My good friend asked me a tough question this weekend.
A few weeks ago we both set out on a new adventure. He was headed to Portland. I was headed to Seattle. It was actually kind of funny. As my dad and I were driving down the highway on our way out West I texted my friend to ask him how his move was going. He said that he was on the highway somewhere in Wisconsin. It turns out he was a few hours behind us. God has a funny way of orchestrating things. In that moment I was reminded that God actually does care about every single detail of our lives.
It’s now a few weeks later and we are both trying to make two new cities our home. He came up to Seattle this weekend, and as we were on the road up to Whidbey Island, he turned to me and asked, “Matty, what are you most anxious about in the midst of all this transition?”
Here is the interesting thing about that question, maybe you’ll be able to relate. If your aunt, or your neighbor, or your youth leader asks you this question you can go surface level on them. I’m anxious about finding a place to stay. I’m anxious about finding a job. I’m anxious about not being close to my friends. All of which are legitimate answers. But when a really good friend asks you that question you have to think about it, you have to wrestle with it, and you have to be honest. If you are anything like me, it can be really hard to be honest.
How I answered that question surprised me:
“I used to get really anxious about all kinds of things. I used to get anxious about work. I used to get anxious about talking to girls. I used to get anxious about what people thought about me, about making people happy, about having enough money, and about being good enough in any aspect of my life. In fact, I used to get so anxious that I would lay awake in bed at night, I would get chest pains, and have a tough time breathing. And so I went to see a therapist. I got help.
It’s been four years since I started therapy. I still get anxious about some things. But my biggest anxiety about this transition isn’t any of those things. My biggest anxiety isn’t anxiety.
It’s fear. I’m afraid.”
Let me try to explain.
A couple of weeks ago I was talking to my girlfriend. We were talking about my move out to Seattle and why God brought me all the way out here? When you start a relationship one month before you leave a beautiful girl and a beautiful relationship it leaves you asking God some questions. I said to her, “I think one of the main reasons God brought me out here is to deal with my fear. I’m always afraid.”
I think there’s a difference between anxiety and fear. In my experience, anxiety feels like a constant buzz. It flutters under the surface of your skin. Anxiety makes your chest tight, it makes your breath short, and it makes your heart race. Sometimes my anxiety landed on my shoulders, other times in my stomach, and still other times onto my chewed up fingers. You can take medication for anxiety and it does help. It allows you to rest, even if it’s just for a little while.
Fear is different. Fear feels like darkness. Fear is lonely. Fear assumes the worst and believes the worst. Fear buys into the belief that there’s something bad waiting for you right around every corner. Fear is always waiting for the other shoe to drop, and when it does, it’s going to hurt like hell. Fear skips over your shoulders, your tight chest, your chewed up finger nails and it plants it’s roots down into the deep, dark, dirt of your soul. Fear makes you want to curl up like a baby in his or her crib. Fear isolates you, spits in your face, and pulls a blanket of shame over your head.
That is fear. Do you know anything about this fear?
Let me be clear. I don’t walk around every day feeling fear in its fullness. I have learned how to cope with fear and how to deal with fear. I work hard. I play hard. I run marathons. I busy myself and I drink beer. I try to help people. I smile. I laugh. I read. I write. Did I mention I run?
When you move to a new city and it feels like you are all alone, it makes it hard to run!
And so as I sat with my friend, I had to be honest. “I’m afraid.” I said. He looked at me and he said, “Matty, that’s a big deal. I mean, that’s dark and that’s deep.” I laughed a little and said, “I know! It’s hard for me to be honest about how I really feel sometimes because I’m scared I’ll scare people away. I’m scared it will be too much. I’m afraid!” We both laughed. And then he looked at me and said, “I’m going to pray into that fear, because that fear is straight from the devil.”
I like that. Actually, I love it! “Fear is straight from the devil.”
For those of you who have walked with me and have loved me so well, I want you to know that I’m sure God has all kinds of reasons for bringing me out here to Seattle. But it seems to me that one of the biggest reasons God has me here is to create the space to uproot the fear in my life. I was reading from 1 John 4 the other day and my soul held on tight to these words:
“God is love and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them. Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness on the Day of Judgment, because as he is, so are we in this world.
There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love.
We love, because He first loved us.”
There has only ever been one person who was able to love perfectly, and that was Jesus. I’m beginning to realize I have a lot to learn about His perfect love. I don’t know where you are at, how you are feeling, or if you are someone who experiences anxiety and fear. But if you are anything like me, I invite you to walk with me. Reach out, open up, and pray into these words: “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love. We love, because He first loved us.”
Every morning I wake up and I borrow these words from Jesus: “Do not be afraid, for I am with you.”
I’ll never forget what my friend said: “Fear is straight from the devil!”
And now, in this moment, I hear Jesus saying, “Do not be afraid, for I am with you, and I defeated the devil.”