Friday, March 21, 2008

The World’s Nastiest F*** Word

Changing Your Life by Chasing Your Dreams

"Most people prefer unhappiness over uncertainty."
-Timothy Ferriss

I was sitting on my leather couch, just staring at the television screen. Images flickered into my subconscious but I wasn’t processing them. I cradled the beer in my hands and glanced over in the corner. A nearly empty case sat beside the refrigerator, one I’d purchased just a couple of days earlier. I wasn’t a big drinker, but lately I’d found the increasing need to find some solace there. Numbing my brain when I came home from work every night to help me fall asleep so I could steel myself to get up for the next day.

It was a Friday night, and I tried to psych myself up. I tried to remind myself that for the next two days I’d be free, but I couldn’t escape the fact that on Monday the cycle would begin again.
How many drinks and sleepless nights would it take? How many times would I have to lie to myself before anything changed? I took a swig from the bottle and shut off the TV. The biggest problem was that my… unhappiness... seemed completely nonsensical. I was making pretty good money. I was working with students I loved. I had security. I had weekends and summers off, along with two weeks at Christmas and another week in March. I had time to write. I never had to worry about my bills or having enough to go out with my friends. And things hadn’t been this good spiritually in a long time. I liked my church, was part of a theatre group, and felt like I was growing and learning in my faith.

And yet, here I am on another Friday night, trying to numb this void in my life.

What I needed to do another examination. Yes, there were good things in my life, but what was driving this misery? Why did I dread work so much? The more I thought about it, the more I realized that I wasn’t just slightly unhappy, I was miserable! I hated going into work, although I loved my kids, because work was such a negative environment. The leadership was micromanagement. It wasn't simply not empowering, it was completely discouraging. So much so that I’d had a run-ins with my bosses about their tendency to pick at every little thing. I'd been given little or no authourity despite a decade in the field and there was no room to grow in the position. I also hated the daily, Monday to Friday routine. I felt trapped by it. And while it was true that I had time to write, most of the time I was so emotionally exhausted simply trying to cope at work that I came home too weary to create.

And while i had my own place, my apartment felt like a mausoleum, and every time I started to get ahead financially, I’d end up buying something to make me feel better. I couldn’t explain it, but somehow I understood that I was a square peg being squeezed into a round hole, and that if I didn’t do something soon, it would be too late.

But what could I do? I was thirty four years old. I’d thought about going back to school, but I’d hesitated every time I started thinking about the cost or the moving or the change. Besides, I was too old to start a new career.

Two weeks later, I was sitting with my successful and motivated friend, Jackie, having our weekly coffee. Our conversation bounced from politics to social issues to philosophy. As always, I felt it enlivening as we danced from subject to subject. When I mentioned the thought of going back to school, she leaped onto it immediately.

“You should do it.”

“Yeah, but, Jax, I’m still-“

“You’re a total smarty pants, and you’re not happy.”

“What do you mean? I’m okay. I love the kids-“

“I know you love the students. But you hate everything else. Besides, what’s the worst thing that can happen?”

Two other friends echoed her comments. I hadn’t realized how much my unhappiness had revealed itself. Five months later, I picked up the final piece of garbage from my apartment and left my life behind. It’s been a move fraught with many things this past year, but no regrets. My life is new, and it gets brighter every day, even when the bulb burns a little dim some weeks.

The greatest change in my life, without question, is how I deal with the f*** word.

The world’s nastiest f*** word.


Most of us live in fear. From the moment we wake up – what will happen at work, where are the kids, I forgot to call about the car, I’m so unhappy in my relationship – our day is generally governed by our fears. Most of us, without even realizing it, spend our day trying to put a positive spin on our life instead of working to change it. As Ferriss has said, most people DO prefer unhappiness over uncertainty. The key word is ‘security.’ Although the self-inflicted boundaries we impose upon ourselves are tight and imposing, well, at least we know what’s it’s like to live there. Sure. That’s what prisoners say about their prison cells. And most of us will not challenge those boundaries, even though we’ve created them, because we feel they somehow make us safe.

Think about how ludicrous that sounds. We create invisible boundaries that no one else can see, and then proclaim ourselves safe. Why? And what makes those boundaries so safe, especially if no one else can see them?

