a new understanding of how to be tough

I have never been the girl who was afraid of spiders.

At some point in my growing up years, I began to value being tough. I played football or basketball with the boys at recess (including tackle football, much to my dad’s dismay), I refused getting a shot at the dentist and dealt with the pain of a cavity filling, I avoided crying in public, and bugs became objects to smash, not flee.

One of my summers as a camp counselor, my cozy little cabin had a problem with daddy longlegs. All of the cabins were set up around a gravel road, and while I was in the culdesac with several other cabins, mine was set slightly more into the trees, so I suppose the creatures found our rustic home an easier refuge from weather, the screen door hanging just slightly off flush to give them a tiny little entrance.

On the first day of each new camp session, I would tell the girls that our cabin had pet daddy longlegs, that they didn’t need to be afraid but just needed to grab visitors by one of the spindly legs and toss them outside. Sometimes we would name them and scold them for continuing to come back. By the end of the week, even the most prissy of middle school girls would be flinging the bugs outside. I have several memories even of waking up in the middle of the night with the distinct feeling that delicate feet were strolling across my face.

But I was tough, and no three-inch, eight-legged bug was going to bother me.

In reflection, I have taken this approach to my life in general.

I am not sure when it started, but I have always seen fear as a weakness, and while I don’t judge you for your fears or think you are weak, I hold myself to some higher standard, that I am not allowed to experience fear for what the implications would mean in my character.

Recently I was asked about what scenarios trigger my fears when I think about pursuing dreams and calling. I claimed that I couldn’t relate to the question – that I had none. Then, as I started processing, I realized I do have fears – but I communicate them by using words like “struggle” or “obstacle.”

I don’t want to call it a fear. I like to control what I communicate and how others understand what I am walking through. I typically open up easily and embrace being vulnerable, but even that has an element of control to it. I end my confessions stating that everything is okay and I know God is sovereign, yadda yadda – even if I am struggling to connect that head knowledge to my heart.

It’s even less about putting on a tough front for others to see – I think it goes deeper into how I want to see myself, what perspective I use in my thoughts and how I control what I think is true about me.

The word “fear” invokes a sense of helplessness. However, when you phrase it as a “struggle,” that sounds like something you can fight against, that you can defeat. I like the idea of fighting. I don’t like the idea of being needy, of not knowing what to do next or not being able to accomplish what I put my mind to. I want to do it all, I want to be capable, I want to be tough. But, as Christians, that’s not what is expected of us or even how we should desire to live.

Susie Larson wrote, “Sorting through our fears and insecurities is essential to the process of maturing into a woman of significant faith. We give the enemy opportunity to trip us up again and again when we refuse to deal with our fears and insecurities. We miss out on the redemptive life when we shove our fears below the surface and put on a fake smile.” I don’t think I even realized that my smile has moments of falsity to it, that below the surface there are times when I am not okay and when I am helpless, but I am ignoring that feeling and convincing myself that I am confident.

I don’t know if you are like me and you often try to mask your fears by figuring out what you can do to ignore them or conquer them. Maybe you are really in touch with those things and you thrive in your dependency on God. I wish I could say that was me, but so often I want to have a relationship with God and walk alongside Him, but fight my battles on my own. I feel like that should be the mark of my spiritual maturity, that I have learned how to overcome. But the success of my battles is ultimately dependent not on my efforts, but on my training in allowing it to be God’s efforts.

We can’t deal with our fears on our own. We can’t see our struggles as something to prevail over by working harder or suppressing feelings of anxiousness. My toughness is less dependent on my abilities and more dependent on how I rely on God in the midst of something I can’t control. 

Let me restate that.

When I confess that I am out of options, when all I can do is fall to my knees and ask God to step in — then I rest in Him while He is fighting for me — that is toughness. Resilience to believe in what He is capable of and being okay with having no control myself.

I have always feared the idea of being needy, but I am now learning that I need to fear not understanding my need.

Praise Him Who fights for me, Who is patient with me, Who has grace waiting when I find myself exhausted and defeated.

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