Yesterday we got home from a holiday in Poland. I love visiting; it’s a special country to me for a lot of reasons – mostly because it’s where I met Irina. I am always ambushed going back, by a flood of intoxicating memories of the endless, carefree summer in which we met, building fires on the beach where the trees met the sea, wandering in the woods and riding the battered train with the windows open wide and the wind on our faces.
I also made some very special friends there, and visiting them is like being with family.
I spent a year in Poland before uni, and stayed with a family I heard about through a mutual friend. They had recently moved there from the UK to start a church, and I went to help them. The people I got to know and the adventures I enjoyed, made it one of the most defining and life changing periods of my existence so far. If I hadn’t gone, my life would look a lot different today.
I very nearly didn’t go. On the surface, it didn’t look like a good idea. School friends were heading off to southeast Asia or earning money or starting university. These seemed like far more suitable and attractive options. I barely knew where Poland was or anything about it – except that it was not well known for sun and surf.
I was really afraid – fearful that I was throwing away a year, that I was wasting money, that I wouldn’t make friends. Other options would have been a lot easier to take. Friends tried to persuade me against going. But I knew, deep down, that was where I was supposed to be for a year before heading off to university – so I went for it. I am unbelievably thankful that I made that choice.
I’ve learnt from this experience and many others, that it’s so easy to miss out on what we are supposed to be doing with our lives because of fear. I could have easily allowed my worries to stop me doing what really I knew was the right decision to make. I would have forgone so many good things.
I believe that fear not only robs us of incredible adventures and success, but is the root of the vast majority of all problems we face in our lives.
Think about it – anxiety and stress, jealousy, unforgiveness, shame, hate – these are some of the biggest things that trip us up in life and they’re all children of fear, fear of the future, of not having what others have, of not being vindicated, of being unworthy, of other people’s actions.
Every day, we meet situations in which we have a choice, to react in fear or not. The more often we respond in fear, the more of its nasty offspring we have clogging us up. When we choose to be courageous instead, and do things even though we are afraid, it’s like taking a gulp of beautiful crystal water.
What would our lives look like if fear didn’t get a say in our decision making? How would you respond differently to a funny look from someone at work, to a bill you don’t know how you’ll pay, to the news that half the people in the UK will be diagnosed with some kind of cancer in their lifetime?
It’s possible to respond to these kinds of things in a way that is not driven by fear, to live a life free from worry about what people are thinking about you, about whether you’ll have enough money or about whether you will get a life threatening sickness.
Fear has absolutely zero benefits (except the kind that helps you climb a tree to evade a cross grizzly bear). All it does is erode freedom and incapacitate its victims, preventing us progressing, being happy and having success. We cannot live the life we are supposed to if it is one driven by anxiety, because we are prevented from being the person we were designed to be. And we can’t achieve much when we’re pretending to be someone else.
The other way
We all have the ability to be courageous. Courage isn’t an absence of fear, it’s pushing on in spite of it. It’s a skill we can learn.
We can learn to be aware when fear is getting a say in our decisions, and batter it down. Next time someone invites you to a party and you feel like opting out, ask yourself why. Is it really because you’ve got too much on, or are you just scared of awkward conversations or judgmental people? When you tell your partner you’d rather they didn’t go on that holiday with their friends, ask yourself, is it really because you can’t manage without them, or because you are afraid something bad will happen to them or they’ll be unfaithful?
If the answer is because you are afraid, be courageous and go to that party, or let them go away. Pushing through that anxiety will be like clean air in your lungs.
But won’t bad things happen?
It’s true, that when we live uncontrolled by worry about the future, what others think or about whether we’ll be successful or not, the very things we’re afraid of are still just as likely to happen. We can’t control the future or anything really.
The beautiful thing though, is that when we choose not to give way to fear, we are a lot more able to deal with these things when they come – something rises up in us that gives us what we need. We become able to skilfully navigate the storms of life, rather than get crushed by them.
Being afraid doesn’t prevent the things we’re scared of happening either – we don’t gain anything from fear, but miss out on a lot instead. When we live a life where fear is not behind the wheel, the level of freedom that we can experience is unbelievable, paving the way for ever increasing joy, peace and success. There is no limit to what you can achieve and enjoy in life!
If you found this helpful, I’d love it if you could share it with your friends, thanks!