I often have difficulty getting out of bed to write. In a house with six people, I don’t often have much time to write without interruption. So, morning time works best for writing. But getting out of bed to do it offers challenges that make succeeding at it often seem impossible.
I lie there, reading the newspaper on my phone, thinking, “Five more minutes, then I’ll get up and write.” But then I worry, “What will I write? Maybe I should just read the paper a little longer, check Facebook one more time, and I might stumble across something that will get the creative juices flowing.” But that extra time rarely ever produces anything that primes the pump. It's all just a game I play.
This morning, I faced the same situation. Couldn’t quite pull myself out of bed to sit my sorry butt in front of the keyboard. So, I asked myself, “Why do you do this? Despite good intentions, and promises to the contrary notwithstanding, why do you so regularly refuse to do the one thing you’ve said you want most to do?”
And that’s it, isn’t it? At the heart of it, isn’t that the question we—who have any ambition to do something creative, something interesting—all have to answer? What’s keeping you from doing the thing that makes your heart sing?
I suspect it has something to do with fear—probably lodged deep down in the Amygdala, the Lizard brain.
Am I afraid of failure? I guess that’s a possibility. It may be that I harbor a fear that I’m not as good as I hoped or thought, that it will soon become obvious to me and to everyone else what a fraud I am. Lord knows, I wonder about that sometimes—doing it all with rhetorical smoke and mirrors, not really any substance there. Yes, I contend with that, to be sure.
Am I afraid of success? Also possible. Do I think that if I do this well enough for people to notice that that would be a bad development? That too is possible. If I get to the point that a sufficient number of people are looking at what I do, then I will carry around with me the realization that I now have more people I may potentially disappoint. See the whole “smoke and mirrors” thing above.
Both of those fears rattle about in my brain—voices constantly warning me of impending doom, warning me that people will see beneath the façade, warning me that I’ll die alone and unloved … a disappointment on an epic scale. (“He seemed like such a nice boy. It’s just awful.”)
I’m not going to lie; I contend with those voices all the time, and not just about my life as a writer either.
But deep down, the fear I wrestle with most centers on the work itself. Or put more plainly, the fear I wrestle with most is how difficult the work will be once I start. Which fear, if you want to know the truth, baffles me a bit. Because, generally speaking, I like work, especially the work associated with writing. I do. Writing, for me, is like solving word/thought puzzles—looking for different combinations, trying to put disparate concepts and linguistic possibilities together to form something new and interesting and beautiful.
This fear is also a fear of failure, not in the big sense—the how-can-I-ever-look-people-in-the-eye-when-I-go-back-to-my-high-school-reunion kind of fear. It’s more of a small bore, particular, what-if-all-I-have-to-show-for-all-my-time-in-front-of-a-blank-screen-is-a-blank-screen kind of fear. None of those small failures in isolation is going to define your life, but string enough of those together …
Consequently, I often find myself balking when it comes time to do what I know I need to do. And the only way I know past that particular fear is through it—right down the middle, straight in. No sneaking up on it. No outflanking it. No waiting until the fear gets distracted (Hint: It doesn’t). I have to get right up in fear’s grill, as the kid’s say.
So, when I run across congregations that appear to be stuck, not doing what they say they’ve been put on earth to do, I have real sympathy. Living in fear knocks the wind out of you. It makes forward motion feel like running a hundred meter dash in skis and chain mail.
And, while I’m pretty sure the fear most congregations face has more to do with the fear of failure than the fear of success, I tend to believe more and more that much of that fear begins on a smaller scale with a fear of the work at hand—or perhaps just as likely, a fear that no one quite knows what the work should be.
- Shouldn’t we have more conversations before we start that outreach to the undocumented workers and their children?
- Is it wise to remodel the narthex—what with the way things are right now?
- Wouldn’t another worship service just divide our congregation into different groups?
- Aren’t we running the risk of damage to the property if we let the Community Ministry use one of our classrooms for a clothing closet?
- If we did start welcoming “all” people, what if folks in the community start thinking of us as “the gay church?”
These questions (while not necessarily bad questions) arise from fear—most likely a small scale fear that the work is difficult, will lead us in the wrong direction, or the work is probably wrong for the kind of people we are.
Of course, you might fail. Some bad things might happen if you move forward. But worse things might happen if you stay put.
Don’t get me wrong, you have to consider the consequences of doing something new. The problem is, you should also just as vigorously consider the consequences of not doing something new.
Perhaps the thing you should be wrestling with, more than fear of failure or fear of success, is the fear of not doing anything meaningful.
For Christians, faithfulness, not fear, should be the biggest concern. After all, we follow a guy who, at least according to the tradition, looked fear in the face and then walked right into the very heart of hell. And none of the work you’re scared of doing will ever amount to that.
So, quit playing games and get back to work.