When a brief overheard comment twists your stomach in knots, know there’s something there to pay attention to.
Last week Tony Kriz did a reading for his new book, Aloof: Figuring out life with a God who hides. I’ve been getting to know Tony lately through a project we’re both involved with, and I wanted to support his book launch.
During the signing, woven into the banter, I overheard the troubling words. The comment? Tony’s been getting a lot of “hate mail” about this book, emails from Christians who find Tony’s premise threatening, or unorthodox, or even heretical.
It was a sentence or two at most, but I could feel the fear in my gut and down the back of my neck. My mind swirled. I’ve had hate mail too. One particular experience washed back into my conciousness.
Years ago I was unknowingly the star of a “hate video.” Someone anonymously filmed me speaking and leading worship at a youth event. My face, my worship, my spoken words became the backdrop for an angry screed on everything wrong with the church. The makers of this video didn’t just disagree with my words and strategies. No, they knew my heart, knew my mind, knew my intentions. They condemned me as an agent of Satan, at best helplessly deluded, but more likely a knowing accomplice in a grand plan to infiltrate and tear down God’s true church.
It was crushing. I’m a pastor’s kid who grew up in the church. Unlike many, I grew up loving it. I’ve only ever wanted to be a part of the church, and to use my gifts to help the church grow and be more effective. I really believe that Jesus is what everyone needs most. To be condemned, not just disagreed with, but comdemned as a heretic? It hurt so badly.
When I overheard Tony’s comment, this old experience came pouring back into my mind. I became profoundly present to an obstacle that was taking up an enormous amount of space in my mind and heart.
Why can’t I get traction?
See, I’m at a transition point. On paper it looks like I ought to be taking off with all kinds of creative energy, making things happen. Instead, I’ve found myself bogged down, second- and third-guessing myself, filling my time with justifiable distractions.
The short version: The church I am privileged to serve had to undergo major financial restructuring last year. The necessary changes included painful layoffs for friends and a significant paycut for me. I dropped to 25 hours/week. This happened 4 months ago.
My plan was to take those extra hours and pour them into writing, creating great content that helps people grow spiritually. This material could serve the people of my church, but it could also serve a wider group across the internet. My short-term goal is to replace the income I’ve lost from my “day job.” The big picture goal is audacious. I want to completely replace my salary, so that I can continue to serve my little church, freeing my salary to be used to help real people in need. I want to be a new-generation digital tent-maker. I’ve got high hopes.
At the very same time, I’ve had another demand on my time. My wife and I have owned a rental house that we decided to get rid of. So for three months I spent almost every spare moment at this other property fixing, cleaning and painting. Every month that passed without a tenant or a sale was a month we had to pay two mortgages! And with a major income cut. It’s been brutal.
So, just when I went part-time with the opportunity to begin investing in my dream, my circumstances demanded I spend all my extra time on this rental house project. The intensity and emotional demand crushed my creativity into, and the work hours left me wasted, dragging myself into and out of bed. The work on the house ended a couple of weeks back, and the house is finally on the market. Thank God.
So, here I am, finally facing those hours available for writing. Yet, I’ve been unable to get myself in gear and get the writing flowing. Every day I have good intentions but I make little headway. I get things done, just not things that matter. I’m in this incredible place, the opportunity to write 15-20 hours a week. Something so many people would be jealous of. And I can’t get anything out. Why?
The dark cold roadblock of fear.
My painful gut reaction to Tony’s comment flipped on a blaring floodlight in my heart. For a clarifying moment I could really see. My stall was rooted in my fear.
I’ve been writing in my spare time until now. Writing around the edges. I didn’t feel any need to make it go anywhere. I didn’t have anything riding on it. But now, I do. I want to support my family on my writing. I want to free my little church to do more ministry by writing. With that freedom and opportunity has come the dark shadow of fear.
- Fear that since I’m trying to be a “for real” writer, I’ll prove that I’m not really a writer at all, not good enough, not creative enough. Just not enough.
- Fear that the more I write, the more I’ll reveal my lack of knowledge and experience, showing that I’m just an imposter after all.
- Fear that no one will resonate with what I write, that I’ll turn out to be all alone, with these thoughts, or worse, be rejected.
- Fear that because I so much want people to read what I write, and because I want people to like me, that I’ll start writing to “chase an audience” instead of writing what is true and powerful in my journey with God.
- Fear that I’ll pick the wrong subject and invest in building a platform aound that and then discover that it wasn’t really the thing that mattered to me.
- Fear that I’m not going to be able to support my family or give my children the education I want them to have.
It’s all different shades of this one thing: Fear that I’m going to fail. Then there’s this big one. The one that surfaced with vengeance at Tony’s reading. I’m afraid that I’ll get thrown in the theology wringer by angry Christians who don’t understand where I’m coming from or feel threatened by my theological questions. I’m afraid that as more people discover me online, I’ll have to deal with haters, condemners, and arguers intent on judging and condemning me.
And then there’s the meta-fears. You know, the fears about the fear. I’m afraid that I’ll miss some opportunity God has for me because I’m so caught up in overthinking all the fear that I miss what’s right in front of me.
I thought the transition point I was at was about re-jiggering my schedule, figuring out a good routine for my life so that I could write. Turns out the transition point is about whether I will face my fear and write at all. I can see the weight of my fears pushing me away from this dream. I can feel the comfort of letting go, choosing a different, more stable and predictable path. I can hear voices in my heads saying, “It’s ok…” “Let it go…” But I can also see the other path still, heading out in the the adventure of the unknown, using my gifts to serve others.
Hush, dark voices.
It brings to mind a moment when the older mentor, Paul, was encouraging his protege Timothy. Timothy was young, probably too young for his role. He was being challenged and criticized by people older and with more experience. He didn’t have Paul at hand to back him up. I wonder if he felt overwhelmed, wavering between people-pleasing and comfort on the one hand, and his God-given calling on the other.
Paul wrote him a letter and included this challenge: (2 Timothy 1:6-7)
Therefore, I remind you to keep ablaze the gift of God that is in you through the laying on of my hands. For God has not given us a spirit of fearfulness, but one of power, love, and sound judgment.
No fear, not from God. Perfect love, after all, casts out fear. I know (for all the things that I am uncertain of) I know, that God loves me perfectly. So, my fear is not from God.
If I can co-opt Paul’s words to Timothy, maybe God is offering me strength, love and sound judgement to move forward. To live within perfect love.
Maybe you need to hear this too. Maybe a heavy weight of fear is squeezing out the energy you have to move forward. Maybe you hear voices telling you that it’s OK to settle. Know that you are not alone. I feel it too. But God made you. You are, after all, God’s very own artwork. You have something good and beautiful to do in this world. Your fear would have you abdicate. Don’t, OK? You encourage me; I’ll encourage you. Let’s move forward together, OK?
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