“I know your deeds, they are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are luke-warm – neither hot nor cold – I am about to spit you out of my mouth. You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind, and naked.” ̶ Revelation 3:15-17
Revelation is a haunting book. The three verses cited above have resonated and tormented me more than anything else in God’s Word. That has been true since high school and throughout my adult life. They speak directly to and against my greatest fear. However, I will come to that below. First, I owe Calla-Sam and the other Muggo writers an apology. I am overextended on all fronts and each successive entry was harder for me to submit by the deadline…until I missed The Fear deadline altogether and resigned myself to be okay with that. I never intended to abandon the other men at the juncture where silly moved to serious, I just settled with doing so. Then, today happened. Well, technically, 1/24 th of today happened from 0400 to 0500. After wrestling with God in a very Jacob-like way during my session for F3’s Pray24 (intermittently sipping coffee from my TheMuggo.com mug), I sat down and read all The Fear submissions back-to-back. If you want to emotionally wreck yourself, do that. If you already read the stories individually, go back and read them again in succession. Not to detract from the individual fears the authors face, but take note of the similarities. Fear is isolating; let these men’s stories bring you closer in to community in light of the realization that we struggle together. It is the essence of “Iron sharpens iron” – alone, we deteriorate but together, we improve. Re-awakening to that thought is what compels me now to complete my submission. It may or may not run 800-1500 words, but it is the outpouring of at least the past 7 years’ worth of self-assessment.
What is my greatest fear?! Geez, Samuel, don’t pull any punches. Considering the source of the request, I thought this little writing endeavor would focus much more heavily on sophomoric fare and skirt around anything serious. Even considering the topic of fears, I assume the intent is to go beyond spiders or something from a Black Mirror episode (Metalhead……[shudder]) and dig down deep. Which, in turn, means exposing myself (see the verses above) for all to see and judge. To lay myself bare and submit my flawed self to others without hope or expectation of acceptance. And therein lies my greatest fear – a fear of insignificance, or even worse, rejection.
Not to brag, but to illustrate how my fear has shaped my behavior and actions (for better, maybe, but mostly worse) I want to provide a brief overview of my life. I am a middle child over-achiever: I always excelled athletically and academically. I was a multi-sport varsity athlete in school, all-conference team selection for one, team MVP for another, state medalist for another, straight A student for my entire high school career, valedictorian, multiple AP test taker (and 4 or 5 scorer), President of two clubs, Community service award winner, Bible study leader, and overall easy-going and like-able guy. That achievement was a way to earn respect, approval, and acceptance was a lesson I learned early and deeply. However, I have spent the better part of the past decade wrestling with the dark sides of all that superficial goodness. Because when your identity is built entirely around being successful, you’ve built up a flimsy façade – one that cannot bear up under trials, prevents deep and honest relationships, and fosters selfishness.
The first awakening I had to my fear and my flaw was as a Senior in High School. Rather than play a second year of varsity baseball, in which I would likely have to switch positions to accommodate players who were better than me in the infield, I opted to run track. I rationalized the decision six waysto Sunday (I didn’t get along with the coach, I wanted a new challenge, I wanted to follow in my dad’s footsteps, etc), but the truth is that my entire self-worth was built into being the best at something and it was simply easier to stop doing that thing rather than have my image shattered. That was the first instance I remember, but other such situations followed: skip applying to Princeton because I didn’t really want to go to Jersey, pass on a 2nd year of college soccer to focus on studies, consider working in my college retail job as a career rather than compete for scarce jobs in my field of study. I would not fail if I did not try. Unfortunately, at some point, you run out of options to run away to and run right into a brick wall. Which I did as a post-doctoral scholar at UNC in 2014. I failed and had no alternative to fall back on to maintain my self-image. I was forced to confront my wretched, pitiful, poor, blind, and naked self and to accept that reality.
If my fear only manifested in my own timidity, it really would not cause much harm. Sure, I might live a limited life, but only I would suffer. Unfortunately, fear of rejection or insignificance requires others to affirm my acceptance and significance. Without a doubt, the person who has born the brunt of that misguided need is my wife. Early in our marriage I tried to maintain a veneer of perfection – I did not trust her sufficiently to be flawed and broken in her presence. I could not be honest about work, money, my family, or any other topic if I thought it might reflect badly on me. Worse still, she couldn’t question or criticize me without it triggering anger and defensiveness. My identity was so completely dependent on being right that I could not admit wrong and apologize. To apologize and seek forgiveness risks rejection – it is a submission to another and gives them the power and authority over the relationship. As you might guess, I am grateful for her incredible patience and commitment, which saw us through my immaturity and to 15 years of marriage this summer.
James 1:2-4, Jeremiah 29:11, Matthew 6:33-34, Job, Ecclesiastes…these and many other scriptures taught me more about where my true value lies and what should motivate my efforts. On the backside of 7 years of struggling with my greatest fear, I am comforted by what I learned through the ordeal. So, have I conquered my fear? No, not even close. I still avoid sharing my failings in COT or small group, I am nervous and hesitate to engage in large groups (cough..Christmas Party…cough), and my first response to criticism is defensive. Yet, I have grown. I am quick to admit fault and ask for forgiveness and I no longer depend on my work and accomplishments to provide value and meaning to my life. Unfortunately, fear is like a weed or cyst, we can control it and keep it at bay, but never eliminate it. Under favorable conditions, it will re-emerge in the same old patterns. Thankfully, we are not called to live fearless lives, ignorant and pointless for lack of insight. Rather, we are called to live courageously, aware of the stakes and boldly facing our fears regardless (Isaiah 41:10).