Meghan is well-acquainted with fear — from seeing E.T. as a child to asking a boy to prom to going into delivery for her first child three weeks early, fear has been around her whole life. But she realized that some of her most meaningful experiences have come when she didn’t let fear hold her back. Here, she reflects on what it takes to trust four words: Do not be afraid!
I sat in the beauty of the sun-drenched hospital chapel, tears streaming down my face.
I wasn’t ready for this. I wasn’t supposed to go into labor for another three weeks. I hadn’t mentally prepared. What if I died? What if my baby didn’t make it? Did the people I loved know how much I cared for them?
I had a few minutes of quiet until I had to be back in the mother-baby unit, where a nurse would give me medication to induce labor. My water had broken at work just hours before, but I wasn’t in labor. My doctor said we needed to deliver the baby within 24 hours to mitigate risk of infection.
A few hours and a few expletives later (sorry, nurses!), I held a beautiful, healthy baby boy in my arms. I felt exhilarated, exhausted and filled to the brim with joy. Fear had shown itself to the door.
Fear has followed me around my entire life. When I was little, it was fear of E.T. (the friendly but strange-looking extra-terrestrial) popping out of my closet. When I was school-aged, it was fear of a less-than-perfect report card. When I was at an all-girls high school, it was fear of asking a boy to prom. In college and beyond, it was fear of saying “I love you;” fear of squandering my God-given gifts; fear of not hearing my calling. Now, as a mom, it is fear that something will happen to one of my children; fear that I’m not doing enough to help shape them into kind, well-adjusted humans.
Fear has been there, and yet some of my most beautiful experiences have happened not because I wasn’t afraid, but because I was afraid — and then took a leap of faith anyway. I drove across the country in college to work with a legal nonprofit for a summer. I signed up for a 16-day rafting and camping adventure in the Grand Canyon without one day of whitewater experience under my belt. I ran a marathon. I left a comfortable career to go hike across Spain. I sent a letter to an acquaintance to let him know how special I thought he was (he later became my husband). I gave birth.
On the other side of fear, I’ve often discovered not only tremendous beauty, but also tremendous growth.
Of course, fear is sometimes there for very good reason. It can help us exercise necessary caution and avoid seriously harming ourselves or others. Often, however, I think fear is not a sage gently leading us away from danger, but an ill-intentioned mischief-maker leading us away from opportunities that will help us grow. Fear can be rooted in an instinct for self-preservation, which prevents us from giving ourselves to others in service and becoming the person God is calling us to be. Fear tells us that comfort is more important than calling, that the risk of rejection or looking foolish is too much.
In my current city of Denver, there is a fantastic organization whose missionaries work to form relationships with folks experiencing homelessness. The first time I volunteered with the organization, one of the missionaries said, “You’ll probably feel awkward and scared approaching a homeless friend for the first time. In fact, if you don’t feel at least a little bit awkward, you’re probably doing it wrong.”
What else do we miss out on just because we are afraid of feeling awkward or uncomfortable? Do we take the easier but less enriching path because we are scared to step out in faith? Why is it hard to trust that if we are feeling called to something, God is right there cheering us on?
“Do not be afraid!” is a message repeated more than 400 times in the Bible. Maybe this is such a constant theme because God knows how hard it is to live fearlessly. To live without fear means being anchored in something stronger than fear — love. But love means letting go of some part of ourselves that we hold dearly — our time, our treasure, our talent, even our very identities.
Just four little words: Do not be afraid. Would our lives be different if we actually took them to heart?
I’ve heard those words countless times, so why can’t I shake the fear that seems to continue to show up in so many parts of my life? I only know this: God calls me to a lot of things, and I fall short in answering all of them. My falling short, however, shouldn’t prevent me from continuing to strive. Maybe I’ll never be able to completely shake those feelings of fear. Maybe, for me, the victory comes in fearing, but then in doing anyway.
The next time you feel fear pulling at your sleeve, holding you back from something you know is the right move or keeping you from something beautiful, breathe through it. You won’t regret what you get to hold in your arms on the other side.