4 Ways Fear Disguises Itself as Responsibility

There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and anyone who fears has not been perfected in love.
1 John 4.18

The Western church has nearly always struggled with interpreting earthly safety and prosperity as a thumbs-up from God. I’d lay money that this fallacy is what perpetuates many of the church’s chronic problems: divorce, materialism, gossip, abuses in leadership.

If people were to quit chasing comfortable, one-size-fits-all lives in the name of holiness, and instead seek God’s will in the desires and talents He gave them, they’d be forced to refine their recognition of His voice in their lives. Rather than rely on the assurance of conformity, they’d have only His Spirit to guide their choices.

I’m saying “they;” I should be saying “I.” In fact, I’ve been avoiding writing this blog post for most of the day, because it seemed more prudent to comb through LinkedIn for the kind of work that I loathe, but which pays a lot more than the work I love.

Join me in raising a big, collective glass to the obliteration of fear as a basis for making life decisions, starting with stripping it of the spiritual language it uses as a hiding place.

“I don’t want [fill-in-the-blank] to become an idol in my life.”

I’ve long since stopped being surprised at how I, and others I’ve seen, get right up to the porch of what we’ve always wanted, ring the doorbell, and then run away. Blame it on the lizard brain, or on some deep masochistic instinct planted by the Fall. Everybody seems to have this cut-and-run reflex when presented with the answer to their prayers.

Disposable things — iPhones, jewelry, mediocre jobs and relationships — are easy to lose. Annoying, sure, especially if losing them hurts our pride. But such things are infinitely replaceable.

But when you get what you really want… well, there’s only one of those. Screw that up, and what do you have left?

Put another way, if the donkey reaches the carrot on the stick, does he quit walking?

So we find ways to keep that carrot leading us forward. We can couch it in spiritual language, calling a desire an “idol,” or saying that we’re giving something up for God’s sake.

Of course, these can be genuine acts of faith. But sometimes they’re just an excuse to forego God’s purpose for you because you’re freaked out by your own inadequacy.

“I don’t want to store up treasures on earth.”

What do Bob Dylan, Switchfoot, and my dad all have in common? They’ve made famous the phrase “Happy is a yuppie word.”

To which I’d respectfully respond, “Whatever, guys.”

I vaguely remember hearing of a precedent in church history for feeling guilty over one’s happiness. (I hate to blame things on the Puritans, but I feel like it might have been them.) Anyway, it’s still fairly rampant in the church, the mentality that our happiness pisses God off.

If we really knew God, we wouldn’t be afraid of this. Which leads me to believe that we’re not so much worried that we’ll offend God with our happiness, as we are afraid that He’ll take corrective measures by taking what we love away from us because it makes us too happy.

So this leaves two options. We can try to have a relationship with someone who we secretly believe hates to see us happy (meanwhile dealing with the impulse to blame Him for our unhappiness). Or we can make strides toward happiness at the risk that God might take it away/let us ruin it. (Which, if you believe in the sovereignty of God, kind of amounts to the same thing.)

The advantage of going the second way is that you’ll find out the truth, about yourself and about God. I think that’s healthier. You could also end up living in a way that you truly enjoy.

“I’m preparing for marriage/kids/the ministry/[fill in the blank].”

Some very godly people will disagree with me on this. They can write their own blog posts.

A friend of mine was recently agonizing over the decision whether to stick with his grad studies at a very expensive university, or to take a job playing music on the other side of the country.

“So are you going to take it?” I asked him.

“I don’t know,” he said. “I want to. But I keep thinking that this degree would be a really good thing down the road, if I get married and have kids.”

Here’s the DL on my friend: he’s very musically talented, he’s sick of the finance job he’s held down for a number of years, he wants to get away from the area he grew up in, and there’s nobody in his social circle that he’s interested in dating. I cannot stress enough how theoretical this marriage and kids are, for which he’s delaying this exciting risk. Yet there are people around him that call what he’s doing “wisdom.”

I don’t care how church-friendly your goals are. Making decisions solely on behalf of something that doesn’t exist is irresponsible. It’s like keeping your car parked out on the street, to make room in your garage for the boat you can’t afford to buy.

“I’m waiting on God.”

Nobody waits silently. Some defer their dreams with an aura of cheerful peace that even they hardly understand. Others sigh and moan their way into the hearts of a hundred other frustrated church folks; together, they may even pool their sense of entitlement into an accountability group.

The difference between these forms of “patience” is something that an elder in my church calls “holding God’s goodness hostage.”

Basically, it means stiff-arming all of God’s other possible blessings for you, until He gives you the thing you want right now. Think of a kid opening a billion presents on Christmas morning, then refusing to play with them because he didn’t get a pony.

Personally, I prefer not to take a step forward toward what I want without a fail-safe guarantee of the results–preferably, good times and easy money. All this “patience” yields is a lot of shoegaze blog posts about my noble frustration that God is holding out on me, responding with silence to my prayers of “when” and “why?”

Really, though, these weren’t prayers. They were the terms of a standoff.

While I can’t find a verse to back this up, I feel confident saying that I don’t think God does standoffs. He has nothing to prove.

People talk about this moment of clarity that comes after they have a near-death experience, where they realize that, despite all their precautions, they have no control over the moment of their death. The only thing they can control is the way they spend their time until it comes.

At bottom, every fear is rational. Whatever it is, it could happen, you know. How would you prefer to live, until it finally does?


Photo by (Flickr CC) chandrika221