Stepping Forward – Part 1 of 3 on Fear

I am learning to step into my fear – to move forward through it.

My initial instinct when I begin to feel fear is to stop whatever is causing the fear – to move backward away from it.

Maybe if I bury it deep enough, it will just go away and disappear. This is what I hope anyways…that the fear will dissipate into nothingness, and I will be free to go about my business. I just need to ignore it and wait it out – wait for it to subside.

This is how fear paralyzes.

We won’t allow ourselves to engage it – to step forward into the fear. Instead we retreat and hope that it will just go away. Retreating gives us the desired result. The fear does subside. It is the quick, easy fix.

Ahhh…but it isn’t a fix, is it, sisters and brothers?

No.

When we retreat from our fear or bury it, we actually become imprisoned by it. By trying to control it and manage it, we actually are the ones who are being controlled and managed by the fear. It prevents us from moving forward where we feel we are called to go. It holds us bound where we are, or worse yet, it drives us backwards where we came from.

I am convinced that we are called forward in life.

The movement of life should always be forward – it should always be growth. Life is a movement forward…forward in personal growth and development, forward in faith, forward in questions and knowledge, forward in our relationships, forward in maturity and depth, forward continually. Each day should be a day of growth and learning.

Fear prohibits growth and questioning. Fear constricts. It builds walls. Fear chokes life and makes us small. It makes our minds small. It makes our hearts small. It makes our spirits small. It makes our very being small. When we shrink from our fear and retreat, we retreat inside of a box – a fortification that we think might keep us safe. In order to keep the fear out and at bay, we build our walls higher. We reinforce the gate so that it might not be breached. We may even dig a moat around our box, entrenching ourselves even more. When we really allow fear to take over we not only build defenses, but we start building offenses – tools to attack with. Tools we use to attack our fears. Tools we use to attack those whom we fear. Anything that will help keep our fear at bay.

“What is my greatest fear?” you might ask.

Nothingness.

I don’t know when I first started having the thoughts…I must have been 5 or 6 years old, maybe younger. I remember lying in bed trying to go to sleep as a child. I remember the thoughts would creep slowly into my consciousness.  I would begin to wonder what would happen if I went to sleep and never woke up. What would happen if I died in my sleep? I would feel the fear begin to creep into my stomach. And then my mind would imagine what death would be like. My mind would start to race and doubts would creep in – doubts that would not go away. What if I don’t go to heaven? What if I am not worthy to be in heaven? What if there is no heaven? And then the big question would drop upon my being like an anchor pulling me down into the depths of the ocean struggling for oxygen…

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What if God is not real? 

What if there is no God? This question would fall upon me and suffocate me. I could feel the panic start to rise into my chest as I lay there thinking about dying, and how all that I am would in an instant be…

Nothing.

Writing this, I can feel that familiar fear creep into my being as I allow myself to confront this fear…to step into it. A fear that I kept buried deep inside for years. A fear that I have kept secret for my entire life. I grew up going to church. Faith and believing in God was important to not only my family, but to my community, the society and culture I was raised in. It is still a societal expectation to not only believe in God, but to be a Christian. 30 years ago, it was simply a given. I sensed from a very young age that such questions or thoughts would not be welcome in the community, or at the very least they would be brushed off and not allowed to have space. And honestly, I was lucky. I grew up with some amazing pastors and a church that loved me and cared for me deeply. This is not a knock on them. The reality was that you are to believe what the pastor says at face value. You are to believe what your Sunday School teachers teach you at face value.

Why?

Just because.

No matter how old you are, whether you are 5 or 95, we all know that “Just because…” is not a sufficient answer. “I don’t know,” is a far more satisfying answer than “Just because…” or “Because the Bible says so.”  At least being honest and stating, “I don’t know, that’s a great question,” keeps the conversation open and allows for more seeking and greater depth to be found.

