Right from the start, I want to make it clear that life and living require everyone and anyone to grow. It is also true that there is a tension between sticking with what works and making changes or improvements in order to keep growing. The latter places one in new terrain, which emphasizes the unknown while revealing one’s limitations. In the midst of change, there are three responses that come to mind. First, there is a tendency “to stand still” due to fear and anxiety. A second response is to “live the same way” in the new terrain, which leads to frustration over why nothing ever works out right. The third response is the one that we want, which is to embrace and engage the new terrain each and every step of the way. Let me take the first two in turn.
When I use the metaphor of standing still, I am alluding to a sort of emotional paralysis that takes over and cripples one’s ability to engage and move forward. Both fear and anxiety are the surface indicators of this paralysis, which springs up from a deeper source. For example, the fear and the anxiety might be masking one’s fear of failure whether real or anticipated; another possibility is that those emotions cover up one’s disposition to be in control. In either case, the uncertainty surrounding the new terrain creates so many variables that it is impossible for the human mind to take them all into consideration. What happens is that the person shuts down or stands still due to an overwhelmed psyche. The mountain appears too high to climb, the chasm too great for a leap.
In my own life, I have seen the importance of acknowledging my weaknesses or limitations with the impossible before me. I have stood still in the past. For me, I over-analyze the situation in order to figure it out. If I turn the situation over and over and over, I am bound to find the strengths and weaknesses and then prepare for them in advance. This is how I attempt to maintain control. It is as if I equate competence with the new terrain as anticipating the rough and tough spots. What it boils down to is pride and trust in my own wisdom and understanding. Pride lies at the foundation of my desire to remain in control. It is a blow to my pride to admit that I cannot figure things out, or that I am in need of help.
King Solomon hit the nail on the head with the following passage: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths” (Proverbs 3:5-6, ESV). When I attempt to rely on my own wisdom and understanding, I am not walking in the truth of the above quoted verse. Instead it is outright disobedience to God and his word. At some point, the introspection devolves into over-thinking, which keeps me in check or stuck in the same place. I wind up shackling my will and heart from engaging the new terrain. How does this happen? For me, it amounts to believing the lie that I know the situation, others, and me better than God. The irony about this perspective is that it leads to paralysis or the inability to move forward.
Now, the second, negative response is a little different. In this scenario, a man or a woman steps into the new terrain utilizing the tools from the previous life stage. The problem here is inflexibility or the lack of a teachable spirit. I think the best word that I can think of for this is obstinate. Now, this springs up from the soil of pride, too. The idea might be that these tools have served me well, so I will keep using them until I get the results. After all, persistence is one of my hallmarks, so I will keep at it and keep at it. There is a subtle difference between a flat-head screw driver and a Phillips. For the obstinate person, the distinction between the two screwdrivers may be easily perceptible; however, there is something comfortable or familiar with hanging onto the flat-head. It does not matter if all the of screws in the new terrain require the Phillips screwdriver.
Once again, the issue boils down to pride. I may recognize that I need to let go of the flat-head for the Phillips, but making that decision hurts. It is even more difficult to make should anyone point it out to me, too. The problem here has to do with shame. If I recognize that I need to make adjustments for the new terrain, but I keep doing the same things as before, then hearing from someone tell me that I need to make changes sounds like a rebuke. I want to emphasize here the whole notion of shame resulting from embarrassment. There are times in my past where I felt stupid over delaying to make necessary changes after a friend or a relative pointed out those areas. I knew that I needed to make them, so why did I wait? Am I slow in catching on? The second question sounds like a rhetorical one to myself, which suggests that I am believing the shame-based statement of “I am slow to catch on.”
When shame-based statements rear their ugly heads, God’s truth and his community become safe havens. There is a certain amount of apprehension that comes with engaging new terrain. If I process my emotions with trusted others and God, then the fear and anxiety wane over time. This happens because strength and victory comes from acknowledging weakness and neediness. The following Psalm expresses this truth in spades: “When I said, ‘My foot is slipping,’ your unfailing love, Lord, supported me. When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought me joy” (Psalm 94:18-19, NIV). In this Psalm, God meets the author at the point of his need and weakness as a demonstration of being his stronghold (Psalm 94:22, ESV). The Psalmist demonstrates his trust in God by crying out to him with everything that is inside of him. It is a lesson that I have learned in the past, but I still need to remember it even today. This flows nicely into the third and desired response.
Because new terrain occurs as a fact of life, there will be constant opportunities to test my ability to engage with it. Pride, fear, anxiety, and the like will lurk in the shadows during these seasons. They will come out from time to time in order to trip me up along the way. I may even make attempts to deal with them on my own without leaning on God and those who I trust. The hope and the promise of overcoming pride, fear, anxiety, control issues, and the like rest solely on the truths previously discussed in Proverbs 3:5-6 and Psalm 94:18-19. There are countless other passages to hold onto, but I focused on these two because the Spirit of God brought them to my mind. When I navigate the new terrain, do I call out to God like the Psalmist for his consolation that alleviates my anxiety? When I stumble, do I look to the Lord for his support? Do I confess to God and to trusted others about the ways that I rely on my own strength and wisdom rather than his?
In the new terrain, I must face the fear, the anxiety, the pride with total dependence upon God, his word, and his people (those who I trust). The promise is not that I will no longer have to deal with my flesh and its manifestations in the new terrain. Instead, it is a journey that requires facing my flesh from a new paradigm built upon ever increasing trust in the Lord. If I want victory in the new terrian, then I need to acknowledge where I am losing. If I want to overcome my flesh and its bugaboos, then I need to admit that I am not. Both of those if statements flow out of Proverbs 3:5-6 and Psalm 94:18-19. These passages teach that God supplies the victory, the consolation, the support, the wisdom, the understanding, and more for the new terrain. This is not meant to suggest that those things were not essential in the previous leg of the journey. What I am saying is that my reliance upon God must deepen in order to experience victory, consolation, wisdom, and understanding in the new terrain. When fear, anxiety, and the like announce themselves, will I cry out to God for help? Am I willing to listen to correction from trusted others in my life?