Courage, Part Two: The Thing that Scares Me Most

There’s a story I’ve had in my heart for more than a year; a story I don’t know that I’ll ever be able to write, except in bits and pieces, because it’s built around the deepest thoughts and fears I harbor.

Why is it that the thoughts closest to my heart are always the hardest to articulate?

Is it for fear of not doing them justice? Of having them misconstrued the moment I give voice to them? Of them turning out to not be as weighty as they seem?

I’ve talked about this story in a few different posts. The main character is a young woman growing up in a world full of uncertainty, where her beliefs are questioned and challenged and refusing to renounce them puts her life at risk. In some ways she is me, but in most she is what I would like to be: zealous about the truth, ready when the call for action comes, fervent in her work.

There is one aspect of her life and thought process that unexpectedly mirrors mine: she is afraid of getting married.

There. I said it.

It’s not for lack of desire for a lifelong partner and cohort, or because she has some deep-seated resentment toward tradition. Like me, she has parents who set a good example of a healthy marital relationship.

What it comes down to is control.

Remember my original Word of the Year? Yeah, there’s a reason for that. I’m a control freak. I don’t know if I’ve always been this way and have just started to acknowledge it or if it’s a developing issue brought on by life in general. In any case, it’s become an issue of late.

I try to control everything, even things I logically know are beyond my limited realm of influence: circumstances and situations and their respective outcomes, people, choices made by others…nothing is safe from me. But, again, most of these things behave as they please despite my freaking out, so all that’s left are disappointment and frustration on my part and often on the part of the uncontrollable force that dared to act against my notion of the best way.

Maybe the deeper problem is an issue of trust or faith; I don’t know.

A lot of the time, I don’t even realize until after the fact that the reason I’m frustrated at the end of a conversation, a circumstance, or a work week is because I’ve been trying to coax things to work toward a certain end and those things fought back. When things aren’t how I think they should be, I drive myself crazy thinking of ways to change them.

It’s not even that I am actively fighting against God, though I know that’s what it amounts to. It’s not that I admit most days that I don’t trust Him and I think there’s a better way, even though that’s the way I’m acting. Being told to sit still and wait for someone else to solve the problem doesn’t compute with me.

So what does this have to do with marriage?

My drive to control things means I take on a lot of responsibility when it isn’t necessary. I blame myself when things go wrong, as if I could have been able to change them. I try to fix things beyond my realm of influence. And at the same time, I actively try to avoid taking on more responsibility for fear of failing miserably and possibly getting people hurt.

What’s more, I value my independence and the ability to act on a whim. This works at cross purposes with responsibility, which requires taking other people’s needs into account before acting.

Example: I want to travel. However, I have a dog with mental issues, so whenever I want to travel I either have to do so in a way that accommodates her (haven’t tried this yet) or find somewhere for her to stay where my fear of her killing something is as small as possible. Without a dog, I would have the liberty to travel more freely.

Marriage is a partnership. It requires two people to take into account each other’s needs before acting. In some ways it can be a burden, because each individual has to give up lesser dreams and desires for the sake of the common good.

Perhaps it actually comes down to selfishness, because marriage also means having someone else to look out for. If something goes wrong, that person may react in ways that chafe on my patience, ways I think are dangerous or which put the situation at risk. Yes, this is how I think.

And, within the realm of Christianity and especially being Baptist, marriage = children.

It’s the children I’m actually afraid of. I could learn to work within the bounds of marriage and find some sort of balance. I could learn to trust another reasoning adult to know the basics of self-preservation. With the right partner, I could even find a way to bring our passions together so that, together, we are a united front for some noble purpose that makes us both feel useful. At times, the thought is actually very exciting.

But children need protecting. Children need guidance. Children are a liability in risky situations. And children are souls, new and unformed, completely under the influence of their immediate surroundings and of their parents.

And that amount of responsibility scares me spitless. Why would I want to bring another soul into this darkness? How could I be strong enough to keep it safe? How could I know I wouldn’t have a moment of selfish weakness and fail it miserably?

That’s why I fight so stubbornly against marriage as it pertains to myself. Call it lack of faith, lack of character, lack of courage, or whatever else you will, but the more I get to know myself and the more I see of the world, the less confident I am in my own abilities.

I know we aren’t meant to go this alone, but I struggle in my day-to-day relationships as it is, especially with God. I know no one is perfect and we are always growing, but no matter how much I learn, I still feel far too inadequate.

So the root of my lack of courage comes down to my need for control, and my refusal to act until I feel I have some semblance of control. This fear of marriage is the strongest example of my struggle, but it is echoed in other aspects of my life as well. So my of my fear is rooted in this overwhelming sense that everything is falling apart around me and I doubt myself and whether I have the strength to stand in the midst of it. This year, my aim is learning to overcome this.

I’m learning to surrender control and to let God work as He sees fit. I’m learning to take responsibility for myself and things that are actually within my realm of influence and leave the rest alone.

“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo.

“So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

J. R. R. Tolkien

I’m learning to take what has been given to me and make the most of it, come what may.

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