Now, please don’t misunderstand me. I love scripture and have grown to love the compilation of books, stories, letters, songs, and poetry that we call The Holy Bible. At times it has been a love/hate, hate/love relationship. It has been a struggle and a journey for me and continues to be so. Honestly, I think that is a healthy relationship with scripture…

Scripture is something to be wrestled with.

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That is my problem with the argument, “Because the Bible says so.” It ends the conversation and discussion. Just like answering a question with “Just because…” ends the conversation. There is no engagement. No conversation. No learning. No creativity. No relationship or dialogue.

And so, I wouldn’t engage. I would not step forward into my fear, but I would retreat within myself. Yes, I feared the conflict that would arise if I openly confessed my doubts and fears. There is no doubt about that. But even more than that fear of being judged or condemned by my community, honestly, I feared engaging my fear, because…

It might be true.

So, I began to build my box. I built and fortified it by saying and doing the right things. By pushing my doubts down – by trying my hardest to bury them.

There have been moments where I stepped into those doubts and fears. Looking back on my life I can see them. Subconsciously, I think following my calling into ministry may have been a way I was trying to ease the fear, or perhaps God was calling me into my fear. I sought answers. I wanted certainty and truth. What better way to find the truth than to immerse yourself in the study of God? (This is incredibly funny to me now, in a sick sort of way, as my experience has taught me that the more I seek the more questions I have.) I went against some advice I received while discerning my call, that if I wanted to be a pastor, maybe I shouldn’t major in religion for my undergraduate studies, because I would get enough religious education at seminary. Instead, I moved forward majoring in religion, mostly because I needed to continue to engage my questions, and to know whether I could fully step into my calling as a pastor or not. Is there a place in the church for me as a leader? What in the world do I actually believe?

It was the best decision of my life, simply because of one book that I was assigned to read in a Christian Theology class. I mean there were other amazing things about my undergraduate experience. It changed and shaped me in ways I am still finding out and I am incredibly grateful for that experience. But all of it would have been worth it just for this one book…the rest was a bonus! (An expensive bonus! Ha!) I remember vividly, sitting in the basement of Luther College’s Preus Library, at a cubicle reading through a book for an assignment.  The book was Paul Tillich’s Dynamics of Faith. In that book, I remember reading the section where Tillich explains that doubt is not only good, but that it is necessary for faith. That doubt is a necessary component to our faith being able to grow. As I read that, something unlocked deep within my being…a sigh of relief. I could breath. Perhaps there was a place for me.

I found some peace within myself at that point. However, I still would not allow myself to fully engage my fear. I still kept my deepest questions buried and secret. I tried not to engage them with all of my being. And now I felt the added pressure of being on the path towards becoming a pastor, and a few years later I was now a pastor. A pastor should not have these questions or doubts? And if they do, they certainly shouldn’t be open about them, right?! As a result, the moment I would feel that old feeling creep up into my heart and throat I would shove it back down, and move in another direction.

You see, that’s the thing with fear…It never goes away.

Unless you step into it. You have to face it. Engage it. Dwell in it. Burying our fear, or ignoring it keeps us stuck. It imprisons us, and holds us back.

So, even while I feel the fear clenching at my heart and choking my breath, I will step forward. I will engage it. And that means being open about it. Being honest about it with myself and with others.

And while that scares me – actually terrifies me – it also gives me life. I am energized and excited about the journey. It is liberating, quite literally, to unbury the fear and not let it control me anymore. Honestly, I feel healthier spiritually and stronger in my relationship with God, now more than ever before. God can handle my questions and my doubts.

So, I step forward.

What is the fear that imprisons you and keeps you from living the life you desire? Can you take a step forward into your fear, no matter how small of a step it may be? Step forward, sisters and brothers. Step forward into life.

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(This is the first of a three-part series on Fear. You can find part 2 HERE)

© 2018 Derek Harkins

How do you feel?

Jessica, my spouse, asked me Friday night after I published my first blog post, “Well Derek, how does it feel? How does it feel to finally get your blog started – to put yourself out there?”

