by Hope Johnson
It’s 1:00 a.m., and a familiar fear keeps me awake. I reach for my phone for the 15th time, checking to make sure that my alarm clock is actually set. In college, I only worried about sleeping in on exam days. But now that I have a “real” job, I find myself paralyzed nightly by the fear that I’ll wake up to the sound of my boss demanding to know why I am not there.
When I write it down, this fear seems irrational and silly. What’s the worst that could happen? But that’s just it. My perspective on work has become so polluted that in that sleepless moment at 1:00 a.m., I truly believe that getting yelled at by my boss is the worst thing that could happen. Although I’m far from where I’d like to be, I’ve realized that this fearful thinking stems from two distorted perceptions: I view man as too big and God as too small.
Fear of man has accompanied my work for years because I have believed the lie that others’ opinions of my work define who I am. If my boss calls me lazy, it must be true. If I get a D on a paper, it means that I am stupid. Driven by the belief that others’ opinions of me are undeniably true, I have structured my life around the goal of avoiding negative adjectives. My good grades in college had a lot more to do with gaining others’ approval than with work ethic.
This cowering attitude is evidence that I fear man in a way God never intended. When I view man as having authority over my identity, I wither. Jeremiah 17:5-7 describes one who trusts in man for strength as a bush in the wastelands. In contrast, one whose confidence is in the Lord is described as a lush green tree planted by the water.
If I do not look to the Lord for confidence, I will inevitably fear men. But finding confidence in the Lord is not necessarily easy, especially if you have a distorted, narrow view of His character.
For as long as I can remember, I have tended to view God as a harsh taskmaster. Growing up, I conflated authority figures’ expectations with God’s expectations of me. I’ll never forget how discouraged I felt as a young girl when despite how hard I worked, my sports coaches said that I was not giving 100 percent. Instead of being motivated, as my coaches had hoped, I took their words to mean that no matter how hard I worked, it was never going to be good enough. The words of my coaches and other authority figures seeped into my perception of God until I pictured Him as being perpetually dissatisfied with my efforts and ashamed at my laziness.
In the midst of a performance-driven, perfectionistic culture, it is easy to believe the lie that God measures us by our productivity. And although I have always logically assented that God’s love is not based on my merit, my heart is just beginning to believe this truth.
A passage that has helped me to visualize the compassionate love of God is Moses’ blessing of the tribe of Benjamin: “Let the beloved of the Lord rest secure in him, for he shields him all day long, and the one the Lord loves rests between his shoulders” (Deuteronomy 33:12). God does not require me to work for His favor; He beckons me to rest in His embrace.
As my late-night fears illustrate, knowing the truth is not the same as believing it on the heart level. This should not be a discouragement though, but a reminder that becoming like Christ is a process, not a one-time fix.
When the familiar lies about man and God plague me, I have to fight back with the truth of the Gospel, telling myself again and again the story of my identity in Christ, grounded in His unmerited, unconditional love. Only then will I be able to approach my work with a joyful and empowered spirit. Only then will I be able to focus on the mission God has called me to rather than on my insufficiencies and others’ opinions. Only then will I be able to work out of love, not fear.
Hope Johnson is an ESL teacher who loves tea, traveling, and all things Russian. She blogs at missadventuresrussia.wordpress.com.
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