Tell Me Something True

Just now joining us? This post is Part 4 of the series on overcoming a fear of people. To find earlier posts, start here:

Part 1: We All Do It

Part 2: It’s a Trap

Part 3: Why Are We So Afraid?

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“Finally,” April said to herself as she walked into the quiet kitchen. A few minutes to herself.

The counter was clean except for a lone Hershey bar calling to her. “No, siree,” she said. “Not until Thursday.” She put the candy in the bread box and closed it.

She glanced at the calendar. Wait—Tuesday already? Book study night. And Makenna had her first basketball practice. April pulled out her phone to text Kyle. Maybe he could take her.

April sighed as she picked up her book and headed to the swing on the front porch. She had been a faster reader in college, before married life and kids had forever obliterated her free time.

She almost didn’t join Nicole’s book study group, didn’t want to commit to such a daunting author as Charles Dickens. But Kyle had convinced her. “Just enjoy yourself,” he had said. “No one’s going to care how fast of a reader you are.”

So here she was. A porch swing, sunny weather, and two chapters behind in Great Expectations. Not too bad.

She was two-thirds through the first page (which was really more like half a page) when the neighbor’s garage door opened. Oh, there’s Kelsie, she thought, and started to get up to say hi. Remembering the two chapters waiting for her, she settled back down and waved to her neighbor instead. But Kelsie never looked up to see.

Looks like Sara’s in full force this morning, April smiled as she watched Kelsie try to wrestle the two-year-old into her carseat. Carson had been like that.

She sighed again as she turned back to her book. It would be nice to be on track with the rest of the group for once tonight. She focused on the words and had made it a couple of sentences when—Aa-roof!

It sounded so close April jumped.

“Baxter, no!”

Kelsie was pulling her giant of a dog out of the minivan by his collar. April watched to make sure the toddler didn’t wander out of the van while her neighbor returned the dog to the backyard.

Yes, those had been crazy days when the kids were little. She smiled with memories, but she also remembered how frustrated and undone she had been most days. She looked at the closed book in her lap. How she would have loved this kind of free time to read books like this when the kids were little.

“Sara! You need to stop it right now!” Kelsie had finally pinned the toddler into her carseat.

April remembered those moments, too. She didn’t look up this time, didn’t want Kelsie to think she was witnessing her hard morning. She heard the door shut and the engine start.

Aa-roof!

April jumped again. This time it sounded even closer. A panting, happy mess had joined her on the porch. “Well, hello, Baxter,” she said. Last time she just pointed him out to Kelsie and her neighbor came and got him, but after the morning she had just witnessed…April raised her eyebrows at the dog. “Come on, Baxter,” she grabbed his collar and started walking across the yard.

Charles Dickens could wait.

Playing with Snakes

Recognizing the problem is a vital first step. We know we have trouble with an unhealthy fear of people. But, armed with this knowledge of our struggle, where do we go next? How can we shake off these fears?

We were learning about snakes in our toddler classroom, so we got out the toy rubber snakes for playtime. The boys, of course, were all over this. Lily gave a shudder and refused to participate, choosing instead to play by herself and watch the rest of the kids from a distance. Anna, barely two years old, finally worked up the courage to touch one, and soon was quietly and very seriously playing with it. As she did, she kept repeated softly to herself, “It’s just pretend. It’s just pretend.”

Somehow, that two-year-old innately knew how to face her fear—but we’ll come back to that.

Not a Step-by-Step Plan

First, as we explored last week, before we try to work on our fear of people, we have to address the big problem—have we ever responded to the Gospel by following Jesus? We will never make any real progress without that foundation. To try to fix our fear-of-people problem while ignoring our bad standing with God is like putting new paint on a wall that is internally disintegrating from termite damage.

Yet even many Christians—if not all Christians—struggle long and hard with fearing man. Even after becoming one of God’s new creations, our old ways and struggles seep through. Fear of people hides so deeply and cleverly in each of us that our only hope to fight it is to follow God’s specific leading in our own lives. With that in mind, here are four things we can prayerfully do to fight it in our own hearts.

Understand.

We must understand what exactly we are fighting, and what our hope of victory is. Our goal here is not simply to quit fearing people. “The human heart is an idol factory,” John Calvin said, and we will always be worshiping something. If we clear out the altars we have set up to other people, we will soon start following some other illegitimate god, whether money or self or living in the moment. We must realize that the ultimate battle is for our hearts and the end goal is the glory of God and our worship of Him alone. God must have first place in our hearts. When He does, idols will find no room to stay.

Pray.

