Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The Fear Factor, by M

I started my dating fast (or, as my brilliant friend Rachel put it, my “guy-atus”) in part because my church is in the middle of a series right now called The New Rules of Love, Sex, and Dating. Twice now, my pastor has mentioned that he suggests that some people need to take a year off from romantic relationships. Now, technically he said this to men who are addicted to porn... but let's be honest, I knew he was probably talking to the likes of me as well. The other reason I'm on a dating fast is because I broke up with Mr. Maturity three weeks ago, and, well... now seems about the best time as any to take a dating fast if I'm going to take a dating fast.

But, you see, there's a little problem that I've encountered with making the year-off commitment that my pastor suggested. Actually there are a few problems... one (which I'm honestly still praying over and trying to work out) is that I'm not quite sure that God is calling me to set a deadline for May 2012. I feel strongly that God is calling me to singleness now, and to a singleness fast for... I guess for however long He tells me to. But I don't want to set a deadline for myself that I'm not sure God is actually calling me to… and then try to call it obedience. Part of me thinks that not setting a deadline and forcing myself to actually be in communion with God about when my fast ends is potentially a better way. The other part of me is grappling with the second problem I've encountered... fear.

Let's be honest, part of this equation is that I'm just downright terrified of committing to singleness for an entire year. I know that this sounds absolutely ridiculous to some of you. However, let's remember that the last time I spent a full year single I was 17... living at home, watching The Real World Back to New York and AIMing under the name MMCheergirl. This was a LONG time ago. Moreover, let's also remember that, in a way, I've never spent a year single... ever. There's a reason why non-twins are called "singletons"... I've never been one of those. It's not lost on me that the likely catalyst for my serial monogamy in the last 7 years is that for 6 of them I've been more or less twin-less. Mal and I stopped living in the same city in 2005 and I've mostly been in a relationship ever since. I am scared of being alone because deep down, I fear that I can't be... I don't know how. I was socialized as a pair and I've spent all but three or four months at a time in various pairings ever since I was born. Heck, before I was born... like when Mal and I were actually one being. What's that called? A zygote? That's weird.

Anyway, back to the issue of fear. I mean, I think my fear is justified. It makes sense why I would have such legit terror over the prospect. (Not to mention that my future bro-in-law T just informed me that I'm hitting my peak at 25... who wants to waste almost all of one's peak year in a dating fast?!) However, I've learned something about fear recently, and it's the thing I keep coming back to as I turn this whole issue over and over in my head...

Sometimes, fear is best utilized to propel you forward… not turn you back.

Okay, now before I lose you here... I will admit that sometimes fear is a useful emotion that you should obey. God gave us fear so that we would have the sense to run from large, wild animals and creepy men in alleys (or bars?!) It is fear that keeps me from wearing my 5th grade, velvet gymnastics scrunchie out in public. It is fear that prompts me to eventually get around to checking my tire pressure. In the right context, fear is useful in and of itself.

However, in my faith journey, I've found that sometimes the opposite is true. Sometimes God gives us fear to move us toward that thing that scares us, and not away from it. Quick translation: when you're scared of something, mayyybe it actually means that you should do it. (Newsflash to men with a fear of commitment!) Seriously, though, here's an illustration:

I recently decided to get full-dunk baptized at my church here in Atlanta. It was a decision accompanied by fear. For those of you who don't know, being baptized at my church means recording a 2-minute video testimony, having it shown on two jumbotrons during the service, and then getting dunked (wet hair! No makeup!) one at a time, also on the jumbotron, before approximately 2,500 people. This is not your average file-into-the-water and save your applause until the end kind of deal. There are two to three people baptized at a service... it is A LOT of attention and A LOT of close-ups of your face. So, I found myself scared: what if my testimony sounds lame? I heard there are no cue cards! What if I get a huge zit the day I record it? What if I stumble over my words? OMG no mascara in front of all those people? I swear I will probably choke on the baptism water. Will people think I'm too thin and judge me when the wet clothes stick to me? Hair up or hair down? Etc.

I eventually decided I needed to do it because the fear served the useful purpose of betraying a host of spiritual issues that I needed to address. My fear revealed that I have insecurity, fear of judgment of man, legalism and performance issues, etc. It turned out that my very fear was one of the biggest reasons I decided to go for it. It forced me to put my issues to the test and choose the better way… the way Jesus calls us and the way I know I'm supposed to live as a Christ follower.

1 John 4:18 says that "perfect love drives out fear." To be honest, that never really made sense to me. I mean, I kind of got it, and tried to figure it out using round-about reasoning, but still had an inkling that maybe John was talking about abusive relationships or something. In my mind, fear and love had very little to do with each other. I never experienced much “fear” in my romantic relationships. Certainly the occasional frustration, hurt, and disappointment, but not really fear, per se. Rarely do we speak of them in the same context. Fear and faith, sure. Faith and love? Sure. Fear and love? Hmmm, not so much.

But now I'm starting to get it... I was experiencing fear over my baptism because I was participating in a love that is not Christ's perfect love. I feared letting two thousand people see me without makeup, because when I admit it, I love people's acceptance and sometimes praise about how I look. I feared messing up in my video, because I love keeping up the impression that I'm good at everything and that I never mess up. I feared being baptized in the first place because I love my parents' acceptance and didn't want to possibly hurt them by being baptized again (W and I were both sprinkle-baptized as infants – for the record, mom and dad were totally supportive).

…My fear was born out of the possibility of losing the very things that I unjustly love. Would I fear this (really, would I fear anything?) if I was truly in love with Christ and Him alone? I doubt it. Does wet hair and no mascara matter to the King of Kings? No. Does others' perception of my wet hair and no mascara matter if I'm delighted in by the King of Kings? Definitely not. So, my fear told me in a BIG way that my love is misplaced. The perfect love story that we have with God our Father leaves no room for fear. It is when we take our love other places (hello Hosea and Gomer!) that we open the door for fear to enter. Thus, in this context, fear tells us to stop being Gomer and start getting on board with Christ… Running towards the fear, and not away from it, is the answer.

And so... I'm working out that equation right now in my heart about the dating fast. Is my fear the result of my putting my love in a place other than Christ? I think probably yes. I do know that I love thinking I have control over my own schedule and time-frame. I know that I love the idea of this imaginary future husband I've created in my mind. Does that mean I should accept singleness for the arbitrary number of 360+ days set out by a fellow man? We'll see.

What it definitely means, however, is that I will be using this fear for a purpose - working on figuring out what imperfect love(s) are driving the fear IN and learning to replace it with the Perfect Love that drives the fear OUT. I have an inkling that the process will be fruitful… whether it lasts 6 months, one year, or forever (gulp).

I’ll keep you updated!

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