Fear can be paralyzing. Fear can either hold you back or propel you to greatness. All of us live with fear on a daily basis, and it’s not always a bad thing. It’s what you do with it that determines the outcome of your life. The key is to identify the different types of fear, Godly and debilitating. The Bible clearly states that we were not given a spirit of fear, so we know that if it’s associated with worry of judgment or magnifies your insecurities, it’s not from Him. Godly fear is highly beneficial and can prevent you from making devastating decisions, fear driven by satan can cause you to be reckless and careless.
The problem with fear is that if you don’t recognize or acknowledge its grip on your life, you can live with undesirable and unforeseen consequences. I’ve witnessed how it’s guided my relationships and prevented me from true vulnerability and acceptance because it hindered me from achieving what God’s plan has been for my life. Fear is tricky in that it begins to control you and the choices you make, short term and long term, and if not corrected can ruin friendships and relationships. Debilitating fear doesn’t come from God and is a mechanism the enemy uses as a foothold in our lives to keep us from true happiness.
I never realized how paralyzed by fear I’ve been all my life until literally these past few weeks. My husband and I just went to Magic Mountain and I was so excited to ride their roller coasters, I hadn’t been in 20 years. My anxiety kicked in after a couple rides and I ended up jumping off one just before they fastened us in. As I watched my husband fly into the air I couldn’t help but cry. I realized in that moment fear had been crippling me for a while and the build-up produced a physical reaction. Fear of disappointing someone, not being liked by people, being judged by people, the list goes on. I didn’t see how almost every decision I made was driven by an unrealized fear. Before we left for our trip, I’d thought about buying some shorts since the weather was supposed to be warm. I tried on two pairs, just two, because I was so disappointed in the size they were and cried at how horrible I felt I looked. What’s funny is, I never used to care what people thought about me. I really am not sure when I started subconsciously worrying about what others might think of me. Perhaps when social media became prevalent in my life and I started seeing what looks like perfection in a photograph. I can’t say that I sat there and every time said to myself, “I want to look like that”, or “wow, they look so happy; they must be happier than me”. But maybe that’s the way it works, it starts out by simply admiring something from a superficial standpoint and the envy slowly begins to work its way in, unknowingly.
I can, however, pretty much peg my instant self-esteem loss to when I got pregnant with my youngest son 4 years ago. I’d previously lost so much weight and was finally proud of myself for accomplishing something all on my own. At that point it was pretty much the only thing I could pride myself on because I didn’t have help or encouragement, I was my own motivation. Losing all that progress in such a short amount of time really damaged my self-esteem, and I haven’t fully figured out how to get it back. I can tell myself a thousand times a day that beauty is skin deep, that my weight is just a number, that no one cares as much as I do, but it never makes me feel any better. I have spent the better part of 4 years trying to figure out what I was doing wrong and driving myself insane trying new things to help the weight from having two babies in under two years go away, with no success.
My journey thus far has been like a flower unfolding, or pulling back the layers of an onion, to expose all the areas fear has driven me. I’ve been so consumed with myself and my appearance that I’ve neglected many other aspects of my life. Being vulnerable is a tricky thing and requires trust. Trust in the other person, ourselves, and ultimately, in God. I never grasped how much I was actually afraid to trust in God and His timing, or His plans. Sure, I could say out loud that I did, and there were perhaps times I actually did. But any time things would go bad or not the way I planned, I found myself questioning if I could really trust Him. I keep finding bits of wisdom in quotes and scripture that remind me God is God no matter what. No matter if my life is falling apart, I’m filled with fear, or things are going well. He’s immovable, unchangeable, consistent, and loving. The more I pursue Him and read about who He is, the more I want to know and experience Him. To run a video montage in my mind of all the times I’ve been so afraid brings me to tears. The times I’ve avoided a conversation, confrontation, or a stupid pair of shorts, I missed out on what God was trying to show me, the ways He wanted to grow me and I instinctively said “no”. I can’t imagine how heartbroken He must feel when we miss out on all He has for us because we’re so wrapped up in our own insecurities.