Pretty sure my first reaction to that question was panic and horror. That’s always my first reaction to the question, “How do you feel?” Feeling usually leads to having opinions, which usually leads to action of some kind, and…well…you should know from just one post now that action can disrupt a 9’s harmony. Having opinions and feelings and then voicing them is a risky venture for a 9. The probability of conflict skyrockets. I suppose doing anything at all will cause the probability of conflict to rise, as opposed to doing, feeling, and voicing nothing. Which is why I often opt for the safer path – keep my mouth shut and my head down.

But I am trying not to do that.

I breathed deep and let out a nervous laugh as I tried to allow myself to ponder her question and engage it.

“I feel nervous and scared,” I finally responded.

I don’t know why I felt so bad for feeling that way either. In reflection, of course it is normal to feel nervous and scared when putting oneself out there for the world to see. I am trying to be open and honest, trying to find my true self and communicate that to others. I believe that this is an important part of my waking up. I am finding myself, who I really am. I need to be honest about that and sharing with others is a way that I can own and truly embody where I am at in my journey. So, yeah, that’s terrifying for me.

Ugh…I wish I had stayed asleep! Ha!

That was my first thought after creating my blog. Why am I doing this?! Why am I putting myself through this?!

It is necessary though. As much as my being cries out against doing the hard work of inner reflection and dealing with things in a healthy manner (as opposed to doing nothing which is my inclination), I know it is exactly that hard work that I must do – that I need to do.

So, after an hour or so of further inward turmoil, I decided to be vulnerable and share further with Jess.

“You know…I was pretty surprised by the amount of shame I felt rise up within me after hitting that ‘publish’ button. I sat there looking at my post thinking, ‘What are people going to think?’ I have been here before. I felt the shame from my past failures.”

I have tried to start blogs before…twice. I got them kicked off and then instead of engaging in the difficult work, I went back to sleep. To be fair, I had a different purpose in mind for my other blog. I was not at the place I am now. I was not ready to wake up, because I didn’t even realize at that point that I was asleep. While I recognize that  I am different now and this time feels very different to me, I still have a fear that this will end like the others…4-5 posts and then back into hibernation. And the shame I feel thinking about that sucks. But at least I know what I’m dealing with. I can name it and own it. Thanks to Brené Brown, especially her book Daring Greatly, I am able to understand what I am feeling and going through and begin to move past it.

Taking steps forward instead of backwards, no matter how small they may be, is the name of the game.

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As with anything in life, when making a change or transition we as human beings need support and accountability from others. Accountability is huge for 9’s. It helps us sustain momentum. It is hard for 9’s to get started and it’s incredibly easy for us to stop. Sustaining any sort of movement and momentum will be important for me. And that is probably the number one reason I will be writing about my journey and sharing it here.

As part of my own accountability I am going to post some ideas I have for future posts, in order to encourage myself to make future posts! So, in the future you might be seeing posts on:

  • A general overview of the Enneagram and what it is. A very brief description of each number.
  • A more in depth post on what it means to be an Enneagram 9, to not only help you know me better, but so that I can know myself better. Each time I write I find out something new about myself.
  • You will continue to find posts about my everyday life experiences when I feel moved to share them and reflect on them.
  • Posts about how my faith is changing, going through a deconstruction and renewal. Along these lines I will probably write a series of posts about the Bible and how scripture informs my journey and how changing how I read and approach scripture has caused my relationship with God to deepen.
  • Posts about my love for Science and the Universe and how it all works. Also, you will read plenty about how I think Science and Faith compliment one another.
  • Posts on spiritual practices, especially meditation, that I am finding incredibly useful.
  • I will probably be writing some book reviews. I have been reading a great deal and want to share the wonderful books I am reading with others.
  • At times I will also share some poetry, prayers, and liturgies. I probably won’t share my sermons here as they get posted elsewhere and are intended for the specific context that I serve.

Until next time, may the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, be with you all.

