At our recent Equip Night "Paralyzed" we polled the audience and learned that one of the most debilitating fears that is common to all of us is the fear of "being inadequate or being publicly humiliated". I can relate.
Snow skiing actually reminds me of two very real scenarios in which I was "paralyzed" with fear, but eventually made it through.
When I was a teenager, I had the opportunity to visit my sister who at the time lived in Colorado. This was an amazing (and humbling) time of learning to ski on some of the greatest ski runs in the country. I was slowly progressing all week and growing slightly more confident, but then my older brother joined me one day. I'll never forget how he took me on a ski lift that led to the very top of the mountain. (I had no idea!) When we got off the lift, he took off down the slope. (It was a double black diamond that was straight down!) I was yelling at him from the top that I couldn't do these expert runs. He was gone. I was stuck. As I looked around I realized that the only other options to get down were also expert only ski runs. I remember being frozen with fear and angry at my brother. I stood at the top for what felt like an hour trying to decide how to make it down. (Thankfully someone informed me that a slightly less difficult run to the left also would take me to the bottom where I could find my brother). I struggled the whole way, but eventually made it down. That was paralyzing fear because I felt inadequate and unable to do what was needed in the moment.
A few years later, I again felt myself paralyzed by fear. This time it was in college as I took the dreaded "public speaking" class. Most surveys show that public speaking ranks as the greatest fear for people. This was true for me as well. I had tried to dodge this class at all costs, but eventually I had to take it to move on. I'll never forget the first speech I had to give was an instructional speech. I had to explain "how-to" do something in front of a class of about 40 people. As I mulled this over for a few weeks watching other students take their turns, I only grew more paralyzed with fear. There was no way I would do this! Then I had an idea. What If I used my story of learning to snow ski as the "how-to" speech. Thankfully that was the turning point for me. I remember coming in with an entire bag of ski gear, and did the speech as I put on all of the ski equipment. The class laughed a good bit since I did a majority of my speech wearing ski goggles, and I was sweating (not because of fear, but because I had on ski gear in South Georgia in May). I made it through...and actually had fun doing it.
These two stories probably don't compare to what you may be facing when it comes to being "paralyzed" with fear, but in the moment, they were both huge for me!
In fact, it seems like this pattern always comes up in my life. I find myself withdrawing or avoiding situations because I don't feel competent or adequate to do something asked of me. I have learned that God is going to relentlessly put me into situations to grow me and cause me to learn to trust Him instead of trusting myself. It's a tough lesson to learn, so I'm on repeat learning this lesson over and over... For a while it seemed that every job I took revolved around me being in over my head and having to do something that clearly I didn't feel "competent" doing.
Over the years, I've reflected on this and gotten feedback from my patient wife on this struggle in my life. What is at the root of this? Why do I feel so paralyzed by feeling unable to do something well or being humiliated in front of a large crowd?
I think it boils down to 2 issues:
1. Fear (specifically "fear of man")
What does "Fear of Man" have to do with these "paralyzed" moments of life?
Well, ultimately it's about who I am living my life for. In these moments, I find that what I crave and feel like I have to obtain is the approval of the people around me. It seems unbearable to be "found out" as someone who can't do whatever is being asked. Proverbs 29:25 is very true. Fear of man is a snare. It traps you and paralyzes you from moving forward.
"The fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is safe." (Proverbs 29:25)
The issue of Pride is closely related. I find myself fearing failure and wanting to "appear" competent. Now, I'm not saying there aren't genuine motives in wanting to do something well. Doing your job well is commendable. It gets tricky when you focus more on pleasing others than pleasing the Lord. This tendency is rooted in pride.
So how do we move forward?
Let me suggest 2 things:
1. Embrace a "theology of weakness".
2 Corinthians 12:8-10 is so instructive for us. Paul is recounting the time when he pleaded with God to remove the "thorn in his flesh". God did not remove the hardship. He wanted Paul and wants us today to embrace the weakness.
"Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. Therefore I will boast all the more gladly in my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong."
The entire Bible communicates that God is great and strong and all powerful, and that we are weak, needy, and desperate for help. Let's learn to live in light of that, instead of striving to prove that we are not weak. Wow, that takes the pressure off and brings peace when we do!
2. Learn to laugh....at yourself.
When I started to slowly learn to laugh at myself instead of worrying about what people thought about me, freedom was found. This is still a struggle for me, but I would encourage you to consider what I have been learning. We really are a joke! We aren't that impressive and don't have to fool people into thinking we are something great. We can rest in God's greatness and take the pressure off of ourselves. The most practical way to reinforce this is to learn to laugh at yourself when you fall short.
When I fell 18 times going down the expert only ski run after my brother left me high and dry, how different could that have been if I had laughed at myself instead of worrying about what other people were thinking about me as they skied by effortlessly?
Here's my final thought: Isaiah 53 tells the story of a "suffering servant". We know this servant is Jesus and this chapter clearly points to when He would take our shame to the cross one day. Jesus took all the shame and humiliation that we deserve. Instead of shame, we can now have incredible joy and peace because of Jesus being our substitute on the cross.
2 Corinthians 5:21 sums it up this way:
"For our sake He made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God."
Remembering this good news puts the ax at the root of "fear of man" and "pride". May we learn to walk (or ski) in this truth daily.
This is a follow-up post to our second Equip night on Stress, Fear, and Anxiety. Join us March 6th for our 3rd night: Epidemic. For more information and to register go to www.brookstonechurch.org/epidemic