When You're Scared to Move Forward

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I remember when I was in fifth grade and we had these journals that we would write in every day. Every day, the teacher would give us a prompt. But every once in a while, she’d give us a “free write” day, where we could write whatever we wanted.

I hated those free-write days. I would completely freeze up. I never knew what to write on my own.

It was the same thing whenever we did art. If there was a specific project with a plan to follow, I could do it. But whenever there was “free art” day, I would freeze.


In those early years of my life, I came to believe I wasn’t creative.  It wasn’t until I was mid-way through college that I came to realize I was more afraid than uncreative. More perfectionist than lacking expression. More afraid of failure or humiliation than lacking an ability to color outside the lines.

It look a lot of hard work and many years, but I eventually got free — for the most part — from that perfectionism. Slowly, I started to risk more, to tune in to my true voice, to hear God’s voice in my life and follow it, even if it didn’t make sense to other people.

But lately those perfectionism gremlins have reappeared on the scene. They tell me I have too many ideas and will just overwhelm people. They say I’d better be sure to choose the absolute right ideas to pursue. They say I need a coherent narrative for the work I’m doing. They say people will think I’m weird. They say I’d better be careful or I’ll be ostracized.

These voices are making me freeze.

It’s just like being in fifth grade again, afraid of doing the wrong thing.

When I saw my spiritual director this week, I had a chance to talk about these fears and all these voices, and she asked me an interesting question.

“If you could describe your work as a road, what would it look like?”

The road that I saw was wide. Made of dirt — but smooth, not rocky. Room for so many people to join in. Heading somewhere strong and sure.

“Do you see people on it?” she asked.

No, I didn’t. But I could see the potential for people. It was almost like they were imaginary potentialities, and I could see them up ahead, streaming onto the road in clumps of two or three from different directions, all at different points along the way.

“Where does the road end?” she wanted to know.

I held that question for a few moments, and I came to realize there was only one way to describe what I could see at the end of the road.

“Heaven,” I said.

A whole crowd of people, from every tribe, tongue, and nation. So full of joy. So much love. Such a celebration. And Christ encompassing it all, almost like he was the city.

Like I said: heaven.

When it came time to talk to Jesus about my fears, we sat on the side of a cliff, our legs dangling over the side, our feet bare. Ahead of us, to the right, was the shoreline we walked together for the better part of nine months. Behind us stood the tree he brought me to see when our time on the beach was done.

We sat there, him on my right, looking over at me as the sun shone on his face in the middle of its setting journey over the ocean, and I blurted it all out.

I’ve got too many ideas, I said. They’re coming out my ears. I feel like my head’s going to explode. They don’t make sense. They don’t follow in a coherent, singular line. People won’t get it. They’ll think I’m weird. I don’t know how to do this right. I don’t know which ones to do first or which ones to throw away. I don’t want to throw any of them away.

He didn’t say much. But what he communicated mattered. To follow my creativity. Pursue the ideas. Don’t worry about a coherent narrative or a correct way of doing things. Experiment and try things. Trust him for the results.

I’ve been so worried about finding coherence in the narrative of what I’m doing because that’s what I see in the work of the business people I most admire.

I’ve been afraid of overwhelming people because I feel compelled to create a lot of work and just put it all out there, but what if it’s too much at once?

I’ve been afraid people will think I’m weird because of the things I care about: Jesus, the life of the heart, discernment, formation, nonviolence.

But then I got to thinking.

Maybe the way I saw people streaming onto that dirt highway, in clumps of two or three at different access points along the way, is because those God brings to himself through the work I do will literally come from different places. Not just physically different places, but different places in the journey.

Maybe some will need the access point of Jesus. Maybe some will need the access point of caring for the world. Maybe some will need discernment. Maybe some will need to talk about the realities of the heart.

Maybe the thing that makes me feel incoherent is just the way God means it to be. I mean, that’s so much like God, isn’t it? That he would use our whole self, our whole story, all that we love and want to do?

There’s such freedom in that. We get to just do. We get to keep following the voice propelling us forward, the voice that is most true, the voice that feels like a tuning bell dropped into the deep.

And let God do the rest. 

Do you ever feel scared to move forward? Do you wrestle with gremlin voices too? How do you hear God’s voice speaking in that place to you? 

Much love,