In my last blog I wrote about many ways I’d recently used in real life 4 skills I teach in English class—reading, writing, listening, speaking. Here, I’m going to go into one incident that challenged me to use all 4 skills, and more.
Last weekend I was at a mission conference that closed with a panel discussion. Talk about out of my comfort zone! The final question, taken from the audience, was, “What do you do with fear?” In the silence that stretched after the question, I thought, “I don’t know what kind of fear the writer of the question was thinking of. I do know that one kind of fear has figured large in my life.”
I also knew what I tell my students about overcoming stage fright: Don’t think about yourself and how the audience perceives you; think of your audience and how they can benefit as you serve them in love by skillfully communicating what you have to say.
The responses to the answer I stood up and gave (with thudding heart and quivering hand-held mic) indicate that I am not the only adult still dogged by this fear. One person encouraged me to continue working the idea out. So now I’m going to take this opportunity to take the ideas I spoke extemporaneously to a crowd and develop them further in writing. Because life is full of drafts, and an assessment is hardly ever simply summative—there’s always more to be developed, done, learned, shared—in love, without fear.
Fear of what other people think is the biggest fear I deal with. I know that as adults we are supposed to have grown out of that sort of thinking along with acne, but I just learned to hide it better. Do they think I’m cool? Do they think I’m beautiful? just turned into Do they think I’m a good wife? mother? teacher? Christian? missionary? I’ve spent a lot of time image-managing—playing up what’s good, covering up what’s not so good, and fearing all the while that someone will peek behind the curtain to see the little man furiously working the levers. (Remember The Wizard of Oz?)
In the midst of this hard work of image-management, I was stopped in my tracks by the words of the Samaritan woman to her neighbors about Jesus: “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did” (NIV, John 4:29).
Now stop. Think about that.
If I met a person who I believed could tell me everything I ever did, all I can imagine telling my friends is “RUN AWAY!” How terrifying would it be to be in the presence of someone who knew all the things that I minimize, excuse, give a positive spin, or just avoid mentioning?
But Jesus is not like anyone I’ve ever known. What kind of love and acceptance must Jesus have exuded to replace that fear and hiding response so powerfully with the exact opposite—attraction? How very freeing it would be to come into the presence of a person who knew all that stuff and responded without recrimination, incredulity, gloating, or snickering—just love and truth—so I could finally relax and quit worrying about the image management?
Oh, how I want to live in that kind of presence!
So what do I do with the fear of what other people think? I let it drive me closer to the One Lover of my soul who sees me as I truly am with eyes of compassion, a heart of forgiveness, and hands of healing that hold me together and make me whole. I learn to let go of fear there, where there is no condemnation.
Because that freedom from fear is so deeply comforting, so exhilarating, I can’t help but say, as counter-intuitive as it sounds, “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did!” And as I live in the presence of that winsome Love, I hope I may add to the plausibility of the invitation by beginning exude the same love.