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When Fear Breaks

When Fear Breaks

Left to my own imagination, fear can have its way with me.

A vivid memory came to mind a few weeks ago: me, as a little girl, maybe five or six, lying in my bed in the middle of the night. Frozen in fear. Wholly convinced, from the top of my head to the very tips of my toes, that a monster was hiding beneath me. I would lie there for what I remember feeling like hours, trying to problem solve. Thinking of solutions for how I could get through my door, to my parents’ room, without it catching me. There wasn’t ever an obvious escape route that didn’t involve a serious risk of being face-to-face with this made-up monster, so I’d always resolve to stay as still as possible for as long as possible. Eventually I’d fall asleep, and when I woke up the next morning, it was always gone. I must have had it in my head that daylight was the only thing that could make it disappear, and darkness was what brought it back.

When you’re young, fear is fear. It’s harder to tell the difference between real, watch-out-for-that-car danger and the things we perceive to be equally frightening. And our young minds can’t sort out reasoning well enough to ask where our fear is coming from, what is really simmering below the surface that might tell us something of why we’re suddenly tingly all over, anxious, and desperately searching for somewhere to hide. We just know it when we feel it.

Then we get older and learn that fear that grows by night doesn’t always dissolve by day. That actually, fear is everywhere. We can find it around every corner, every bend, if we’re looking. Even when we’re not,

  • fear is skilled in the art of surprise.


My own resolve with vulnerability exists mostly on paper — writing and writing until fear has no place on the page. I’ve shared that writing has been a tool I’ve used every morning for the past thirty years to get out of my head and put my thoughts on paper so I can glean perspective in plain sight. Where what’s left is intent. The why. The sincerity behind putting myself out there. Not the crap the world would have me believe, but the true ways of my heart.

I think, more than anything, what tends to reveal itself is what lies beneath those feelings of fear, whether it’s fear of failure or of not being accepted or of unknowns. I can see that what I’m really struggling with are insecurities about not being good enough, or not being worthy. Maybe to you those seem like much more difficult realities to come to terms with. I’ve felt that same way. It can be overwhelming to acknowledge that my pursuit of perfection or my instinct to protect myself from failure really comes down to times when I haven’t felt worthy of showing up simply as I am.

Yet every time I do, and I stand in truth — my heart and arms open wide — I’m reminded that I was made to feel more than just afraid. I can also be brave. And, more often than not, the two go hand in hand. I think most of us are far more capable of this — feeling more than one way at once. I think we can be tender and ambitious. Sensitive and strong. Shy and vocal. Fearful and courageous. That has been my experience with vulnerability. It lets us feel one, then shows us how to become the other.

That sort of hope is what steadies my every step during moments of doubt. When I find myself looking over my shoulder, wondering who’s watching me or what people will think. Moments when fear has gripped me — knowing I am more than a moment of fear or insecurity, that this doesn’t have to be where things end.

This is how we begin to trust our own instinct over criticism. Our own intuition over doubt. It’s how we muster the courage to fact-check what we already feel deep down in our bones, to know if it’s worth clinging to. And it doesn’t always have to look like living out loud. Sometimes it looks like standing firm, holding to those convictions and ideals, because that can be brave too.

None of this is for the faint of heart. It costs us something when we choose to live open-hearted and out of our shadow side. We have to lean into discomfort, deal with our emotions head-on. Shatter perceptions of who we’ve been. But also uncover who we were meant to be.

Even as I think back to the season when I started to sense this book on the horizon, my immediate reaction was fear, stemming from insecurity and doubt. It took me an entire year of voice memos and writing down bits and pieces of these chapters in my journal before it felt right in my heart. Knowing it is in your hands still scares me a little.

But then, that deeper truth: I’ll keep writing because of the hope I have in it.

This way of living can feel like this great big uncovering. A stripped-down show in the middle of a crowded street. But try to remember all the times you’ve been gutsy in the midst of uncertainty. When you took the job you didn’t think you could do. When you scaled back or changed course. When you started a family. Vulnerability was there every time you asked for forgiveness or offered compassion. It’s been with you every time you’ve sought truth or resisted the status quo. The first time you chose to stand up for yourself. Then for someone else. And every time after that. There will be times when we are sure enough that walking through unknown doors will feel easy. But not always.

Other times, courage of that nature will feel a million miles away. I’ve had to learn what fear feels like so I can recognize when it’s moving in. Some days I’m quick to push it aside, and other days I’m persuaded to backslide to old ways.

  • Chances are, you’ll win some and you’ll fail some too.

I can’t know what you’re hiding from. Or what triggers cause you to shrink up and steal away in the safety of your shadow. Or whether it comes from a moment of sincere pain or has morphed into something make-believe. I only know that we all have them, and that giving fear the final word will only ever keep us running for cover.

  • I hope for both of us that when fear does come rushing in, we’ll be wise enough to question what’s behind it.

And whether it’s shame, uncertainty, or a sense of unworthiness, we’ll remember that, as powerful as those emotions are, we are not powerless to them. They are ours to hold and to own and to wrestle to the ground. Even when they look and act and sound like protection, they are what keep us from living life with our whole hearts.

I also hope we’ll remember that discomfort means we’re making progress, and vulnerability, in all its messiness, is the only way to move forward. And maybe more than anything, I hope we’ll both remember that this is how we tell our story — in search of truth. In plain sight. So we may live and share our lives in full.

This kind of living means admitting that we are complex, that we can feel two ways at once, that our lives are messy, and that we don’t have it all figured out. But when we live like this, that magical something happens. We see that we’re not alone. For some, vulnerability will come by way of grand gestures. But not for all of us. It won’t always feel like a lightning-strike moment or fireworks in the sky. Sometimes, it’s forged in patience, steady and unhurried. But know that when you do choose to make a move, even at a tip-toe pace, others will follow.

None of us has to go on fighting monsters in the dark by ourselves. We can show one another that it’s safer to live open-hearted after all.

Out of hiding. Willing to step forward courageously even when there’s no guarantee — only a hope that the life we’re worthy of abounds on the other side. Whether we leap forward or put one brave foot in front of the other.

Fear breaks. We rise.

Excerpted with permission from The Stories We Tell by Joanna Gaines, copyright Joanna Gaines.

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Your Turn

Is fear holding you back? Keeping you hostage? Question it. What is behind that fear? God never gives us a spirit of fear! Rise up, friends, and let’s move forward whether or not we’re afraid. ~ Laurie McClure, Faith.Full