Why do we think we can do this on our own? Why do we think we can somehow muscle our way through our issues without help? God knows our weakness and is ready to help us in it. As Peter slipped through the water when walking to Jesus, he called out for help and Jesus immediately gave it (Matthew 14:22-33). All we have to do is ask.

Talk. To people.

Seriously. It may be tempting to think that because we struggle in valuing people’s opinions too highly, we shouldn’t include other people as we face this problem. But again, why do we think we can do this on our own? The people around us can never take God’s place in our lives, but God has put them in our stories for our encouragement and theirs. Find someone who can sympathize with your struggle and talk it through with you, regularly if needed.

Remind our hearts of the Gospel.

When we played with toy snakes that day in the toddler class, Anna was afraid. But her fear didn’t control her. First of all, Anna participated in spite of her fear—she played with that toy snake instead of retreating to the familiar safety of the book corner or joining Lily. Secondly, as Anna participated, she reminded herself of something true: the snake was, in fact, just pretend. It would not hurt her.

We don’t retreat from people—hiding from our problem changes nothing. We are still called to live life, not in monasteries, but in the midst of people. But as we step out into the crazy new world of each new day, we can remind ourselves of something true: the Gospel.

To focus on the Gospel is to touch on everything else. Fear of man hides in different nooks and crannies of each of our hearts, and we will all gravitate to different verses, truths, promises, etc., that best help us personally in our own fights against fear of man and other things we can’t shake off easily. But here are a few that would be a good place to start:

  • God is bigger, stronger, and more powerful than any person on earth—and all of them combined. See Daniel 4:34-35.
  • God is your Father, and loves you more deeply and cares for you more consistently than anyone you will ever meet on earth. See Psalm 103:17.
  • Jesus’ sacrifice is powerful enough to save you, and to set you on a path toward becoming like Him. Because of this, change is possible, even unavoidable, if you are truly His. He will complete in you what He started. He has given you His victory, and you can be victorious in this. See Philippians 1:6, 1 Corinthians 15:58.
  • God knows what He is doing in your life. He knows about your heart struggles and how hard this is, and He sees you. You are not in this alone. See Psalm 103:14, Isaiah 45:3, and Matthew 6:4.

So realize what battle you are fighting. Pray to the God who will strengthen and guide you through it, and consider seeking out someone to talk with as you grow. And be like a two-year-old: don’t let your fear keep you from reaching out to people, and remind yourself of something true as you go.

Why Are We So Afraid?

“Hey, Erica! I was hoping to see you today.”

Erica turned to see Chloe coming up behind her in the church foyer. “Oh, hi, Chloe.”

“I wanted to show you something,” Chloe handed Erica a piece of paper.

Erica looked it over. “A piano contest?”

“It’s more than a recital; it’s a songwriting contest. You come up with a song and some lyrics and then play it and sing it at the contest. I showed it to Ashley and she thought you’d be perfect for it!”

“So there’d be people judging me?”

“I know it can be a little nerve-racking at first, but you’ll do great. I can help you practice, if you want.”

“I don’t know, Chloe. That sounds…” Erica hesitated.

Chloe smiled. “Think about it. You can let me know next Sunday if you want. I really think you’d be great at it, Erica!”

Erica re-read the paper as Chloe walked away. Singing one of my songs. In front of judges. And an audience.

She folded the paper and stuck it in her pocket. Not likely.

Good Enough?

We live in constant fear that others will see us for the frauds we feel we are. We’re afraid they’ll think we don’t measure up. That we’re not good enough.

News flash, friends. We don’t measure up. And we’ll never be good enough.

All the self-help books and feel-good motivational posters we can read will never bury this inescapable truth: You and I are not good enough. Whether the people around us tell us so or not, it’s true. We fail, make mistakes, and look ridiculous. Sometimes all in the same day. Even in our best moments we’re mired down by memories of past mistakes and fear of future ones.

It’s time to face the music. We’re scared of being found out.

But what if we already have been?

The Bible Says…

We spend so much time worrying about the thoughts going through other people’s minds. Other people. People just like us. What about the thoughts and plans of the God who made us?

Our mind-reading attempts on other people rarely land us anywhere productive (or even accurate), and it is even more ridiculous to think we could ever guess the thoughts of God. In an extraordinary gesture of kindness, God wrote His thoughts down, and gave them to us.

We don’t have to wonder.

God knows us and everything we try to hide.

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you” (Jeremiah 1:5).

“And he said to them, ‘You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts’” (Luke 16:15).

“Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there! If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me” (Psalm 139:7-10).

“For he knows the secrets of the heart” (Psalm 44:21).

