My friend Tiffany was a bigger-than-life personality. She wore bright red lipstick that made her white teeth look even whiter. Her smile took over her entire face. She had an amazing laugh. We worked together at the front desk of a restaurant in high school. I loved working with Tiffany. We would laugh away the hours amusing ourselves. We lost touch and reacquainted years later through social media. A few years ago, Tiffany was diagnosed with Breast Cancer and tragically died. Even in her last months, she continued to be her bigger-than-life self. She had a beautiful faith. As a pastor, she preached a sermon titled “Fear is a Liar.” I don’t remember the specifics of the sermon, but I will always remember the title.
Over the last month, I have been battling fear, not my own fear but I’m in proximity. I’m battling fear with my words, with my thoughts and with my prayers on behalf of this person I love so much. I hate seeing fear take root. This battle with fear has brought me back to a time not too long ago where I was battling fear myself. Almost a year ago I was in a season that I never want to repeat. It was a season where stress and fear were coming from every angle. I let fear consume too much of me. It was a dark season. I feared daily, I cried daily, and I didn’t sleep well (some of you know that an unrested Elena is not a good Elena). One night I had been tossing and turning with so much fear and anxiety, it felt like a physical weight on my chest, and it hurt. I went out in our living room, sat on the couch, and cried out to God. I made the decision that I couldn’t live like that anymore. Fear was not only taking up so much room, but it was also forcing good stuff out. It was forcing out my joy.
Has fear ever served you well? There are very few times in my life when fear did serve me, perhaps the time I was 75 feet away from an adult bear at the cabin in my neighbor’s yard. Fear struck and it moved me to action and ultimately safety. I assessed my options in seconds, decided to run to safety. I impressed myself with how quickly I responded. In my forty years, there’s not many other specific situations where fear served my best interests.
When hasn’t fear served me well? Um, let me do the math…all the other times. It’s so rude. It’s so selfish. It doesn’t serve me. It doesn’t tell the truth. Like Tiffany says, fear is a liar! Fear plants a seed in your mind and heart. It grows fast. Normally, I like to kill all the other things I thought I was trying to grow. Not fear. Fear grows without water, and without sun. It grows especially when it’s planted in a space where no one else knows about it. The more you try to hide fear and push fear away, the more it grows. It grows into other areas of your mind and heart. The worst thing about fear, it starts to demand everything good. It suffocates other good things. It suffocates the truth, the love, the generosity, the common sense, the peace, the joy, the excellence and sometimes it suffocates relationships. It suffocates everything good. It grows quickly because it’s completely protected within the confines of our human brain and heart.
The truth is we all live in a world with a lot of “what-ifs.” Fear would have us completely surrender to those what-if’s and make us feel as small and vulnerable as possible in the process. It takes incredible energy to absorb fear and live with fear. It sucks. When you allow the seeds of fear to not only get planted, but also to take root in your life, it takes incredible energy to let that fear flourish in your brain and in your heart. It’s hard work. It makes you cry, it hurts your body when you start reaching for unhealthy coping mechanisms. The worst part, sometimes it makes us not very nice people. Living with fear is crap-load of hard work.
That night on the couch, I learned it takes a lot of energy to fight fear. It takes a lot of energy to examine your thoughts and re-route them. It takes a lot of energy to play your fears out and examine the worst-case scenario. It takes a lot of energy to claim the promises God has made to us when sometimes it just feels easier to be a victim. It takes a lot of energy to claim God’s promises alone by myself in the middle of the night. God didn’t give me a spirit of fear but of power, of love and sound mind (2 Timothy 1:7). I claimed that repeatedly. It was a lot of freaking work that lasted for months.
Here’s the lesson I learned. Living with fear and fighting fear both take a lot of energy. Elena, don’t be a dumb-dumb. Put up a fight – start swinging. Don’t allow yourself to live in fear! It will try to take everything good. My friend Tiffany so courageously fought with God about her fear of dying and leaving her family. God challenged her and said, “Tiffany, what if I take it all? Will I still be God, will I still be good?” She said “yes, if you take all of it, you’ll still be God, you’ll still be good.” Play out whatever it is that you’re fearing, and you’ll likely find truth, love, peace, joy, generosity, and common sense. You’ll find everything good that fear was suffocating. Unless there’s an actual bear in your living room in the middle of the night, fear isn’t serving you, it’s not serving me and it’s not serving this person I love so much.
In that season, I learned that to start fighting fear took the same amount of energy as living with fear, but the goodness that was uncovered in the process created an additional energy source for me. As I exhaled fear, I inhaled truth. As I exhaled anxiety, I inhaled love. As I exhaled worry, I inhaled peace and joy. It was hard to start fighting, but once I was swinging, momentum started to build.
One of the myriads of things that I feared in the year of 2020 was that I would lose my job. Oh my gosh, guess what, I lost my job. I got laid off. And you know what, I’m so thankful! That’s not lip service. God closes doors but opens windows. When one of the things I fear most happened, I was not just fine, I was great. What I feared most happened and it turned into a good thing. FEAR IS A LIAR!
If you are like this person I love and you’re getting crushed with fear, I want you to know that fear isn’t for you. It’s not serving you. And I know that it feels like you don’t have any way to fight back right now. I remember being in that dark place. You are exhausted. And I know it takes incredible energy to move around the fear, but YOU CAN DO IT! You can choose fear, or you can choose love and trust but I can’t find a scenario where you can choose both.
Being paralyzed in fear is not what God has for us. Having Power, Love and a Sound Mind is exactly what God has for us. If you’re going to expend the incredible energy anyways, you might as well punch fear right in the face!
Is Fear lying to you? Fight back, punch it right in the face. Consider this your nudge, your reminder to fight for yourself. God didn’t give you a spirit of fear. You have a spirit of power, love and sound mind. Go ahead, fight!
In this next week, who is a woman (or person) that needs you to battle fear alongside her? Maybe she needs you to get in the ring for her and show her how to fight for herself for a period of time. Maybe you’ve successfully walked through this years ago and can just be someone’s biggest cheerleader. If this is you, you’re a woman in position to help another woman! This is great news. Just go ahead and pick up the dang phone to EncourageHer. You are amazing!
EncourageHer Leader’s Corner: I have learned that many of the people that read this blog are people leaders, leaders of leaders, or entrepreneurial leaders in their own businesses or organizations. As a result, I want to provide some context for you specifically as you step into your leadership.
We are in a season of so many unknowns for many organizations. If you are a leader and you see someone on your team fighting fear, don’t let them fight alone. Shine a light on that fear so it doesn’t continue to grow. If you are working in a season of unknowns, provide as much clarity as possible so people don’t make stuff up for fear to snack on. My mentor Ray Kelly used to always say to me “Elena, the first job of a leader is to define reality with as much clarity as possible. The last job of a leader is to say thank you.” If you are the leader, and fear is lying to you, it’s not serving you. When you (or someone on your team) are fighting fear, you can’t also be your best self at work. If you’re going to expend the energy anyway, you might as well fight fear.
I see you. I love you. I’m cheering you on!