I really enjoyed Elizabeth Gilbert’s newest book, “Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear.” It is a worthwhile read for any artist, successful or aspiring, who seeks an encouraging and realistic perspective on the creative process. The author asks readers to consider one valuable question when pursuing their calling: “What are you passionate enough about that you can endure the most disagreeable aspects of the work?” She speaks with the battlefield experience of a writer and artist, and shares valuable wisdom with readers about conquering fear, listening to your creative voice, and capitalizing on artistic inspiration.

There are volumes of encouraging and useful insight that I took notes on as I read, but I stopped in my tracks when I read her words.

“Perfectionism is just a high-end, haute-couture version of fear.”

Whoa.

It seems that every big “a-ha” moment I’ve had in the last few years has included a realization that fear is way too often my bottom line. And, here it is again! Rearing its ugly head at the root of my lifelong struggle with perfectionism and control. This isn’t just about creative obstacles, either. This fear underlies everything from creativity to relationships to vocation to health!

Scripture is anything but silent on the “fear” issue. Most of us have heard the statistic that the Bible includes 365 repetitions of “Do not fear.” Beyond that, God is clear that His love is so satisfying and filling that fear is crowded out and pushed away. John writes, “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” (1 John 4:18)

I can’t really get around the clear warnings about fear. And yet, I find more and more places that my life is enslaved to it! I want this deeply ingrained fear rooted out by God’s love. But how?

I wrote once about being brave, and what I learned from my friends’ stories was that it’s not about feeling brave, because hardly anyone does. It’s really about courage, which is what we do in the face of that fear. I want to be the kind of person who chooses courage, but unless I realize that I’m fighting against fear, I am helpless to make the wise and courageous choices that I want to make.

So, I am creating some new habits and refreshing my procedure manual! In conflict, anxiety, or stress:

  • Step 1 - Humble myself before God, the one who has all the answers. This means taking the time to slow down and pray, “God, you are in charge.”
  • Step 2 - Know what’s really going on. I say, “God, what’s really going on here?” And I wait a moment to figure out how I’m actually feeling, what I’m actually reacting to, and especially, what fear I’m actually battling with.
  • Step 3 - Employ mantra(s). I have added two little sayings to my internal dialogue recently, in light of all that I’m learning about fear, both from Scripture, and I say these to myself when I’m afraid to start falling apart. They are:
    • Live Found. This comes from Luke 15:11-32, the story of the Prodigal Son. In this story, the young prodigal son runs off with his dad’s money, squanders it, and comes crawling back, humbled and defeated. His father welcomes him home with open arms and proclaims, “For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.” I often run away from God when I should run towards Him, and then even after He has welcomed me back, I continue to live in fear of His punishment and displeasure. I need to live as one who has been found by God, rather than one who is still running away from Him.
    • Walk Worthy. This one comes from Ephesians 4:1-3, where Paul writes, “I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” I need the reminder to live in the worthiness that comes from God’s love and acceptance, and I need to make decisions as someone who has this value deep in her bones.
  • Step 4 - Act from response, not reaction. Truly, if I did this every day, how many fewer too-quickly-spoken-words would I have to regret, how many fewer apologies would I have to make, and how much more deeply would I feel rooted in the wisdom that comes from God, that wisdom the biblical author James says is “first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere.”(James 3:17) I want to respond carefully and with love, not out of my first instincts, which are often fearful, self-centered, and insecure.

May we be leaders, worshippers, fellow humans who live in a way that is humble, quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry, because when we live this way, we let God’s perfect love cast out all our fear. And girl, do I need that help!

P.S. If you’re interested in more in-depth reading and laughs from some very wise women who walk this path with us, I highly encourage you to check out these books:

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