August 31, 2011

Passion's Enemy

When I was in kindergarten, I told my parents I wanted to play softball. I didn't think twice about it after my pronouncement until the day we piled in the car and my mom announced that we were headed to register for softball. I panicked, sobbing uncontrollably: "But I don't know how to play softball! Don't make me do it!"

They overlooked my drama and signed me up anyway.

For that entire first season of my illustrious softball career, fear paralyzed me. Each at-bat, I would gingerly step into the batter's box, turn with trepidation toward the Goliath girl waiting to hurl a ball at my face, and hope--no pray!-- for a walk. Strikes, all of them. I suppose the pitchers could smell my fear: I just stood there, never swinging, hoping my bat would magically ping the ball forward. After the first strike, my lips started quivering. After the second, tears welled in my eyes. With the third and final crushing blow, I stood in the batter's box and cried. This went on during every single at-bat throughout the season, including the one where the umpire stopped the game and yelled, "Somebody come help this girl!"

From fear of failing, I failed. I sabotaged myself, not from wild success, but from experiencing and growing and living.

From the sidelines, the idea of softball seemed intriguing. But when I jumped into the game, suddenly the reality that I had to perform, look foolish as I learned, and step out of some comfort zones caused fear to wash all over me.

I still know the fear thing all too well. I imagine you do too, especially when it comes to pursuing your passion. We fear that:

  • we aren't really called to this. It is something we're imagining or creating ourselves;
  • we will look foolish;
  • people will think we are prideful when we put ourselves out there. It's like we're saying "I'm good at this" and calling attention to ourselves;
  • we will fail or not see the outcome that we hope for;
  • we are wasting our time on something trivial or frivolous;
  • it won't have any value;
  • no one will respond or react the way we hope about what we are pursuing;
  • we will be rejected or misunderstood.
Sometimes, strangely, we even fear success.

Our fears are usually founded on two expectations: we expect perfection of ourselves and we believe people expect perfection from us. But, my friends, the pursuit of perfection is the enemy of the pursuit of a passion. Perfection is fear-based, but pursuing a passion is faith-based.

My favorite passage about faith and fear is found in Romans 4:
{Abraham believed God}, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do no exist. In hope, Abraham believed against hope that he would become the father of all nations, as he had been told...He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead (since he was about 100 years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah's womb. No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what He had promised.
This is the passage I go to over and over and over and over, one that has walked me through church planting, parenting, my recovery from perfectionism and self-made righteousness, and my attempts at writing.

Abraham had logical and looming reasons to fear: an almost-dead body, his wife's dead womb, and a promise made practically a lifetime before it came true. I imagine him trudging along in a foreign land, knowing not where he was headed, and playing God's promise in his head. Did I hear right? Am I being foolish? 

Abraham always came back around to this: God. He is a faithful God, a promise-keeping God. And so he didn't waver at what He knew God had given Him. How?
It says he did three things:

  • He strengthened his faith. He sharpened it, exercised it. He didn't dwell on the arguments and circumstances setting themselves up against the promise, against his hope. Matthew Henry says, "Though it may seem to be the wisdom and policy of carnal reason, yet it is the weakness of faith, to look into the bottom of all the difficulties that arise against the promise."
  • He gave glory to God. He declared to himself over and over who God is: worthy of our trust and honored by our trust.
  • He convinced himself based on God. He looked at himself and feared; He looked at God and had faith.

God must be the source of our pursuit because sometimes our fears will be realized. But when God is the source of our pursuit, it doesn't matter if we receive a blank stare or a rejection or we are invisible. We're doing it because it's what He's given us to love, it's what gives He's given us to fill us with the abundant life. He is pleased as we pour our trust out on Him, just as He is honored by our creative reflection of Him.

Nothing is a waste of time if it requires faith.

What happened with softball, you ask? My parents bribed me with ice cream if I'd just swing, I swung, and the ball dribbled into the infield. It wasn't the slow-motion, movie-dramatic hit. But it was an attempt. It was a refusal to my fear. It was saying no to perfection and yes to a passion, to a life lived fully.