We have nothing good in us.

“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9).

“For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment” (Psalm 51:4).

“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins  in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind” (Ephesians 2:1-3).

Can’t Get the Medicine Without the Diagnosis

The Bible seems to agree with our self-assessment on our bad days. We have so much we want to hide, but we can’t—God sees it all. Ironically, though, it is only through acknowledging these hard truths about ourselves that we begin to find a way out.

The secret to our fears of insufficiency is knowing they are true: We are messed up.

BUT.

It is one of the most hope-filled words in the Bible. But. Here those three letters remind us that our future isn’t determined by our past or even our present, but by the all-powerful God who is writing our stories.

“…[W]ash me, and I shall be whiter than snow” (Psalm 51:7).

“For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21).

“For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23).

“But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:8-9).

“But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:4-8).

Like a doctor who knows his patient’s only hope is through radical medical intervention, God tells us the truth about our hearts. And then He provides the antidote. Because of the free gift of Jesus’ sacrifice, we can be whole and clean and perfect and complete.

God has seen our deepest, darkest secrets – even things no one else knows about – and knows just how dark and twisted and bad we are.

But He didn’t leave.

All of these fears we have that people will decide we aren’t worth their time and walk away?

We are not worth God’s time. But He isn’t leaving.

He paid the debt for our darkness by giving His own Son, and freely offers to accept us as His own. His adopted children.

All of those fears and insecurities have no basis anymore. We have been made alive! We have been given the perfect righteousness of Christ! We are loved by God!

And when God is for us, “who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31).

The thoughts and opinions of man hold no weight when we have been uber-generously given the acceptance of God. We have every spiritual blessing (Ephesians 13-4). We are children of God (1 John 3:1).

We are free. Free from trying to measure up or resting on our own abilities to be enough. Free from bondage to others’ expectations or our own goals. Free to live for the God who rescued us—and for Him alone.

“So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36).

It’s a Trap: Defining Fear of People

He pushed hard on the pencil to get the darkest shades of green he could. This was his best tree yet. He set down his pencil and studied his work. He might even need to add black to made the foliage really seem dark enough. He squinted at it, then reached for his black pencil.

“This is truly marvelous, Matthew!”

He nearly dropped his pencil. “Oh, uh, thanks.” She usually didn’t sneak up on him like that.

“This is exactly what I was talking about,” she picked up his paper. “See, class? May I borrow this, Matthew?” He didn’t answer because she was already holding it up.

“Notice how Matthew used light and shading in his work here. On the side of the tree that faces the streetlight, he added lighter colors of green. On the opposite side of the tree, we seem some of the darkest greens there are. Well done, Matthew!”

She set the paper back down on his desk. “Would you like to put it on the display board?”

Matt looked around. Everyone else was either looking back at their papers or pretending not to talk to their neighbors. Just as he turned back to Mrs. Ludstrom, he noticed the seventh-graders walking down the hall outside the classroom. The basketball players walked by last, seemingly unconcerned about being late.

“Um, no thanks, Mrs. Ludstrom. I think I’ll take it home.”

What is Fear of People?

When we think of fear, we usually think of physical danger or harm. Sometimes that can be true of our fear of people; sometimes we’re afraid of what people can actually do to us. We worry about increasing street violence or North Korean missiles instead of trusting in the God who holds all people and their lives in His hands.

But there is another kind of fear of people that is more common for most of us. We might think we’re not afraid. But ask someone to get on a stage and speak to an audience and you’ll see just who is fearful…which will be most of us (it will certainly be me).

Some polls say that 25% of Americans are afraid of speaking in front of an audience, a fear that tops fears of snakes, drowning, and needles (and clowns, by the way). We are more afraid of standing in front of people just like us and talking to them than we are of suffocating underwater. What?

We can’t handle it when one person thinks less of us, much less a large group of them all at once. And they would think less of us, wouldn’t they, if they saw us as we are?

People scare us. Their opinions scare us.

When we fear people, we base our worth on their acceptance, then live in fear that they will take away their acceptance—and take our worth right along with it. We fear others through relationships, and refuse to show our true selves out of a fear that we might be rejected for it. “We are more concerned about looking stupid (a fear of people) than we are about acting sinfully (a fear of God),” Edward Welch writes in When People are Big and God is Small.

Why is Fear of People a Problem?

The exact phrase “fear of people” is not found in Scripture and the similar term “fear of man” is only found once: “The fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is safe” (Proverbs 29:25). What kind of snare does fear of man put in our path?

