I was 4 years into a relationship with a wonderful young lady; but she wasn’t meant to be my wonderful young lady. I had an ulcer to prove it…literally.
The source of the ulcer was a complete mystery. I had gone from being perfectly healthy to experiencing constant pain and not even being able to take a sip of coffee. (I’m sorry. I should have warned you that this was going to get ugly.) The doctors couldn’t figure it out and prescription medications had zero effect.
It ended up taking a three-and-a-half hour flight south of the border to unveil the cause.
I wasn’t even looking forward to this trip, but it had been booked for months and my brother Allen and our friend Adam were going, so backing out wasn’t an option. Little did I know how magical the waters of the Caribbean could be.
A quick aerial leap over the Gulf of Mexico and I went from avoiding milk to being able to comfortably enjoy Mexico’s most famous indigenous bar time beverage. That was the moment I came to understand how devastating stress could be. I also realized how good it could be at building so gradually that you have no idea how stressed you truly are. We are the proverbial frog and stress can heat up so gradually that by the time we come to our senses we are taking a shot of tequila south of the border, wondering where in the world that brutal ulcer went.
It seems odd, but I had no clue my relationship was having that effect on me. But now I knew. And just in case I needed additional evidence, the day before we returned home my unpleasant reminder returned with a vengeance. I was miserable physically and psychologically. And it was completely and totally my fault.
“Once your fear of continuing on as you are is greater than the fear of making the change, then you will do what you need to do,” a very wise friend named Peter Buckland counseled.
Unfortunately the fear of continuing on wasn’t enough for me. I needed three heaping scoops of fear topped with a giant mound of whipped ulcer and the cherry was the fact that I couldn’t even drink coffee!
Around this time a prayer kept coming to my mind. Perhaps it was through my talks with Peter that the thought originated. I’m not sure. But writing about it now, I think it reveals how permanent I believed my decision to end that relationship would be. I felt like it would be the end of all romantic relationships in my life. There would be no second chance. I had been given a relationship with an amazing person and if I broke it off there would never, ever be a Mrs. Phillips.
Here was, in essence, my prayer: “Lord, if you give me another chance, I will pursue the woman you reveal to me, and no matter how much fear I feel during that process, I will act in spite of it. I will act as if I am fearless.”
I wasn’t bargaining with God. It was more like I had come to terms with the ugly fact that fear can keep you from opening a door to a much better life, and that you might never get a chance to go through that door again. I couldn’t bear the thought of a feeling ruining my life or making it less than it could be. It wasn’t a bargain, it was a resolution. I was done letting fear push me around. I was done with fear. Period.
That decision changed my life.
But right then, I was right where fear wanted me. I was a wreck AND willing to stay a wreck because getting out of the wreck would make me wrecked-er…more wrecked?…whatever! See how stupid it seems from a distance? Absurd, isn’t it.
Why don’t you tell me how many decisions in your life right now are being dictated by fear. It’s way more than you want to admit, I guarantee it. How stupid do those fears feel? Your “wrecks” are completely different than mine was aren’t they. Right….
Take one of your fears (you can start with one of the smallest) and in your mind transfer the whole scenario surrounding that fear to a friend you know well. Vividly imagine them explaining it to you. Now tell me how that fear looks. Did it just shift from being very justifiable way closer to the absurd? What would you advise your friend to do in that situation?
Now you know what you should do.
You get to choose the role fear plays in your life. Fear can’t actually do anything to you at all! It is all bark and no bite. It is simply a vague idea that things won’t go in a way that you prefer if you take a particular course of action. And by the time you reach the point where you are willing to kick fear in the teeth, you realize it never had any in the first place. My fear told me I wouldn’t get another chance, and I was dumb enough to believe it.
The point is, fear lies. Fear lies a lot. The things we fear almost never come to pass.
Fear’s real power and influence comes in its ability to alter the course of your life in a negative way. And the more you yield to that fear, the stronger it gets. It feeds on your submission, just like an addiction. And that, my friends, is wonderful news.
It’s wonderful news because you can stop letting it dictate your decisions right now. You might feel fear, but you can still look at your situation and make a decision that flies in the face of it. Just like a junior high bully, fear backs down when you stand up to it. Stand up to it enough and it pretty much leaves you alone. Fear eventually figures out that you won’t put up with it. Besides, there are plenty of easier targets around.
Fear told me to stay put in my misery and if I didn’t my future would be a disaster; but now I have a beautiful wife and Saturday, May 11th was our 12th anniversary. We even have two kids who are 7 and 9, so it’s getting pretty serious! And that prayer I told you about earlier…well it ended up being pretty necessary in order to land Nicole. She wasn’t exactly an “easy catch” as they say. I felt fears, but my decisions weren’t based on them. I learned to act in spite of fear.
I have since applied that same mindset to the other areas of my life. “And what about fear?” you ask. Well, fear’s moved on to the next guy.