I’ll admit, it scares me to death and makes me incredibly uncomfortable to think about what people might think to themselves if I wear something that makes me cringe to look at in the mirror. The deeper question is why? Why am I so afraid and why do I care so much? I just told my husband the other day at Magic Mountain (while I was walking around hot in my yoga pants because I was too afraid to buy the shorts that weren’t the size I wanted) that I’ve realized in regards to my weight, I hate it mostly because it doesn’t reflect how I feel about myself or how I want to represent who I am. I’ve been in the gym daily for over 2 months and lost not one pound. To look at me, you’d never know I even go to the gym and that drives me insane! I know progress can be slow but there’s allegedly a thing called muscle memory that I have yet to experience from the years I spent working out. Plus, cutting calories and working out alone should produce some results, just from a physiological standpoint. I tend to be a perfectionist in certain aspects, and like most people, am my own worst critic. But in this struggle, I feel this annoying voice telling me, “it doesn’t matter”. And I think, “how can it not”?? The whole point of working out is to look better and feel better. For me, just feeling a little stronger and more toned than I was before isn’t enough. That’s when I come back to, why not? Perhaps because I expect results, specific results. And perhaps that’s the lesson I need to learn. That, as far as I know, I’m not unhealthy and not overweight enough to cause any major issues-it’s just a nuisance.
I truly believe this lesson is multi-faceted. I have a tendency to want to control things and I realize there’s not a lot I get to control (probably a good thing), so I put all my focus on something I feel I should be able to control, like losing weight. I do what I can, eat right, exercise, stretch, etc., and I haven’t been able to control my weight loss. I just had some blood work done to check for possible hypothyroidism, and if that’s the problem, then hallelujah for modern medicine! I think the real answer lies somewhere deeper though, maybe in learning to love myself for once and not only accept, but appreciate, my true beauty. Beauty that doesn’t come from a number on a scale, the size of my thighs, or of a pair of jeans. Beauty that reflects the heart of the One who created me. I’ll admit, I don’t really know how to get there, but it’s certainly something I want to work on. I frequently see women who admit that they love their body, and I’m always amazed because these women are oftentimes larger than me. It’s not that I think they shouldn’t, I just don’t understand how they attain that confidence.
The beginning of any journey is always scary but if I have one thing to lean on it’s that it’s always worth it. I know there are no regrets on the other side of looking in the mirror and seeing something beyond the façade of perfection in my eyeliner, hairstyle, or wardrobe. I know learning to love who I am for what I have to offer is a beautiful thing and something I’ll be able to instill in my own children. I want to be able to see my qualities and gifts and not feel arrogant or conceited by being proud of them, I don’t even know why I ever felt that way. My pride gets in the way sometimes because being a natural-born leader, I want to be the one to help others, not the other way around. So I research all these ways to fix things, especially myself. But I know at this point I can’t do it alone. I need help and that is a huge milestone for me because I don’t readily accept it, I never have.
There are, however, things in life we have to learn to let go of. For me, I guess it’s my weight and body-image issues. Maybe I’ll never look the way I picture in my mind (God help us all if that’s the case). Maybe being a mom of 6 will keep me permanently squishy and a few jean sizes larger than I was two kids ago. Maybe I just need to learn perfection is an illusion and despite my disbelief, my husband thinks I’m sexy for something other than just my outward appearance. That, too, has been a contributing factor to my fear. I know men are visually stimulated and I just have a gut wrenching fear that I need to look a certain way or he won’t find me attractive, which I know is a lie but it’s hard to change that pattern of thought. I think most women have a fear of becoming a frumpy housewife, or maybe I stand alone in that, but that’s what I’ve become because of my fear. Why try if I’ll never attain that goal? I’ve been so enthralled in trying to attain a “perfect” physique that I’ve not grasped physical beauty also comes from who you are as a person, not just your shape.
Of all the times I’ve wanted to change the way I felt about myself, this time feels different, real, like the goal is attainable. I still plan to exercise and eat right because it’s better for me and helps me thrive in other areas. But I know I need to realize the only goal I should be focusing on is learning self-acceptance and promoting a positive body image to the people around me. That, despite my outward physical appearance, I do take care of myself and I can’t always control what my body does. By recognizing the control fear had on me, I can make the conscious effort to see that when I’m feeling afraid it’s simply the enemy trying to keep me from pursuing the greatness that comes in trusting God and His plans.
So the next time you find yourself feeling fearful, rest assured you can overcome it by reminding yourself that it’s only a plot to hold you back from your destiny. Take cautious risks and trust that God will show you what His plan is. Don’t give into fear and prevent yourself from growing and learning more about Him, it’s always worth it!