Don’t worry, I didn’t go on a date with a mugger.
Just another day at the office, and my day was actually coming to a close, when we start hearing screams for help. We rushed to the window to see two construction workers holding down someone who was yelling for help. As the next hour lapsed, more pieces of the puzzle came together. CSI arrived and photographed injuries on a woman as well as the injuries on the construction workers. Police escorted a mentally disturbed homeless man into custody after finally subduing him. From our limited perspective and not having any ability to eavesdrop on the conversation, it appeared that the woman had been attacked by the homeless man and the two construction workers had stepped in to assist her, one of whom was injured in the process including some possibly broken ribs. Traumatic for everyone involved I’m sure!
So why write another woman’s story on my blog?
After the event had transpired conversation between the girls at work echoed some of my own thoughts.
– “Ladies make sure to get some pepper spray”
– “Maybe its about time to learn some MMA moves”
I was getting ready to get off work and I felt myself clutch my backpack tighter for a moment as I stepped onto to the same streets. Hold my keys between my knuckles, as my weapon for “protection”, a little firmer.
Nothing says I’m a strong independent woman like keys between the knuckles, am I right? 😉
As I walked, I thought for a moment.
I walk past homeless people every day. I have known people very dear to my heart who have been, or are still, homeless. Fear is not something that I would say marks most of my interactions with individuals who are homeless. In fact, I’ve had conversations with many friends that I’ve watched clutch their purses a little tighter or walk on the other side of the road out of fear. I’ve had conversations to help them let go of fear or viewing homeless people as dangerous.
In fact, fear is generally not something I like to have influence my decisions when possible. While fear as an instinct can be useful in dangerous situations, I like to think that I have pretty good instincts about people and about situations. Beyond my own instincts, I also generally trust that God’s hand of protection is on me and in the things that do harm me, he will mercifully walk with me through my healing.
So as I walked out the doors of the office building I chose to be true to myself and walk down the streets without adopting a new fear that changed my behavior, over something that didn’t even happen to me.
I say all this, not because I want to tell of my triumph over my own fear, but because as I reflected on this I realized how often this is a struggle we don’t even realize that we go through- when fear changes our identity.
Maybe you know what I’m talking about. Maybe it was a relationship that led to a painful breakup, or the deep vulnerability you shared with a friend who walked out of your life, or you shared your ideas at a work meeting and had them shot down.
Or maybe it wasn’t even something that happened to you. Maybe you saw a coworker get their ideas shot down and humiliated. Or maybe you saw your parents marriage with each toxic choice and fight and hurtful comment spoken in anger.
Whatever it was, it stopped you in your tracks and stirred up fear. Fear that said in the moment, “You need to make sure that never happens to you”
Maybe you are naturally a trusting, open person who thrives in vulnerability. But after sharing your thoughts on a topic with true vulnerability, you faced rejection instead. You walked away ashamed and determined to not open yourself up to that kinda of embarrassment, hurt, or shame again. Instead of being a trusting person, open to possibilities and new people, you become skeptical and withdrawn, hesitant to engage for fear of rejection.
And just like that fear won.
What if we could live without fear defining our choices? What if shame took its rightful place? What if we acknowledged fear in a healthy way?
What does it look like to acknowledge fear in a healthy way?
1. Recognize healthy fear. Fight or flight is a real thing but our subconscious doesn’t always know how to differentiate from real danger or perceived or emotional danger. Use your conscious brain to make that differentiation. Most of us have good instincts buried underneath our brain chemicals, teaching your brain what is and isn’t “danger”.
2. Know your identity. It can be very hard to know when you are straying from your identity if you don’t know what that is. Its hard to win a war against fear and shame if you don’t know who you are. Take some time and get to know your own heart. Who are you when you are at your best, who were you before pain, fear, and shame made you adjust to avoid being hurt again.
3. Take time to know the truth. The truth is that sometimes when we are hurt there is a lesson to learn. Fear usually dictates the wrong lesson though. For instance, you took a chance and went out on a date with someone who ended up breaking your heart, taking advantage of you, or abusing you. I had one of those. It would be easy to walk away and let fear dictate that what you should do is not open yourself up in the same way. But instead, maybe the lesson learned should be something more like… how to have healthy boundaries, how to guard your heart (with gates not walls), or to value yourself more.
4. Choose to live courageously. “Courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear”. Maybe this part of my blog comes from reading through so much Brene Brown over the last three months, so don’t believe for a second this is all me! Part of living courageously is knowing your values and living into them. Do you value kindness? Do you value serving? Do you value connection? Then filter the fear and the decisions that you make through those lenses- not through the lens of fear. Fear tells me that I should not make my opinion known to my leaders and bosses because I will be shot down and belittled for them. But my values of learning and connection remind me that even if my ideas are not helpful in that moment, I will learn more about what is needed and can still contribute to the conversation in a more helpful way going forward and grow in the process- and I may even learn about and connect with my bosses in a way I wouldn’t have if I hadn’t spoken up.
Year 25 of my life was one I decided that I decided that I wanted to do things that I was afraid of. Dating terrified me because intimacy terrifies me. I’ve seen enough broken marriages and relationships to make me question if daring to love deeply and be known intimately is worth the risk. So I took a step and conquered (in part) that fear. I also tried and conquered several other things I feared that year. And do you know what I got out of facing the things that I feared? I found myself. I found a richer, fuller life. And I had a joy and vibrance that was unencumbered by fear- fear still pokes its head in from time to time but I chase courage as much as I can
So I would entreat you to be bold. Be courageous. Choose to live authentically according to your values. Leave fear and shame behind. And see the kind of audacious life that you get to step into.