Meet Herod. There were several Herods in the Bible, and this is not the one who met the wise men after Jesus’ birth. This Herod executed the apostle James not long after after Jesus’ resurrection and ascension to Heaven; when he saw that James’ death pleased the people, he decided it was a good thing. So he imprisoned Peter, intending to do the same to him.

But Herod forgot something. He forgot that God is sovereign, not Herod. An angel walked right into Peter’s cell that night, woke him up (the guy never could stay awake), and escorted him to safety. Peter would not die that night.

But Herod’s days were numbered. Shortly after this attempted execution, Herod gave a speech in all his political glory to subjects who, ironically, wanted to please him. The people began chanting that Herod the king was actually a god. He liked that praise and glory from the people who stood before him, and he prided himself in their chant. And he died.

What kind of snare does fear of man lay for us? The trap of looking to frail, fallible people instead of the conquering, incredible God. We forget to follow God and instead start following people like us.

Herod was an extreme example, but an example nonetheless. When we rest our faith and joy in people and glory in their praise, we forget that God alone has any right to that praise. It’s a trap.

Not Alone

This is serious stuff. It seems to be a universal human experience to struggle through this heart-problem: Who will we look to for acceptance, for our worth?

Israel’s first king (provided, by the way, because the Israelites wanted to be like all the peoples around them) was chosen by God and began his reign as a humble and wise leader. Yet eventually, Saul’s fear of the people he ruled drove him to break God’s direct command in order to do what would command their respect. “Saul said to Samuel, ‘I have sinned, for I have transgressed the commandment of the Lord and your words, because I feared the people and obeyed their voice'” (1 Samuel 15:24).

In the New Testament, we find the Pharisees lived in constant fear of people. For a bunch of bossy holier-than-thous, they were surprisingly scared. The Bible tells us they feared the Romans and their hold on the Pharisees’ authority (John 11:48), but they also feared the people (Luke 22:2), and inspired fear in others (John 12:42).

And then there is what might be darkest example of fear of people. The night cocky Peter fell to fear and didn’t acknowledge that he even knew the One who was giving His life for Peter’s soul (Mark 14:66-72). How low fear of people can take us.

Hope

But perhaps it is this darkest example that brings our deepest hope. Because Peter’s story didn’t end that night in Jerusalem, not far from the hill Golgotha where the cross was raised.

When Jesus conquered death and rose again just three days later, the story wasn’t finished. Peter now had the unending power of God, the unshakeable hope, and the steadfast love he could base all of his life on. And because of this hope and love and power, Peter would not always be afraid.

We don’t have to be, either.

We All Do It

He shaded this tree with three shades of green. Last time he had only used two shades. Setting down his coloring pencil, he squinted at his paper. They would be so surprised. He smiled as he pictured it framed in his grandparents’ living room, then picked up one more shade of green. Real talent, Mrs. Ludstrom had said last week as she posted his latest work on the bulletin board.

“Hey, Matt.”

He looked up quickly. Two of the guys from seventh grade swaggered to his table and sat down. He watched them while quietly covering his drawing with his math book.

“Saw you in P.E. today,” one of the guys said. “That was a great three-pointer.”

“Um, thanks.” He wiped his hands on his pants. He wondered how long they would stay at his table.

“Maybe you could be on our team again next time,” the other guy said. It didn’t sound like a question.

“Yeah,” Matt said.

“If only we didn’t have to end that scrimmage game there,” the first guy said. “Stupid art class. We would have won if Mrs. Ludstrom wasn’t so picky about making us go color like preschoolers.”

Matt pushed the box of coloring pencils further into his backpack.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Of all the days for her sister to cancel the playdate. Kelsie clicked her three-month-old’s carrier into place. “Sara, let’s buckle you in, honey,” she held apart the straps of her two-year-old’s carseat.

“Nope,” Sara insisted as she kept playing in the back of the van.

Kelsie tried logic. “Sara, we need to go get some food from the grocery store so we can eat dinner with Daddy tonight.”

Aa-roof!

Kelsie turned around just in time to see Baxter come jumping into the car. “Baxter, no!”

Aa-roof! The baby started crying.

Kelsie sighed. “Come here, boy,” she called to Baxter while the baby cried louder.

“Here’s your paci, Baby,” Kelsie heard her toddler say behind her while she wrestled Baxter to the backyard. So much for weaning him off that like Jenna suggested, Kelsie thought, remembering her friend’s cautions about pacifiers.

“Stay back here, crazy,” Kelsie shoved Baxter in and shut the gate. She hurried back to the van just as Sara dumped the diaper bag out on the van floor. “Sara, what are you doing?”

