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