When I was training for my work as a professional coach, one of the things I learned was that when you’re avoiding something that scares you or you feel you can’t endure, that very fear will run your life. And it’s true! Ironically, if the idea of something in your life–or a possibility you don’t want to face, or a belief you’re afraid to examine–is so overwhelming you can’t face it, you will expend an enormous amount of emotional energy in avoiding it. You will change your life to work around it. You will do everything you can to convince yourself it’s not true. And unrecognized, the very thing you deny will dictate how you live.
I can see multiple ways this is true, or has been true, in my own life (and I’m sure there are multiple ways in which it’s true that I don’t even recognize). For example, on the Enneagram of Personality my type is four. Among the elements of that type’s description that ring true for me is that one of my deepest fears is insignificance. It’s only one of the reasons that writing books, like Blessed Are the Unsatisfied, and blog posts, like this one, feels like a very risky proposition. After all, it’s possible no one will read them—or, perhaps even worse, people will read them and dismiss them, walking away without having been influenced or touched by what I wrote. Because I really want my life to matter—and in my most vulnerable moments I fear it does not—such indifference to my work can feel like personal rejection by the whole world at once.
This tendency in me is more than an occupational hazard as a writer. If I’m not emotionally healthy, I can invest any area of my life with the power to affirm or deny my value. I can tell myself dire stories about the implications of small events in my life. That means any conversation, feedback, request, reaction, response, frustration, or perceived failure has the potential to make me feel valued and loved or small and worthless.
Don’t worry, I’m aware of this tendency that goes with my temperament, and for the most part it plays a small role in my life. But I do have times when I avoid acknowledging my fear that I will be disregarded or my life will be meaningless. And in those times I feel an impulse to fill my life with all kinds of activity to try to sustain the feeling that my life matters—and to avoid dealing with what I really fear. Suddenly that fear, which isn’t true, is controlling the way I live. On the other hand, when I acknowledge it and allow myself to put it to the test, it loses its power to control me.
Right now you may be thinking, “Wow, she’s a real mess.” And I’m willing to admit you’re right. But please keep this in mind: you have the same kind of pattern in your life. The specifics are different, your temptations and hangups are your own. But because I know you’re human, I know you also shape your life around your fears and your desire to avoid what you desperately don’t want to be true.
As a coach, I help people turn around and face into those fears rather than avoid them. And when people find the courage to do this, most of the time the things they have been avoiding lose at least some of their power. They no longer adapt their lives to avoid acknowledging what they fear—and what probably has some truth in it but isn’t the whole truth.
For example, I have worked with several clients who have lived with a fundamental belief that they are uniquely flawed—that an unnamed something is wrong with them that is not wrong with the rest of humanity. This deeply held belief goes unacknowledged, but it has big implications for their lives. They feel they are not allowed to fail because failure would expose their inadequacy. They are terribly afraid of rejection and find it hard to stand up for their own values and viewpoints in relationships with others. They expend an enormous amount of energy on trying to prove they are perfect. When I take them through an exercise designed to see and acknowledge that fundamental belief they fear, then to actually embrace it, they find it is not true after all. And it loses its power in their lives as they discover the freedom to be imperfect. For some people, such a fear might be intractable and require the intervention of a therapist. But for many, simply facing into the belief they have been avoiding is enough to produce a very real shift.
Many of us need to do this kind of work in relationship to our spiritual lives.
I believe a great number of us are avoiding acknowledgment of the reality that we do not experience the deep, true, and complete sense of satisfaction we thought a relationship with Christ would bring us. In fact, even though we may have followed Christ for many years, we still live with unfulfilled longings and a sense of restlessness. We feel as if our lives—including our spiritual lives—are missing something important.
Of course we do. Because we are missing much that is important. And it’s time we faced into it. We’re missing the unhindered fellowship with our Creator that we are drawn to. We’re missing the life without sin and its consequences. We’re missing the complete understanding we crave. We lack the consistency of character we want to be known for. We have appetites for things our redeemed selves don’t even want. And don’t get me started on the many ways our emotional experiences warp our vision and understanding of truth.
Simply put, even for those of us who live at peace with God, our lives are unsatisfying because we do not live in the world we were made for, and we cannot function as the people we were made to be.
So where, you might ask, is the blessing? What’s the benefit to acknowledging this difficult and disappointing truth? For starters, “the truth will set you free.” When we speak the truth to ourselves and face into it, we can abandon the burden of pretending, hiding, living with our minds and hearts in conflict. But there’s more.
When we acknowledge and accept that we are unsatisfied, we can abandon avoidance and live in anticipation—one of the blessings that come with living unsatisfied. Facing hard reality creates room for hope. People who believe they are satisfied don’t have room for anything more, better, greater. When we know we need and desire more, we see ourselves as Jesus does–living under grace, on the road to home.
© 2019 Amy Simpson.