I am a seventh grader. The teacher in our Language Explorations class enthusiastically explains the assignment. We are to write about a time in our lives when we were afraid, when we found ourselves in a real-life scary story. And then, we are to roughly memorize it, and share it in front of the class. It should be about five to ten minutes long.
How ironic. All I could think was, “I wish I could write about this experience – basically making a speech in front of twenty-three of my classmates. From memory. Terrifying.” Days filled with agony later, when my turn came, I sat on a stool in front of my peers and unconfidently talked about a time when my family saw a car on fire on the side of the road and smoke was everywhere and we couldn’t move for several minutes.
My left leg visibly and uncontrollably shook the entire time.
Why was I physically affected by such a thing? Why is anyone afraid of public speaking?
I wasn’t afraid of speaking. I talk all the time. I share stories, all kinds, with friends and family every day.
I was afraid of those twenty-three students and what they were thinking about me.
I let their acceptance of what I said and the way I said it control me. Instead of enjoying telling a story, I just saw my peers as a big judgment party.
I know this is a common example. Most people get nervous before public speaking, job interviews, tests, first dates. But if you think about it, worrying “What will they think?” is a normal part of our every day, not just reserved for big events.
It influences what we say, what we wear, what we do with our time. The human heart beats with, “How will he/she/they react if I…”? It can be in the smallest of conversations or a presidential address. We want the people to say, “Yes, go Claire (or your name)! I agree with you. You are smart, attractive, and kind. Your life is really working out well. Model citizen, right there.”
We think about it, consciously or subconsciously, before we tweet, ‘gram, or blog. I’m doing it as we speak. “Will this ‘fear of people’ thing make sense to whoever reads?” Backspace. Edit. Cut. Copy. Paste. Until it sounds *perfect*.
I have been fearing people for a long time, but I only woke up to it in the last few years. Fear of people is what made me hide my struggles in high school. It is what makes me less than jumping enthusiastically to share them now. It has even made me overly nice to people, just so they would like me.
Edward Welch is the one who got me thinking a lot about the idea of fearing man and how it relates to our lack of fearing God in his book (highly recommended!), When People are Big and God is Small.
“ALL experiences of the fear of man share at least one common feature: people are big. They have grown to idolatrous proportions in our lives. They control us. Since there is no room in our hearts to worship both God and people, whenever people are big, God is not.”
There are a lot of ways we fear other people. It’s not just “What will they think?” and literally being afraid to speak or do whatever in front of them. It’s believing they are so amazing that we absolutely must have something from them: acceptance. We want their love and their approval, their party invitation or their marriage proposal. Or we just simply want them to notice us. It’s an issue of who, or what, we worship.
We are so in awe of them that we lose our awe of God. Welch continues:
“The first task in escaping the snare of the fear of man is to know that God is awesome and glorious, not other people.”
I’ve seen the fear of people become so debilitating in my life that I want to combat it. I don’t want to look to them to fill my “love cup”. People are great. They are images of God and we were created to be in relationship with one another, and we should cherish each other. Receiving their love is a gift, but it is not necessary. What is necessary is my adoration of the One who is truly glorious and worthy of it. That is my greatest need: to fear God. In order to fear Him, I have to know Him, see His character, remember who He is, discover who He is.
I have set the Lord always before me; because He is at my right hand, I will not be shaken. – Psalm 16:8
I want to set Jesus before me instead of the people I have made into false gods, who I have sadly given the power to make or break me.