© Derek Harkins 2018

Waking Up

Waking up is hard.

Waking up is painful and difficult. At least, if you are me it is. I know that for a lot of you blessed ‘morning people’ out there, you don’t have any problems waking up and getting out of bed. My middle child is one of your kind.  Let me just say this:

I don’t get you! 

How do you do it? Ha! I have had several jobs now that have forced me to get out of bed well before I wanted to. I can do it. I can. I can even come to enjoy it…

But only after I have actually swung my legs out of bed and wiped the sleep out of my eyes.  Those moments when my alarm clock is going off, and I snooze 5 times, is pure torture.  It is the war of all wars raging inside of me trying to get out of bed every morning.  My body and mind fighting with all of their might against their arch nemesis – Responsibility.

Yet, once I am up, coffee in hand, I do quite enjoy the morning.  There is a peace that can be found in waking up early that cannot be found at any other time.  I only have to conquer myself each and every morning to find that peace.

That is life though, isn’t it? And not just life, but a life of depth, purpose, and meaning.  A spiritual life of any kind, I am finding, will be conquering myself each and every day to find that peace. A certain someone said something along the lines of, “If you lose your life you will find it.” Oh, that’s right…Jesus! We must die to self in order to have life.

Wake up!

These are words that have not only been emblazoned on my heart and my very being the last couple of months, but they are a mantra – a way of life for me now.  I am currently in a state of waking up.  My eyes are opening.  It is painful and everything in my being is fighting against this awakening.

Why?

Because change awaits.  I am a human being. If there is one thing that human beings have in common, it is the engrained resistance to change.

I believe we all need and experience awakenings in our lives, no matter what your number is. However, as an Enneagram 9, my resistance towards waking up is a little more complicated. 9’s are often called Peacemakers.  We are called peacemakers because everything in our being cries out against conflict. Conflict makes us uncomfortable and pained. 9’s are all about keeping and restoring our inner and outer harmony.  If the outer harmony is thrown out of whack, our first instinct as 9’s isn’t to resolve that conflict, but to retreat within what other 9’s call our Inner Sanctum. The sanctuary that we have built inside ourselves to hold our own inner harmony together. It is this harmony that 9’s try to sustain at all costs, and change is the number one way to throw harmony into dissonance. So what is our primary defense against the dissonance created by conflict?

SLEEP.

Figurative and literal sleep. 9’s in times of deep conflict and change can just fall asleep.  Not only can they, but they actually do just fall asleep.  Sometimes in the middle of the conversation or disagreement. Our body literally shuts down trying to sustain the harmony we hold so dear.  We will also figuratively fall asleep to keep the harmony.  Our being will actually appear to leave our bodies, but in reality we just go inside of ourselves to our Inner Sanctum.  9’s are very good at continuing conversations without actually being present.  I don’t say this to brag.  I believe it is a downfall of 9’s.  It is a survival mechanism. We will hold entire conversations without actually being present. If you are married to a 9 or have a 9 child or friend, you will know exactly what I am talking about, because you have probably seen this happen in the middle of an argument or conversation. Knowing this now grieves me in many ways, because it not only happens in conversations or conflict, but we can be asleep for life itself.

This is my reality I find myself in now. I am just now waking up. I have been stirred. My alarm is going off. The beams of the morning light are breaking through my eyelids.  My Inner Sanctum has been disturbed.

My being is awakening. 

My instinct is to pull the covers over my head and try my hardest to go back to sleep, but something inside of me cries out and will not allow it. Not this time. Not anymore.  I have been asleep for far too long. Something is different this time. I can’t just retreat. I am being stirred and shaken.  It is both exciting and terrifying at the same time. Perhaps that is why I am being drawn to write, to document my journey of waking up…because I don’t want to go back to sleep.  Writing and speaking the reality – the pain, joys, progress, and failures – will give me accountability, something I know I need in order to not fall back asleep.

This is my journey of waking up.

© Derek Harkins 2018