Golf is fun, and even though I am the worst golfer I know, I still love to hit the links with my buddy Mitch. If he laughs at me, I can just goose him with the golf club and keep moving forward with my standard, unlimited number of mulligans. Several years ago when I was out on the course with Mitch on a particularly beautiful day in South Texas, I didn’t really care if I spent most of the game as I usually did, slicing and hooking my way to the hole in I-don’t-care-how-many strokes.
First hole - at the tee box. Suddenly…horror of horrors! My goofy grin turns into furrowed-brow seriousness. We aren’t alone. Two other parties had made their way out of the club house and are standing in line now, waiting for us to tee off. Watching us. For some reason it totally throws me off. They are staring with their beady and judgmental little eyes. They are just hovering there, like evil vultures, in their expensive golf clothes with brand names I don’t even recognize and perfect shiny white shoes. I am, on the other hand, in my worn out Old Navy and tennis shoes with the soles falling off. My soles would literally make a flopping noise like flip-flops every time I took a step.
I try to pretend that I don't feel completely out of place. Like a confident gentleman I make my way over and shake their hands and say good morning. Wait…stupid! Is that even what you’re supposed to do? Maybe you aren't supposed to talk at the tee box?! What if they are wondering what the heck is wrong with this overly friendly, obviously intimidated kid with the shoes?
Mitch tees off - a beautiful shot straight down the fairway.
My turn. Why are my palms sweating? I feel myself trying to act confident and I'm wondering why the heck I’m suddenly so intimidated. Ten guys watching. I can’t even think straight. Maybe I’ll do a little practice swing…isn’t that what you do? I wonder if they’re judging my grip. My floppy clown shoes.
“Ha ha…just a practice…ha ha.”
Mitch chuckles. The awkward hanging in the air is so thick you can slice it.
SWING! I dig my club into the ground and create a divot half way to China.
SWING! I slam the club down on top of the ball…which bounces about 3 feet past the tee.
Tee is broken. Sweat is breaking. Cuss words are swimming through my mind.
Now the guys are visibly uncomfortable. Annoyed. I’m completely sure that I can hear their thoughts: “Why is this guy even out here where he doesn’t belong?” “This floppy-shoed Old Navy kid is going to take forever and ruin our game.” “No wonder this dude barely made the B Team in 7th grade.” “That guy has chicken legs and will probably never get a girlfriend.” I looked over at Mitch who was attempting to put on a reassuring, pitiful smile.
Ok. I got this.
New tee. Ball in place. Deep breath.
SWING! Whiff…and…the club goes flying out of my hands and into the field next to us.
Laughter erupts. I laugh too, as if I’m laughing at someone other than myself. I decide to play from where Mitch’s ball landed.
Fear has this amazing ability to reach it’s tentacles through every part of our brains to short out circuits and push buttons like a three year old running amok at Best Buy.
For example, every healthy adult has a natural ability to tread water, but throw some people out of the boat and that natural ability is completely shut down by fear. Though they are in no immediate danger, people will either freeze or flail and thrash about irrationally when overcome with fear.
I have felt that thrashing, panicked feeling more than once since the tee off from hell. When Rachel and I left a comfortable position to start a church, there was a long season where I was deeply afraid of failing. Hundreds of friends and family members were watching. Fear told me that I wasn’t good enough, our music wasn’t cool enough, our location wasn’t hip enough, and no one would come. That fear kept me up at night. It made me physically sick. It tore up my mind and body with higher levels of stress then I had ever experienced before. It also made me a really bad pastor, leader, husband, and dad.
When fear finds a home, it always invites striving to move in with it. Striving is intense activity fueled by fear. Striving is flailing. It is swinging the club so hard you dig half way to China or, even worse, you throw the club half way to China.
When striving sets in, you can’t win. That’s partly why it is so dangerous. We strive because we are afraid of failing, yet when you strive in fear, you will always fail. It can be crazy-making! You can do everything right, follow the recipe perfectly, but a cake made in striving will always taste bitter. That’s because striving creates a tangible cloud around a person. You can almost smell it.
Strivers make people feel uncomfortable and awkward. You look in the striving salesman’s eyes, and you can see something there that tells you he needs this sale more than you need the car. You have coffee with a friend who can’t stop talking about the next weird diet or travel pursuit (since the last eight ideas didn’t work out), and you get the sense that their life is completely out of control. Everything strivers say and do is pushed through the filter of fear, and eventually even close friends will abandon the crazy-train.
The thing about striving - the truth that will set the striver free - is that we aren’t actually in danger of drowning at all. The guys watching me tee off weren’t making fun of me under their breath. They didn’t care about my shoes. Striving is based on fear, and fear is based on a lie.
When I try to draw hope or security out of a job, a business, a person, a bank account, an opportunity, my looks, or anything else that can be shaken or lost, I am living a lie. If the thing in which I’ve placed my trust even appears to be weak or failing, fear kicks into high gear and I become a striver. Fear tells me: “You’re going to have to force this thing to work or you’ll be a huge failure.” Fear might say, “You have to grit your teeth and make it happen, because if you don’t, the whole world is going to crumble.”
Here’s the truth: That relationship, that job, that money, that project or game or hobby or business…they’ve never been carrying the weight of your world. HE has. You’ve never been drowning because He’s never stopped holding your head above the water.
The Lord is my Shepherd, I have everything I need. Psalm 23:1
Fear wants you to believe that God doesn’t love you enough to sustain you. He isn’t strong enough to hold you. He isn’t paying close enough attention to catch you if you fall or heal you if you get hurt. Fear tells you that you carry the weight of your own world.
You don’t, and you never have.
If you’ve been flailing and striving and throwing golf clubs in desperation, you can stop.
And take a deep breath.
And another one.
And remember…I’m not my shepherd. I’m not my provider. I’m not my healer. I’m not my sustainer.
I am deeply loved by God, who knows me and will hold me no matter what.
No. Matter. What.
Perfect love casts out fear. God’s perfect love for you is an unshakable foundation. Discovering the depths of His love through worship, prayer, generosity, and meditation in the Scriptures is a path to peace, and the answer to your striving heart.