When faced with making decisions, especially life-changing ones, it is natural for us to feel fear and anxiety. We might have a fear of the unknown, a fear of failure, or a fear of not knowing if we are really hearing God right. Fear can paralyze us, causing us to delay our decisions or to avoid making them. But we can overcome our fear and anxiety when we seek God and His Word and purposes.
When Fear and Anxiety Take Over
I’ll admit it. I have trouble making decisions—big and small. At first thought, it was ridiculous for me to even consider writing this, especially given my history of indecision and second-guessing. Spoiler alert!
I’m really glad I wrote this. I don’t know that I would have realized just how much the assumptions discussed in week three are at the heart of the seemingly unbreakable internal cycle I have experienced with many of my decisions despite my best efforts to stop it. So, here’s how it works.
It starts with the excitement of a new possibility, quickly followed by ideas on how it could work and who could be involved, etc. I love this phase. Brainstorming new ideas is one of my favorite things to do. However, doubt and fear tend to find their way into my thoughts. Brainstorming comes to a halt.
I begin focusing more on the “What if…” scenarios usually centered around what I think others will think or feel (I don’t want to disappoint anyone or make trouble, and I want to be well-liked), whether or not my ideas are really any good (after all, some have not panned out), or my own shortcomings that I perceived caused me to fail in the past. Paralyzed by uncertainty, I put off the decision until either the opportunity has passed or someone needs an answer.
If I decide to pursue it, I can be thrown off course as unexpected or undesired reactions or obstacles occur. If I stay on course regardless of these, then seemingly negative thoughts or poor-in-my-mind personal performance starts the harsh second-guessing of my decision, especially when it was made with what I thought to be the Spirit’s direction.
The perceived failure to hear God’s voice affirms each previous time I failed to do the same and paralyzes my confidence, increasing the likelihood that I will sabotage my own efforts to finish well. This leaves ample room for growing paralysis during each new decision I have to make. After all, I have been a Christ-follower a long time, shouldn’t I be able to get this right by now?
Breaking the Cycle of Fear and Anxiety
Seems pretty vicious, doesn’t it? At times, it has been. Thankfully, it doesn’t have to be.
While I know I am better at minimizing the length of time spent in the paralyzed parts of that unbreakable cycle, I am even more encouraged by week three’s message. God wants real transformation for us. And He will transform us, in part, by breaking through our false assumptions!
The cycle is not unbreakable. God’s truth breaks through as I seek Him in prayer and in His Word. The two together are powerful!
As doubt or fear come, I need to consider the feelings or thoughts behind the doubt or fear. Am I putting others’ opinions or acceptance above God’s? Am I giving someone or something else authority that is God’s? Am I trying to avoid the unknown? Is that thought really true? What does God’s Word say about it?
I also need to remember what I already know to be true. One way I have found very helpful is to write a personal reflection at the end of whatever Bible study I just completed that summarizes the most meaningful things I learned or were reminded of about God’s character and His promises, my identity in Christ, and how I need to apply what I learned. I include Scripture references, key quotes, and page numbers of longer, meaningful passages or activities in the study.
Other times, when I was not in a group study and was diligent in reading Scripture on my own, I wrote the Scripture out, prayed and reflected on it, and then wrote a response to God. I have recorded some pretty interesting conversations that way. God’s Word never fails to be timely, relevant, and personal whether reading it straight from Scripture or within my journals. He is so good and faithful!
When Facing Important Decisions
When trying to make a “big” decision, like career changes or volunteer roles, it has been so encouraging and helpful to pray with pen in hand. Writing my thought process, asking Him questions along the way, and including any answers (especially any thought that is scriptural) that may come have helped keep the doubts at bay during the decision-making process. Writing down summaries of key conversations I have with other Christ-followers as I search for wise counsel also helps.
Recently, I reread one from five years ago. I was so encouraged and blessed; because for each desire/struggle we talked about, it brought to mind answered prayers and progress made. That helped me refocus my attention to what God has done and will do. He is transforming me each step of the way.
If I can manage to keep all these writings in one place, I would have an accessible record of the clarity given by the Spirit. Thus, I would be more able (and likely) to quickly and confidently go back to a moment of previous clarity when others’ reactions, unexpected obstacles, or seemingly negative results make me want to make false assumptions about God’s direction. Instead, I must remember:
- God will not necessarily make it easy to discern His will. (Hard is not impossible!)
- Other godly people on the path with me may not understand the direction I choose and may not support me. (His grace is sufficient.)
- God’s path does not necessarily lead to comfortable, successful, strategic, happy, fulfilling places. (He wants me to be transformed.)
- Those who are on the path will have missteps. (His grace is sufficient, and His plans will not be ruined.)
When facing a difficult decision and trying to overcome fear and anxiety, focus on His promises, His grace, and His desire for us to be transformed through this process. He will never fail you!
Join us this week for our Pick One series as we examine what it means to walk on God’s path and how we can find direction to help us make life-changing decisions. Stay tuned to our Facebook page this week as we discuss what it means to live into our calling.