Toward the end of my eighth-grade year, which marked the ending of middle school and portended entry into high school, one of my teachers invited some former middle school students who were now in high school to come and speak with our class. The two young ladies were amiable and shared their personal experiences intending to get us excited about high school. But one of the girls shared that the high school building was huge and that she was afraid of getting lost and not making it to her classes on time. Her solution for a short while was to carry all her books in a briefcase. My mind latched on to that one statement out of everything that was shared that day. In fact, that’s all I remember from what they told us. So impacted was I by the prospect of being in a huge building and getting lost that I decided to emulate the young lady’s solution. I saved up all summer and bought a grey Samsonite briefcase that cost $35 in a time when I delivered newspapers for 20 cents per customer per week in profit.
Later, when I started high school, I loaded that briefcase with all of my textbooks, notepads, pens, pencils, and anything else I needed for school. I refused to rent a locker because I was irrationally afraid of getting lost or being late. There were several unintended consequences of my choice to let fear impel me to initiate the false feeling of control which led to the use of the briefcase. First, the books and things were very heavy, and it was a big school. I frequently had to switch which arm carried the case.
Second, since I refused to get a locker, when the weather got cold, I had to haul my coat and other winter gear with me all day. Third, I was frequently teased for carrying the briefcase. All of this because I let someone else’s account of their anxiety become my own fear and need for control of the situation.
Taking on that young lady’s anxiety—which she had resolved, but my mind did not grasp that at the time—meant that I, while thinking I was in control, made my life harder than it needed to be. Had I not latched on to fear upon hearing her story I would have gotten a locker and learned my way around with nary a second thought about it, but I let that anecdote fester in me and become bondage instead of actual control. From this, I think it is pretty obvious that fear-driven behaviors that we continue to carry out over a long time load us down with more troubles than would have existed in us without the anxious perspective.
If I knew then what I now know I’d have understood that hearing someone else tell me of his/her fear does not automatically mean that I will be impacted the same way. I created that impact because I adopted her narrative. I would also have known that I should do my own research, as it were, and find out whether the school was too big or complex for me. It really wasn’t. The actual floor plan was very simple, even though the school was bigger than any I’d been in before that time. I would have taken the time to think about the fear that her story awakened in me and asked pertinent questions. For instance, the school had well over 1000 students, most of whom were not late to classes, nor were they frequently lost. Surely there were some students smarter than me, but surely there were others who weren’t at my level. If all of them could manage to navigate the school, shouldn’t I also have been? Another pertinent question should have been asked—if it really is so likely that everyone would get lost and be late wouldn’t the school have taken steps to alleviate or address that problem? But that’s what I know now. Back then I surrendered to fear because I accepted the fear and an irrational solution because I did not stop to think, did not seek out real facts for myself, and did not understand that my solution was going to be a much harder burden to bear than was getting a locker. Jesus was very right when he stated that “the truth will set you free.”
After a whole semester of sore arms, wearing my coat in a heated building, and being harassed and taunted for carrying the briefcase, I gave in and rented a locker. As it turned out using the locker was easy, convenient and never made me lost or late. It only cost me 50 cents to rent the locker and with it, freedom, but my briefcase cost me months and months of work and weighed me down with an unnecessary burden.
Before you let fear compel you to long-term behavioral changes, take a lesson from me and seek out the truth, consider the costs and ask lots of questions. It may be a legitimate need for behavioral change if, for instance, your health is endangered and would be aided by changes, or your eternal soul is imperiled, and change would bring freedom and joy. But, if you let fear drive your decisions unquestioningly, then it could bring a cascade of unwelcome consequences. Fear and folly react, wisdom makes careful, deliberate, and discerning choices. If you live by reacting, you are in bondage. It is in the power of choice based on the truth that freedom is preserved.
God bless you!
Contact Pastor Lamb at imlayumc@