I am afraid of many things, but chiefly I am afraid of doing things wrong.
When I was a button-nosed, wispy-haired first grader, my teacher–a woman with glasses and yellowy-gray hair a little bit wavy, who stood straight and was old and had a terrifying voice–told us it was important to write neatly. “If your work is sloppy, I’ll erase it, and you’ll have to write it all over again.”
My work was not sloppy. (Looking back at old yearbooks, I actually wonder HOW I as a child could have written so neatly as to produce something akin to a computer font. My writing is nowhere near that level of perfection today.)
At the first quarter’s parent teacher meeting, my parents came home with a message from my teacher. “She wondered why you could never get your work done in time, and then she noticed how much time you spent erasing. You don’t have to erase your work so much. Just write it one time.”
They were smiling and kind, but I was anxious. What if I messed up a letter? Could I not erase it? At all?
But I got my work done on time after that, discovering I really didn’t need to erase all that much in order to produce a satisfactory paper.
Fast-forward to today.
Sometimes I think I must still be a wispy-haired first grader, afraid of displeasing my inner teacher. (She’s not so old–only my age–but she stands very straight and has a terrifying voice.)
She criticizes me on every occasion. If I write something, she tells me it is bland and uninteresting and wonders why I never bother to put an original thought in my head. If I do not write something, she tells me I am lazy and worthless.
If I share my faith with others, she tells me I am pushy and obnoxious and will probably turn people away from God. If I keep it to myself, she tells me I don’t really care about others and I’m a terrible Christian.
If I state an opinion, she tells me I am probably wrong, not to mention making a fool of myself. If I do not state an opinion, she tells me I am wishy-washy and a coward.
Sometimes I hate her.
Recently, discouraged and disheartened, I asked a writing acquaintance and blogger, Laurie Buchanan, for a word of advice for a beginning author. She gave excellent and pertinent advice, but the first word she gave struck deepest. Self-confidence, she said.
Her words reminded me of that familiar verse from 2 Timothy 1:7 “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.”
How much of my life is ruled by fear? Specifically, for me, the fear that comes with high expectations and a strong perfectionism. Since it is difficult for me to get everything “just right,” I quail at the edges of things, afraid to make a start.
This verse promises power. Power to step forward with courage and act, even when I am shy or afraid or imperfect or still learning.
And love. In my lifetime, I’ve seen so many well-intentioned but incredibly forceful and intense individuals who steamroll down the path of righteousness, I have developed hives at the thought of becoming like them. But if I state opinions or share my beliefs with God’s kind of genuine love, I do not believe I need to fear coming across as too strong–love is patient and kind, quick to forgive, and slow to anger.
And a sound mind. Perhaps this comes from my conservative Mennonite (and fairly cloistered) heritage, but I have this niggling fear that if I delve into ways of thinking different from what I’ve been taught, I might lose what I have and become “deceived.” Sort of an innate fear of going off the deep end. Does anyone else deal with that?
But God promises a sound mind, which I equate with a clear conscience and common sense. When it comes to my Christian faith, most of the commands in the Bible are so simple a child can understand them, and when it comes to everyday living, most of the tasks for one day are straightforward and doable. That niggling fear of getting it wrong–whether in regards to faith or in regards to life choices–does not niggle so much when I step forward with a clear conscience and easy mind and do the parts I KNOW and can handle. The rest will surely follow.
Love to balance power.
And a sound mind to balance both.