“Finding Noah’s paci,” Sara informed her.

“It’s right here by your foot. See, here? Okay, we’ll clean that up later. Let’s get in your carseat.”

“Nope.”

“Sara, we need to …”

Sara stood up to go back into the back of the van. Kelsie reached out just in time to grab her.

“NO!” Sara yelled, kicking her legs. Kelsie put her screaming daughter into her carseat. The baby’s paci fell out of his carseat and he started screaming again, too.

“Let’s sing a song for Noah,” Kelsie suggested as Sara kept yelling. “Twinkle, twinkle—” Her phone vibrated in her pocket. She pulled it out to see if her sister answered her text about childcare and saw a name: Rebecca Peters. Kelsie raised her eyebrows. No way, she thought. Mrs. Perfect does not need to hear this chorus right now.

Just as she started to cancel the call, Sara kicked again, knocking the phone out of her hand. “Sara!” Kelsie scolded. “You need to stop it right now.”

Sara crossed her arms and glared at Kelsie, but Kelsie had stopped caring—as long as a certain two-year-old quit kicking and screaming. She re-inserted Noah’s paci. “You can get out when we get to the store,” she told Sara firmly then picked up her phone and looked at the screen.

Oh, no! The clock was counting up—Sara’s kick had made her answer the call instead of decline it. Kelsie swallowed and wondered if she should hang up or not. Timidly she put the phone to her ear. Not knowing what else to say, she softly said, “Hello?”

“Oh, hi, Kelsie, how are you?” Rebecca asked smoothly.

“Good,” Kelsie answered and slammed the van’s sliding door. “We’re doing good,” Kelsie climbed into her seat, wondering what all Rebecca had heard. “How are you?” she mumbled.

“Oh, we’re doing wonderful. My kids and I have had so much fun this summer! Anyway, I was calling to see if you wanted to help us out with a thank-you project for the church staff…”

Kelsie rolled her eyes as she pulled her door shut. She put the key in the ignition as Rebecca droned on about the project. She would have backed out the driveway with the phone stuck to her ear, except two things happened at the same time.

The first thing Kelsie noticed was that Sara started kicking and screaming again. Then she looked up and saw her next-door neighbor standing on her driveway, holding Baxter by the collar.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“And that’s where you’ll find me/Farther than I ever hoped to be.” She smiled as the last notes on the piano died away.

“Oh my goodness! That was so pretty!”

Erica smiled at the praise.

“You wrote that? That sounds like it could be on the radio.”

“Thanks, Ashley,” Erica said. She paused then grinned. “It would be fun to hear it on the radio.”

“I know, right?! Play another one.”

Erica looked at the ceiling while she thought. “Um, okay, there is this other one I really like, but it’s not quite finished yet. Tell me what you think,” she took her place at the piano bench again. Gently, she fingered the keys and began playing a melody. She took a deep breath to sing the first line.

“Hi, girls!”

Erica looked up. “Oh, hi, Chloe,” she said slowly.

“Hi!” Ashley grinned. “You should hear what Erica wrote—it’s amazing! Play the first one again, Erica.”

“Oh, I don’t have to play that. It’s really not that good. I know a lot of people who could do a lot better,” Erica started to get up from the piano.

“But you just said you wanted to hear it on the radio,” Ashley reminded her.

“I’d love to hear it,” Chloe added. “I heard you’re playing for church in a couple weeks.”

“Maybe,” Erica smiled and looked away.

“Come on, just do it,” Ashley said.

“Please?” Chloe asked.

Erica sighed and sat back down at the piano bench. She paused as she thought through the first few notes again. She looked down and noticed her hands were shaking.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

It almost seems that to be human is to be afraid of the opinions of others. How many of our decisions and thought processes are wrapped around what other people think of us—or what we are afraid they will think of us?

Stories like Kelsie’s and Matt’s and Erica’s feel familiar—because they are our stories, too. We relate to these and many similar predicaments we find ourselves in. Ever fumbled over someone’s name (or your own) during an introduction, or completely flop a handshake? Then think about it for hours and mentally replay what you wish you had done?

Why are we so afraid of each other?!? Do we realize how crazy it is that we give so much power to those who are human just like us?

Fear of people holds sway over most of us to some degree or another, and it has long directed much of my own life. Over the next few weeks I hope to explore this topic here on the blog—not as someone who has conquered and moved on from this fear, but as a traveler working through it. May we all find something to encourage us in leaving these silly fears behind. Come join me! See you here next Tuesday – or you can sign up for updates and new content will land in your inbox as it is posted.

There is no reason to be afraid. Not anymore.