Have you ever watched a TV programme or film and it’s massively distorted your perception of reality to the point you become paranoid that what happened in that show would work its way into your real life?
For instance, watching World War Z and convincing yourself that zombies could and probably will happen… Or watching Speed and thinking the next bus you get on will have an explosive attached that will surely detonate if the driver drops the speed below 50… Or that friends are talking behind your back and lying to you like in every soap opera or teen drama ever made…
Well, when I was a kid, I saw this episode of the Rugrats where a dinosaur turned up, and all the adults disappeared and the kids had to get on with life without their parents. I can’t remember why a dinosaur was relevant in that. My memory of the episode is sketchy. It was a pretty long time ago, and those are the bits that stand out.
Anyway… this harmless episode of the Rugrats sparked something in my mind. I genuinely believed that my mum and dad were just going to disappear one day – like all the adults in that TV episode. I was about eight at the time and had just started a new school. There was lots of change in my life, we’d moved house, I’d moved schools at around Easter time so not when all the new kids had started, and I think my imagination got hold of the fear I had about a new environment and ran wild to make me think everything I knew as a comfort could (or would) also vanish.
It was terrible, I felt like my mum was the worst person in the world – all I wanted to do was stay home with her all day and she kept taking me to school and leaving me there. I would cry and cry, panicking that as she walked away it’d be the last time I’d see her. We were eventually called into the headmaster’s office as it was happening pretty consistently, and special exceptions were made for me to be dropped off into his office. I don’t remember it well, but I remember that helped.
When I then moved to the same school as my sister a year and a half later another incident happened where my family and I were on holiday at the end of the summer holidays, and we just missed our flight home, and then ended up not being to fly for another day or so. This happened to mean that we missed our first day of school – my first day ever at this school, and my sister’s first day of high school. Great timing! Again, this threw me into a fearful state and I hated school. I never wanted to go in, I didn’t know anyone as I hadn’t been there on the first day.
At the time, it was the worst feeling. Obviously in hindsight I just had no idea how to respond to fear. It went on for a while. My mum and I again were called in to see the headmistress’ office and she explained my mum could bring me in to school if it made me feel better, so we did this for a while.
I was such a terrified kid. I made friends. I got used to going to school. And I think somewhere along the line I forgot about the dinosaur/parent disappearance Rugrats episode that started this ridiculous ordeal.
However, this fear of doing things kind of hung around. I never liked going to sleep overs. I wouldn’t leave my mum, dad or sister’s side if we were in the shops, I didn’t go on school trips abroad until there was one I could go on with my sister.
For a significant amount of my life – over 20 years – I would consider what I was doing to only be half-living. I was so paralysed by fear in my youth and childhood that I didn’t ever learn how to be independent, or in all honesty how to be me.
I could open up and be myself around friends and close family, but as soon as there were people around who I didn’t feel comfortable with I would clam up, retreat into my shell and be painfully quiet and shy.
When it came to university applications I was really unsure about going. I’d found a uni – UCLan – I liked the sound of back when I was doing my GCSEs and had my heart set on that uni. However, the social life – the living with people, the partying, the drinking, the studying – that all freaked me out, almost enough to not apply. But I didn’t feel like I had any other option. At my school, it’s what you did, Junior School, Senior School, Sixth Form, Uni, job… So in my mind I didn’t really have another option.
Thankfully, I got into UCLan, found out what accommodation I was in, and found a Facebook group of all the people in the same place – and soon narrowed it down to find the people I would be living with. There were six of us in en-suite rooms in a flat with a shared kitchen and living space.
I started chatting to these six strangers online and was so nervous I did not make a good first impression. I wanted so badly to be liked, but had no idea how to make that happen. I’d always been a bit odd – not particularly fitting into any one social “clique” so hanging out with others in the same boat any making really good friends that way. But how would that work now?
For once I had this opportunity for a fresh start and meet people for the first time and be myself, but I had no idea how to do that!
Thankfully, all the guys I lived with were a bit weird too, and we got on really well. Slowly, I began to come out of my shell. I began to try new things and go to new places and drop some of the fear that had been holding onto me all my life (/I had been holding onto all my life).
