tweet this]. It admits, even in tiny ways--I can't do this. I need guidance. I need someone to speak into my soul and put in the words that create magic that I cannot do.
“Remain in me, and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in me. Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing. Anyone who does not remain in me is thrown away like a useless branch and withers. Such branches are gathered into a pile to be burned. But if you remain in me and my words remain in you, you may ask for anything you want, and it will be granted! When you produce much fruit, you are my true disciples. This brings great glory to my Father.” (John 15.4-8)
I forget this. Apart from me you can do . . . NOTHING. Sometimes, until I accept the fear that reminds me I can't do this, I don't really believe I can't do this. I believe that apart from him I can do at least a little something. And he can come along and finish off the bits I missed.
Fear edges me past the limits of me toward the limitless You. [tweet this]. It's like crawling out from under a rock and seeing the open sunshine when you had no idea there was more than your rock.
The limitless. What's not to like?
Fear is not always a bad thing. (Unless you're on a balance beam.)
What are you trying to do that scares you? What about that outright wet-your-pants terrifies you? (Now I have your attention.) Maybe it's not working because you're running away from the fear. Thinking you're less faithful for even having it. Try something different. Try leaning into the fear. Try embracing it like a helper. Say to it—lead me to the place where it is no longer all about me. Make me dependent on the One who will enter with what I need to finish what's started here.
And wait--for the magic.