I gave “Our Own Sacred Scared” some breathing space, but now my hope is you’re ready for more. I’d love to introduce you to a dear friend of a dear friend Joy, who when I finally met her I thought ‘she is her name’.
I had never thought of myself as a weak person. From a very young age I was praised (and rebuked) for being bold, outspoken, opinionated, strong-willed, loud …(the list goes on). These weren’t traits of a weak person, or so I thought. It wasn’t until a few years ago, when in the middle of a bit of a rough time and a lot of change, I had my first anxiety attack. At the time I couldn’t have told you which one thing had been the ‘straw that broke the camels back’. All I knew was, “everything is too much”, and “I can’t do this”.
Over the last few years these two short phrases have been the battle cry of a very real and persistent foe, one who breaks my lines of defense with such ease and finesse, and saunters up to me as if to brag at how easy it is to gain access time after time. The culprit: fear of inadequacy and failure.
Every time I feel under pressure, find that I have too much to do and too little time, or begin to feel overwhelmed by responsibility or expectations the same voices raise their ugly little heads and I am once again caught into another rendition of “its too much” or “I can’t do it”.
It was on my PGCE year that the paralyzing feeling of suffocation became an almost everyday occurrence. The churning stomach, inability to eat or sleep, and ‘the shivers’ as they became known; weird fits of shaking that rippled right through me as a result of over tensing my body. Fear had ceased to be this existential concept that people philosophised about and had become a real and very physical force that was making me sick. It managed to completely incapacitate me and put major strain on my relationships (some because I became super needy and others because I became so withdrawn and insular). And through it all I was so private and hyper sensitive about people knowing how weird I was, that I shut down and hid what was going on from almost everyone, bar a few faithful souls.
However mild or severe these attacks are, the symptoms are always accompanied by a self-deprecating sense of humour, which I use as a protective barrier from the world (yes I just admitted to using humour as a defense mechanism). I guess my reasoning is that if I can get in first, list my less raw and embarrassing inaccuracies, inadequacies, imperfections and flaws before others notice them, I somehow gain control of my world. My husband can testify to this as on our first date I drew his attention to my ‘moustache’ (a very slightly furry lip) and told him I was, and I quote, “making it cool for girls”. He calls this my ‘sabotage syndrome’ and I guess he’s pretty astute. Ironically it is this fear of failing that in most cases causes me to fail. I fear inadequacy and I live down to that fear, buying into it every step of the way.
Recently we were leading worship as part of an in house conference run by and for our church. In the week running up to the event Dave and I had allowed our diary to become fully booked. Alpha, pastorate (housegroup), band practices, work, all stuff that I love, but then came the news came that my school was being inspected. Well there it was…the straw and the camel met again! The sense of suffocating fear and those familiar voices rose once more; “this is too much”, “I can’t do it”.
It resulted in me throwing a huge wobbly, getting really upset, freaking out about every possible eventuality and finally demanding that Dave pull me out of the worship set up for the weekend altogether.
As it turned out, I didn’t pull out, and at that conference God spoke to me, directly and audibly, through a prophetic word delivered quite publicly. At the heart of the message was the word ‘capacity’. It hit me like a ton of bricks and completely floored me by how precise, accurate and timely it was. It was a wake up call. A call to living up to God’s plan for my life and not living down to a sub-standard existence rooted in fear of not being adequate. God was drawing out of me the recognition of a capacity that is rooted in Him and not my own abilities. In this moment he was again whispering to me “Joy, you can do all things through me, the One who gives you strength”.
I am reminded of a memory from primary school when in P6 I was being encouraged to try something and I told my then teacher, Mrs Kennedy, “I can’t”. I don’t remember what it was I was struggling with but I have never forgotten her response to me: “Joy, there’s no such thing as can’t. There’s only can and won’t”. It’s amazing how far back these kind of issues go, how deeply set some patterns of behaviour become, and I realise now that God has been wanting to deal with this issue in me for at least 20 years.
So I guess I’m realising that the root of my problem is not so much ‘can’t’ as ‘won’t’. I have learnt that so often I’m not a victim of my fear but a partner with it. I often choose to believe its lies over the truth the Father has spoken over my life. I am learning (slowly) that what I think of myself and my ability is not the whole truth.
On my PGCE year I took to speaking out scriptural truth over myself every night before I would go to bed. Confession of faith and proclamation of the truth became my weapon and my shield. There was never an instant relief of my symptoms but when I fought long enough and hard enough I found victory after victory in the small things and saw God rescue me time after time. I’m not fixed. I still struggle with this and so every day I am committing to the scary journey of believing the truth over lies….
An excerpt from my confession:
I reject the interference of the spirit of fear. The fear of the future, failure, the fear of success and all other fears. I receive the heart of a Godly fear to honour and magnify the Lord, and not my problems. I receive God’s grace to trust him without doubt for he has promised not to leave or forsake me.