I can hear my dissenters already. “Steve, that sounds like a great theory, but we live in the real world.” Do you? What is the real world? I’ve heard that expression my whole life, and I’ve yet to identify what it means except when it is offered as a pat answer as to why we shouldn’t strive for whatever passions God has given us. It is generally offered as a term of discouragement, by people who don’t realize that they’re miserable, to persuade other people to join them in their misery.

What’s most saddening is how prevalent fear is within the church. It says in 1 John “I have not given you a spirit of fear, but of love, power, and of sound mind.” I could spend an hour breaking down that verse, but for now, understand that what I said about our everyday lives, is true in the church.

We’re afraid to change how we worship, afraid to discuss certain topics, afraid to associate with certain people, afraid to re-examine what we truly believe. And while God has said that He has given us something other than fear, we have chosen fear as our primary dwelling place. In many instances, the church has so established its identity in these roots of fear, that we will persecute the very people we are called to love simply because WE ARE AFRAID. We establish religious codes, books, and policies that have little to do with the Bible, and that revolve mostly around our fears about what would happen 'if.'

“But Steve, what will happen if we change the way we do church? What will happen if we focus on love? What will happen if women start preaching? What will happen if we focus on mercy? What will we be communicating if we say God loves gay people?”

Fear. Fear. Fear.

We use fear mongering to evangelize. “Hell awaits! Fire and brimstone and eternal torment!” It is not the love and grace of God, of what knowing Jesus means, of enacting the Kingdom of God now, or of finding joy in the purposes and passions of life. Nope.

Fear. Fear. Fear.

Most of us have become quite good at rationalizing our fear. I did. I would talk about how great my students were, how much I felt like I was learning, and on my particularly bad days, how I felt that God had called me to ‘this life’, unhappy or not. What I wouldn’t admit, was that I was simply afraid to change my life. Afraid of what would happen if I left my secure job. Afraid of where I would end up. Afraid of who I’d be living with… what if I didn’t get along with my room mates? Didn’t I need the time alone?

Fear. Fear. Fear.

It’s been quite a journey these past seven months, and there have been days of brokenness, of loneliness, of sorrow. Lately however, as each challenge raises its ugly head, only to find that I have not only faced it but conquered it, the fear dims. The past three months I haven’t watched a minute of television. Back in Ottawa, I watched an average of six hours a night to ‘keep me company.’ These days, I don’t need the company. I have nine terrific housemates. I’ve watched my blog double its traffic and multiply around the world. I've taught myself a professional film editing program in the process of producing three short films. I write daily now, with a lot of energy, and have seen my email load quadruple.

Most important, for me at least, is that my faith seems to find regular expression. In my contentment, I find myself better able to reflect God’s love and compassion to those around me. Each morning is spent in solitude and prayer. Even better, I wake up in the mornings as if breathing for the first time.

What conquers fear, you ask. The answer is simple. Action.

Action conquers fear. Procrastination and excuses fertilize fear.

By doing what I thought I couldn’t do (changing my life, moving, going back to school), I faced a huge fear and gained confidence. Confidence is not something you re born with, it is something you earn. With action comes confidence, and with confidence comes freedom.

Freedom is a wonderful thing and it is the sole reason Jesus came. He did not come to save us from hell, but to set us free. Free to live as God has called us, to break the yoke of our sinful nature so that we could live as God intended. (Understand one thing, God calls us by way of our passions and giftings. Too often we have been taught to work on our weaknesses. Don’t!! Stop spending hours and hours on your weaknesses! Focus on your strengths, what excites you, and whatever makes your pulse quicken.)

Whatever happens, it is time to stop allowing your fears or the fears of others to dictate your life.

Look, most of us do not like being uncomfortable, which is why we are so reluctant to try new things. This week, do one thing that makes you uncomfortable. The purpose of this exercise is to get used to being uncomfortable. Don't be afraid to take a good long look at yourself, at your life, and finally, to start thinking about the possibilities. People will inevitably try to ‘calm you down’, to reset you in ‘the real world’ (i.e. their world of misery and mediocrity). My prayer this week is that you will not allow them to cut you down or rule you with their fears. God has in store for you more than you could ever imagine, a life of freedom and purpose, and yes, even joy. Perhaps it’s time that you let go of your fears, and see what God can do…