I have sometimes imagined myself running with a companion. I didn’t do this deliberately, he just sort of made himself known. It happened first when I was running out in the sugar cane fields, in the rural part of Mozambique where we lived for a while. Sandy tracks bordered by tall green stands of cultivated cane; it was a little remote out there for a lone woman, however speedy she fancied her getaway might be. Perhaps fear was edging its way into my awareness, as I set my jaw and kept running.
A tall, muscled African guy turned up to run alongside me then, and he stayed at my right shoulder for the rest of the way. I’ve never known his name and I’m not sure who else can see him - I just guess that he comes for a reason and whether that’s to make me less afraid, or to make any leery dudes with bad intentions more afraid, I don’t know. I do know that he seems to appear when I need him and for that I’m grateful. And I know that now, when I think of angels, I think of him.
Fear lurks on the periphery of our vision, for the most part staying just out of sight. Most of us are willing to keep him there, fooling ourselves that if we never look him full in the face he will leave us alone. But, however familiar we become to his presence, fear is a terrorist. Whether we catch his eye or avert our gaze, his intent is to hold us captive through torturous manipulation and deceit. Fear strong-arms us into giving up our dreams, settling for what is safe, withdrawing into the sort of self-protection that gives us an illusion of security but is really just isolation.
Some years after AA first appeared (African Angel) I was once again running, this time crying out to God in frustration and desperation. “I’m afraid I’m not enough for all this!” I gasped, for once looking directly at my resident fears. I will never forget the gentle and straightforward response that immediately followed my outcry: “Yes, that’s the point. You’re not enough.That, my dear, is why I’m here.” There was no false comfort, telling me that I was indeed enough, that I could do anything I set my mind to. Just the reality that in the face of my fears I needed the empowering presence of another.
Since that epiphanic moment in Clovelly years ago, I have realised that my personal terrorist really just has one incessant message: You are not enough, you never will be.
- I am afraid of not being enough for my husband. Not engaging enough, not beautiful enough, not adventurous enough, not frugal enough, not energetic enough, not desirable enough.
- I am afraid of not being enough for my kids. Not loving enough, not consistent enough, not giving enough, not church-going enough, not opportunity-providing enough, not present enough.
- I am afraid of not being enough for friends. Not nice enough, not attractive enough, not interesting enough, not appealing enough, not friend-worthy enough.
- I am afraid of not being significant enough. That my life will not adequately bear out all that I have claimed to be true. That when it comes to hope, and purpose, and faith, and fulness of life my own particular life just won’t be enough.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not conscious of these fears every waking moment. Only occasionally I become aware of the terrorist sitting at my kitchen table. ‘Yes,’ I nod at him. ‘I see you there.’ He’s always lurking around somewhere, you see, waiting to stick his oar in.
Every single person reading this has their own live-in terrorist. The bible calls our enemy ‘the accuser.’ You’ll each have your own experience of accusation, your own experience of living with fear. Fear of failure, fear of rejection, fear of abandonment, fear of not being enough - these terror tactics are as ancient as humanity. So, when it comes to fear, there are some strategies I’m using to keep the upper hand. I'll share them here in case they help anyone:
1. Name your fear.
If you can name your fear, you are closer to looking him in the eye and telling him the terms of your relationship. Put words to the repeated fears that dog you. ‘Oh, there you are again,’ you might say, as you hear his whispers start up. ‘Sit there in the corner and shut up because I have things to do.’
2. Choose your weapon.
That moment of recognition offers you a pause, a moment in which you can draw your own weapon. This is not an appropriate moment for anything fancy, you realise. My go-to is a simple breath prayer: I pause to draw in a deep breath, saying ‘You are my sufficiency, Lord.’ And as I release my breath, I say ‘I let go of my own insufficiencies.’ A small pebble in a humble slingshot it might be, but at moments like this it can hit the target.
3. Call the shots.
This is where you get to define the terms of your relationship with El Terrorista. You can show him the door, and that could work for a while; until he shows up with reinforcements. I’ve found it helpful to understand that he will most likely keep attempting a comeback, so I tell him clearly and repeatedly that, no matter how often he takes a seat at my kitchen table, he won’t be making any decisions around here.
4. Get back-up.
This is where my African Angel comes in. He’s the strong, silent type and doesn’t say much, honestly. But I’ve realised that he comes from a place where they believe good things about me. Every so often his presence, real or imagined, brings a reminder of that gentle voice that heard my fears and said, ‘That’s why I’m here.’ In the face of the Terrorist, I feel so very alone. I need reminding that I am not, in fact, alone; that the All Sufficient One is by my side. I confront my fear of not being enough in the presence of the One who is enough, has enough, will always be more than enough.
What is the name of your own live-in terrorist? Can you name him? Even better, can you bring to mind the heavenly host that has your back in the face of this fear? What fear-thwarting truth are you being reminded of today?