It’s more the feeling than a specific event I remember. I was 21, moving ‘up the ranks’ in ministry. There were so many things I hadn’t done, so many things I wanted to do, so many things I dreamed of doing. My whole life seemed to teeter on the edge of excitement and inexperience. Every week it was something new. Preaching to adults. Performing at a youth convention. Speaking to complete strangers about deeply held convictions. Reading a book that immediately impacted my life. At the heart of it all, deeply believing that I was impenetrable, unbreakable. That I could face the tsunami and wade through it.
Now we all romanticize our memories. It’s how our brain works. Neurologists tell us we don’t truly remember events as they happened (except for the traumatic ones), but rather, we remember the memories of those events. Over time, we colour them with different emotions. (E.g. fondly remembering past relationships, but not remembering the fights and arguments) But in this case, it's not an event or relationship I’m romanticizing, but my mindset, the attitude with which dominated my thinking.
I was fearless.
Now there are some things my older and wiser self would like to tell my younger, zealous self. For example, I would remind him that people were not objects or goals, and that handing out pamphlets did not mean I was spreading God’s love. I would tell him not to put women on such a pedestal, and ironically, remind him not to expect perfection from the woman he was with. I would tell him that friends were precious and should be treasured, that the finish line was not as important as the race. But the one thing I wouldn’t tell him, wouldn’t have to tell him, would be to take risks. To go for it. To not let fear stand in the way.
I stare at the keyboard for a minute and stand up. A heat wave has rolled through the city, and I move to my balcony, where the sun smolders along the creaky old wood. Sweat begins to roll down my face, and I look at the coffee in my hand with a sigh. Dedication has its price. The trees and bushes wave lazily a few feet away, and the smell of moistened mud and concrete rises up in the soft breeze, compliments of an afternoon thunderstorm.
I can’t remember when I stopped taking chances. As life began to twist and turn, at times offering more pain and disappointment than encouragement, I stepped back from the edge. For some people, one event, one bad happening, is enough to make them turn the engine off. But for most of us, I think, it’s a number of things. And over time, they wear us down.
A dog barks in the distance. Down below me, the big orange tom cat who seems to rule this side of the building lazily turns his head and than sprawls out along the damp grass. It’s taken me a while to realize it, to realize just how much fear plays a part in my life. I’ve always been interested in many things, an ‘idea guy’, but over the past ten years I’ve become less and less of a do-er. It’s become easier and easier to talk myself out of any new idea. Sometimes the reasons are rational and right, but even then, the longer I let certain fears rule my existence, the less I participate in my life. The less I dream. The less I hope.
I sip my coffee, enjoying the breeze that seems to have picked up, envious of the careless manner of the cat stretched out below me. I’ll be honest, I’m afraid of becoming involved in a bad relationship again. And I know it affects the way I approach women, with wariness and cynicism that is ready to propel me backwards to safety. This fear, this cautious approach, has not helped in my writing either. After a couple of hard experiences in the industry, I’ve found it difficult to push forward. This past year was my first time on a plane by myself. I want to travel more, but I find myself holding back.
What is it that these fears have become such a part of me? When did I decide that this was all that life was, that I’d gone as far as I could go?
Studies show that the most consistent trait in successful people is perseverance. People who are willing to meet their fears head on.
To be fearless.
I take a sip of coffee and head back inside to the cool of my air conditioned apartment. This next year, I will not return to my comfortable position back at the high school. I do not know what I’ll be doing, or where I will be. And it scares me.
But what scares me more is that if I don’t try to pursue my dreams, that if I allow my fears to win, that if I stay in the known and comfortable, I will always look back to the time when I “was alive.” That I’ll spend my time remembering “the glory days.”
But the glory days are now, no matter how old you are.
For all of us.
We all have fears. We have all suffered heartache and setback and disappointment. It’s a part of life. But I think that too many of us let our fears, our hurts and difficulties in the past, dictate our future. Today I am wiping that slate clean, and whatever fears I have, I choose to face them.
Death comes to us all, but what a tragedy when it comes before we die.
May God grant us the strength to identify the things we fear the most, and face them with a courage and decisiveness only He can give. And may we always remember that there is One who believes in us, who will never leave us or forsake us, no matter what fear we face.