I woke up crying again last night. I dreamed that I was pregnant with my fourth child at the same time that I learned my mom was diagnosed with terminal cancer. I would have to let her go – again. In the 15 years since she left, I’ve dreamed of saying a heart-wrenching goodbye to her countless times. No matter how many versions of this I go through, I’m never ready. I sob and wake up hurting.
There’s no point trying to fall back asleep after a dream like this so I climb out of bed to shake off this unsettled feeling. It isn’t the lingering grief that is the problem – I accept that grief comes and goes unbidden. The real danger lies in the message inherent in these dreams that I cannot handle walking through a loss like this ever again; that I don’t have it in me. This pervasive fear of what might lie around the next corner can keep me stuck and holding my breath if I am not vigilant.
I find it interesting that I was pregnant in this dream. Expecting.
Life and death are both essential parts of this messy journey and to really live we must show up for all of it.
Fear itself is simply a clue that something is wrong – an alert to danger or an indicator that we have some inner work to do. We can face fear, walk through fear, overcome fear, or heed fear at appropriate times. Fear can be a bully but she is not my real enemy.
The real enemy is my failure to acknowledge that I always get to choose my response.
I feel anger and joy, hope and excitement. I feel jealousy and wonder and compassion. And I feel fear. I am human. To feel is human. I am not bad for experiencing any of these emotions but I must take responsibility for how I chose to move through them. Unless I numb out or live in denial I am never going to live a fearless life. Because I choose to live awake and aware I get honest about when fear shows up in my life and then take purposeful action.
We can learn to coexist with discomfort and take action anyway.
I don’t know if you have ever walked through the valley before – lived with depression or anxiety, for instance, or buried someone you love and had a hard time coming back up for air again. Have you ever felt like you woke up from a fog and didn’t recognize the person you were just a few days earlier? If so, then you might understand how it’s possible to have anxiety about having anxiety. A fear of going back to that place of darkness or struggle again.
Instead of soaking in the gifts of today sometimes I waste my life worrying about what could happen and how I will handle it if I crash again. I trade the joy of today for anxiety about tomorrow. But Fear and anxiety are not my enemies. My enemy is inaction. My weapon is remembering that the only thing I get to control is how I show up today – how I ask for help and love and do my best to equip myself with health.
Life and death aren’t just fought on the battlefield. We make a decision to show up to life in a million little ways every day.
For so many years of my marriage, I secretly feared that one day my husband would leave me. I didn’t fully trust that I was loveable enough for him to stick around. I permitted this fear to wedge its way in between us so that every time we argued, my brain circled back to the idea of divorce.
I had to learn that I was worthy of commitment and treat myself like I mattered. I needed to release my grip on controlling anyone else’s behavior and come to a place of knowing that no matter what, I will survive and thrive. Fear of divorce was not my enemy. I had to choose to stop pushing people away out of fear that they might hurt me.
Storytelling about the future destroys the joy of today.
Lately, envy has been showing up in me when I witness the accomplishments of other people. It makes me uncomfortable and ashamed to feel this way. But I remind myself to get curious about these feelings and what I unearth is that I admire and am proud of these online friends – yet I’m afraid that there won’t be enough goodness left in the world for me after they take their share.
As though their writing a book diminishes my opportunities to do so. Or their capacity to offer their beautiful gifts means there’s no more room for me. Envy is not my enemy, though. I dig in further and what I find down there in the dark recesses of my heart is the familiar fear that I am not enough and never will be. I get to choose what to do with this information and I remind myself of truth.
There is no accomplishment on earth that can make us more “enough” than we already are today.
The world feels scary sometimes. Natural disasters, war, disease, and distrust. It makes sense that we can feel powerless and cynical about our future. But while we cannot control any of these circumstances, we can choose to do our small part to help build the world we want to live in.
We are called to do hard things: to comfort or forgive, to advocate loudly for justice or quietly serve. To love babies at home or build nations abroad. We’re called to be truthtellers or adventurers; we’re called to the emergency room or the boardroom. We may fail, we may get hurt, we may be rejected or used. We will make sacrifices along the way. And it feels scary. But fear is not our enemy and neither is failure. Our enemy is forgetting that we are each gifted on purpose and that we can choose to stare fear in the face and offer our small gifts anyway. No strings attached.
We can offer our small, imperfect gifts to help build the world we want to live in.
Fear is not our enemy. We can feel the fear and choose to show up anyway.