I lived with four of the people from my first year of uni for the rest of my course – so three years all together! Then, I lived with one of them for a further year as she continued her studies. I made one really good friend on my course too. These people all mean so much to me – I think I became who I am in those three years; grew character, gained confidence and started to live life.
Despite all of this, there was still this element of fear holding me back. The thoughts of never being good enough, not being as clever as my sister, not trying as hard enough, the thoughts of failure, uncertainty, loneliness, self-doubt, massive lack of any self-confidence, being single, not having a job or any real experience, having no direction. There was so much holding me back. I didn’t know where I was going or what I was going to do with my life.
I had become independent, but what use was that when I still couldn’t do anything?
Then, Jesus dragged my head up out of that cloud of fear and made me see life in a whole new way.
I encountered Jesus when I was 20. Ready to quit uni. Ready to throw in the towel and walk away. Fear had overcome reason, and I didn’t think I had it in my to carry on.
Jesus met me where I was. In the middle of uncertainty and indecision, and gave me the strength to keep going. Jesus had my back, and I could stand on promises like “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Ephesians 2:8-10
There was literally nothing I could do, or fail to do, for Jesus to save me. It was through grace that He loved me, through grace that He accepted me, through grace that He could bring me through any situation. There was no space for works – I couldn’t do any more or any less to earn that love, that gift of salvation – it was given by God’s unending grace.
I am God’s handiwork – created to do good things, which God prepared before me. I didn’t have to make big scary decisions right there and then – God already knew what was before me, and He had placed me where I was. This gave me the confidence to keep going, knowing that what I was headed for was bigger and more important than I’d ever previously realised. God had planned it out for me, I was just walking the steps!
These promises spoke so much to me in my situation. I kept going. I graduated, and even got a 2:1. I still had no idea where I was going or what I was doing, but I now had this developing relationship with God that made every care or worry so less important. I knew Jesus. What more did I need to know? This sense of freedom was finally there. My future was secure – not because of a job offer or a career progression plan, but because I knew my life was now going to be spent learning more about my Creator God, my Saviour Jesus, and my Helper along my journey. I didn’t have to have a plan, I didn’t have to have security from money, because I had faith in a God who was there from the beginning to the end of time, and had planned the steps of my life.
My relationship with God is still developing – I’m still learning more day by day about His character and about His Word. That passage of scripture means even more to me now than it did then, but I know that I stood firm on those words for a good year or so and it kept me standing.
I still battle with insecurity, doubt, depression, failure, confidence, experience, and so many more things. It’s a daily battle to stand up for what I believe in and to represent who I am and not what the world or specific people think I should be.
Although it’s a battle, I know that I am no longer a slave to fear. I know that I have the ingredients and the weaponry to win this particular battle. I know that fear is there to make me doubt my beliefs, my abilities, and who God says I am. Fear cripples, kills, and destroys dreams and visions. But I believe in a God who fans dreams into flames when they glorify Him and progress His Kingdom. I believe in a God who humbled Himself to come to earth as a man, and die in our place, taking on the sin of the world, and crushing fear and death in it’s place. I believe in a God who overcomes the darkness in this world, and places His children on a lamp stand to shine brightly across the nations, showing everyone everywhere that there is hope, there if life and there is light in this dark world.
You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colours in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We’re going public with this, as public as a city on a hill. If I make you light-bearers, you don’t think I’m going to hide you under a bucket, do you? I’m putting you on a light stand. Now that I’ve put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand—shine! Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you’ll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven.
Matthew 5:14-16 (The Message)
So yes, I am still on a journey, I am still reminding myself every day to stand firm, but I am so thankful when I look back on my life and see how far I’ve come. I am so blessed to look to my future and think about the distance I can go based on where I’ve come from. I don’t thank God enough for the work He has done and is doing in my life, freeing me from the shackles of fear, and placing me on a lamp stand to shine.
I hope these words and my story encourage you to take that step out of the shadow of fear today. To make a decision to not give into stupid thoughts from media, but to look to someone who can help make good decisions in your life. I can’t express how good it is to ask God to lift your head out of the cloud of confusion, and to take a chance and trust Him.
Listen to this song, the inspiration for the title of this blog: