It was 115 degrees inside our AC-less car as we drove through Las Vegas in the middle of the night. My wife and I had decided to drive all night to avoid the extreme July heat. Only days before, we had finished packing up everything we owned, said goodbye to our friends in Chicago, and started driving toward Seattle. We had decided to move across the country so I could go to grad school. That was where our plans started and ended: move to Seattle. Go to grad school. We didn’t have income. We didn’t have a place to live. We didn’t know anyone in the city. It was terrifying.
Fear has a way of leading us to deeper places of meaning and identity. Eight months prior, I had received a graduate school acceptance letter: we could take this leap if we wanted to. We decided to take some time to think and pray about the decision. One of us said, “How about we sit on it for a week?” That sounded like a reasonable thing to do—until the next day, when I realized that the only thing that would keep us from going is fear.
I was afraid. I didn’t know what life would be like. I didn’t know what taking this step would require of us. What if we didn’t like Seattle? What if the school isn’t a good fit? What if we can’t get jobs, don’t make friends, run out of money? What if? What if? What if?
There was so much to be afraid of.
There are different ways we feel fear. There’s the kind of fear that tells you not to do something because it would be harmful for you (the fear that keeps you from sticking your hand in an open flame). When you feel this fear, you listen to it and obey it. You don’t put your hand in the fireplace and you move on with your day. The other way we feel fear is when it’s tangled up with desire. This is the kind of fear we can’t get rid of. This is the fear that haunts your thoughts. This is the kind of fear that the pilgrim needs to pay attention to.
Here’s what you should know: your fear comes from somewhere. You have moments in your life where you were hurt in deep ways. As you approach a moment of deep vulnerability—when you say that doing this thing really deeply matters to you—your fear reminds you that there is risk and the possibility of pain involved. We’ll explore that more next week, but for now, what you need to know is this:
Your fear is your friend. She has your best interests in mind. She’s telling you where the next part of your journey may take you. She’s pointing you to places of growth, change, and transformation. Listen to her. Don’t do what she says—she’s over-protective—but do listen to her.
Your fear is a guide to places of meaning and transformation. She will speak up when you get close to something that matters, and then you have to move forward in spite of her warning.
A fearless pilgrim isn’t a pilgrim who doesn’t feel afraid. A fearless pilgrim is one who is able to pay attention to her fear and use it as a guide.
When we made the decision to move across the country for grad school, it was scary. If it hadn’t been scary, it wouldn’t have been the right decision. It was risky. As we drove through Las Vegas in the middle of the night, we still didn’t know what was ahead, but we knew there was something calling out to us in that fear. We didn’t know how it would turn out. But we knew we had to go: our fear told us so.
How do you respond to fear? How has your fear led you to places of transformation? Or how has your response to your fear kept you from those places?