When I am afraid [which is more often, than I care to admit]

“Fear is a useful servant but a harmful master.”

I don’t like to admit that I’m afraid. But the reality is that I am often afraid.  I’ve shared over the past year with our church my struggle with anxiety.  It doesn’t’ feel very manly to say, “I’m afraid.”  In fact it doesn’t seem very godly to say, “I am afraid.”  And I think for that reason far to many of us live secret lives of desperation.

The Bible talks a lot about fear.  In fact, the most common command in the Bible is, “Do not be afraid.”  And this has been somewhat problematic for me. Especially in the last few years when nightly anxiety attacks started to become a common experience.

I think the problem lies in how I’ve always heard this command of God.  What I all too often hear is:  It’s wrong to be afraid.  You’re broken if you experience anxiety.  You don’t have enough faith if you’re afraid.  And so I spent many sleepless nights alone, hiding even from my wife my fear and anxiety.  What would she think about me or what would the church think about their supposedly fearless leader caused me to run into hiding with my anxiety and fears.

Recently, I had an experience that has deeply shaped how understand or view this command to not be afraid.  My family and I were on vacation together hanging out at the beach.  I love to surf, play volleyball and really do anything that involves the ocean and sand.  While at the beach we had a paddleboard and my daughter who is almost 10 years old wanted to go out with me.  I was so excited to share with her something that I love. And while she was on the beach she was excited too.

She put on a life vest and off we went into the wild blue yonder.  Actually we only went out about 20 or 30 yards out.  What started out as excitement soon turned into shear terror as she began to notice the depth of the ocean below, the size of the waves all around and the feeling of being completely out of control.

My daughter grabbed her knees and cried desperately for me to take her back to shore.  In that moment I had such compassion for her and my heart broke. I quietly and repeatedly let her know, “It’s ok, daddy’s with you. The waves aren’t as big as you think and the water isn’t as deep as it seems. I know it feels scary but your safe because I’m with you.”

We sat on that paddleboard in the midst of the beautiful yet terrifying ocean and I simply reminded her that she was ok because I was with her.

In that moment I so wished my daughter could see it from my perspective. If she went out there by herself she would have every reason to fear.  She could get swept out to sea or pummeled by waves.  But she was with her dad, who loves her, who would do whatever it took to take care of her and make sure she made it safely back to shore.

Her fear was bigger than what she was actually afraid of.  And that’s how fear works much of the time.  Fear itself expands, grows and consumes us until it’s way bigger than the thing we are actually afraid of.

It’s interesting that every command in the Bible about not being afraid is almost always coupled with the phrase; “For I am with you.”

These commands read so much differently when I hear them as the whisper of my Heavenly Father saying, “I’m with you, you don’t have to be afraid. I wish you could see it from my perspective.

In the midst of the rising waves and the ocean deep, the whisper of the Father can be heard, “I’m with you.”  He knows that waves of life seem so big and strong.  And the ocean of worries, feel far too deep and dark to traverse.  Even there, even now, He is with you.

When I am afraid I have to quiet my heart so I can once again hear the loving whisper of my Heavenly Father saying “I’m with you sweet child, so don’t let your heart fear. I know it feels big and scary but I am with you.”

“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”  Joshua 1:9

WHY I GAVE UP…

I have given up on ever finding balance in life.  The “balanced life” was a perpetual pursuit of mine for years.  And it was a constant source of friction in our home.  At the end of long, tough season both my wife and I would cry out, “WE NEED MORE BALANCE!”  Yet we never were able to experience the “balanced life” and honestly I don’t think we ever will. The balanced life is like the elusive carrot which is always dangling just in front yet conveniently never within reach.  And in the ever so rare moments that we did achieve balance it last for maybe a day or a week tops!  And then we would dive back into the chaos of life and the pursuit of balance.  That’s why I’ve given up on living the “balanced life.”  It simply doesn’t work.

The “balanced life” says you need to have just the perfect amount of work, family, fun, exercise, etc. It pictures life like a beautiful pie and family takes a slice, work takes a slice, and so on.   The problem was I could never quiet find the ideal combination.  And in reality, life doesn’t work that way.  In life we constantly experience seasons of life that are extremely out of balance: a family tragedy, a pressing deadline at work, or even going on vacation is completely out of balance.

So if the balanced life isn’t the answer, what is?  What if it’s less about balance and more about rhythm?

Imagine that you have to carry 100 pounds.  The “balanced life” says to hold 50 pounds in one hand and 50 pounds in the other. Which sounds good in theory.  And granted there is a need for some level of balance in life.  But rhythm says in order to carry that weight further there are times when you need to actually put it down and rest.  Rhythm understands that life isn’t so easily balanced and it doesn’t get bent out of shape by that.  Rhythm understands that there are seasons in which certain things or people need to take your full attention [i.e. your family, your work, your spouse]

I used to ask this question: how do I find or maintain balance?  It was absolutely exhausting!  Now I ask a better question:  In light of the season of life that I’m in, what rhythms do I need in my life?  It’s a powerful question that could change your life.

In asking this question, Jenny and I stumbled on an incredible rhythm for our relationship and our family that has been absolutely life-giving.  We simply call this rhythm, DATE & DETAILS.  We call it a date because that just sounds fun and special.  But we take a time to talk about three big areas almost every week.  The rhythm of DATE & DETAILS helps us identify what season of life where in, and what season of life we’re heading into.

Here are the three things we talk about in our rhythm of DATE & DETAILS:

  1. First we talk about the FUTURE.  We get our calendar out and talk specifically about the next week and what is coming up.  What events do the kids have and what’s coming up with work?  What fun stuff do we have planned?  We look generally at the next few months to see what’s coming up.  We talk about when are going to have dates together, family times, and times away.  And if we’re coming up to an intense, full season, we identify how long it’s going to be and what fun things do we have planned at the end of it.  We always need something to look forward to!
  2. Second thing we talk about is our FINANCES.  This is real practical.  We simply get out our checkbook and write our bills.  You never talk about money with out talking about what you value.  And so our conversation goes from what we are dreaming of the future, what we want our kids to experience to what needs to be taken care of around the house.  Our last date and details we talked about getting the kids in swim lessons, and what sport we want them to do.  It means budgeting accordingly now so that we can have kids that are all pool safe!
  3. The third and final thing we talk about is our FAMILY.   We connect on how we are doing, what we’re needing from one another.  We talk about our kids, how they are doing and what they’re needing from us in this next season.  We talk about each of our kids and what they need in the season of life they are in.  As you can see each of these three areas are interdependent on one another.  And so our conversation flows from one to the other and back, as we talk about what’s important in life, where we’re headed and what needs to get done.

Now here’s what I discovered about this helpful rhythm of doing DATE & DETAILS with my wife.  These times free us up on our actual date nights to simply have fun and enjoy.  We don’t need to cover all the nitty gritty stuff and just get to truly be with one another.  It also gives us the perspective to know what season we’re in and what season we’re heading into.  So if we’re heading into an intense busy season we know we need to take some extra time on the front end to recharge and some time on the back end to get refreshed.

I have yet to find balance in life.  But I discovered balance wasn’t what I really needed.  What I needed was a new rhythm for life.