The Choking Vines and My Greatest Fear

“Remarkably, the most common regret of the dying was this: they wish they’d had the courage to live a life true to themselves and not the life others expected of them…

“I wondered how many opinions I’ve wanted to share but held back for fear of criticism; what love I’ve wanted to express but stayed silent for fear of rejection; or the poems and stories I’ve never released because I didn’t think they were good enough for publication…

— Donald Miller, Scary Close

My greatest fear in life is that I would disappoint or hurt someone I care about because I failed to meet their expectation of me – whether relationally, vocationally, or spiritually. Almost every meaningful decision I have made has had, at its very core, this fear. At some unknowable point in my life, this seed took root and slowly grew and covered my entire being in its choking vines. While I thought the complete and utter negation of myself for the “edification” of others was an honorable quest, the slow, overwhelming constriction of the fully germinated seed withered the life away which fought underneath to catch a glimpse of the nourishing Light trying to peek through.

The perpetual desire to please others completely masked and marred the image of God buried long before this wretched weed. I’ve withheld my heart, my thoughts, my beliefs, and my desires because of some self-righteous, controlling way of living – a way completely void of a vital life.

A way of life predicated on the avoidance of physical, emotional, or spiritual fear is not much of a life at all. For me, I’ve been in emotional hiding; My emotions are the brick wall overrun with the vines sprouting up from the ground and up until the last few months, I had no idea my true self in Christ was unseen.

The most frightening thing about all of this is what follows. The slow and painful process of ripping up the roots leaves me with the question – who am I and who am I going to be? If at my very core I am an image bearer of the Father and not a pleaser of people, then where does that leave me?

I think Henri Nouwen puts it best:

These feelings, strong as they may be, are not telling me the truth about myself. The truth, even though I cannot feel it right now, is that I am the chosen child of God, precious in God’s eyes, called the Beloved from all eternity, and held safe in an everlasting belief.

What if we allowed our belovedness in Christ to free us from our fears? What if we trusted the Holy Spirit to free us in our relationships and other’s expectations of us? What if, as God prompts us one way or another, we were free to act within the truth of his gentle, loving hand? What if, instead of shrinking from potential or perceived conflict, we entered into it with courage and grace?

Donald Miller makes the case, which I tend to think is true, that true intimacy with others (and God) is impossible if you withhold your full self to others. Attempting to please others out of your own fear only crushes who God wants you to be and stifles the potential for meaningful relationships.

Miller asks the question, then, “How can we be loved if we are always in hiding?”

I think it is fair to say that it is impossible.

Will you join me (in healthy ways, of course), in ripping out the vines that choke and constrict us in order to reveal to those around us the Imago Dei buried deep within?

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