Five Things I Have Learned about Doing that Scary Thing

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Since my kidney transplant eight years ago, I have tried a lot of new adventures. So when I saw the Mrs. Disciple linkup for this week of Five New Experiences, I thought this would be easy. Having survived a disease that had killed several members of my family gave me a feeling of empowerment to tackle other scary things. It also made me wonder why I had wasted so much time not trying.

So from those tries,

Five Things I Have Learned about Doing that Scary Thing

1. Have rules to live by

When I’m faced with backing down or trying something new that scares me, I resort to two decision-making rules—two questions I ask myself.

1—Am I likely to ever get this chance again?

2—Will I regret not doing this?

These two questions have propelled me into all kinds of adventures.

Some years ago, on a vacation to Nova Scotia, we discovered a zipline company. It was pretty simple—one long line down a mountain. The girls were eager to try. I was . . . not so much. When we arrived, we discovered that they only accepted cash, and wouldn’t you know, we had only enough Canadian dollars for four. Not five.

We probably could have negotiated a group rate, or offered him American cash, which he certainly would have taken. But instead, I looked at the loooong zipline running to the ground and said, “Um, I’ll make the sacrifice. You guys go.” I wasn’t chickening out. We didn’t have the cash, right?

I was totally chickening out.

And I regretted that decision for years.

They had a glorious time doing something they’d never tried, and I just had to hear about it and wish I had decided differently.

Now, when I look at something like the art museum in the meaner streets of Pittsburgh and wonder, Should I get out of my safe locked car and go in?, I know that I will regret not seeing this thing I will probably never see again. And it gives me courage.

IMG_6099Now, when I am standing at the start of a ropes course that did not look at all scary from the ground, I know I will regret not trying. (And, because I did this two days ago, I also know I don’t need to do it again.)

Now, when I wonder if I should take a random road trip to Austin on the spur of the moment, I understand that this opportunity will not come again, and what’s to be lost?

In my experience there, that drive friendly thing? Delusional.

These two questions have been some of the best two things I’ve ever asked myself.

Am I likely to ever get this chance again?

Will I regret not doing this?

Which adventure leads to lesson #2–

2. Use the Buddy System

When we had another chance in Costa Rica, this time on a course of six lines, I took it. The first line was terrifying. I wobbled off it, feeling unwell and woozy. I considered calling it a day and saying I tried. When the guide saw me tilting a bit, he said, “This next one is the mile-long line. We’re going tandem, you and me.” It was stunning–and fun. I managed the other four lines just fine.

If he had not seen my need and offered me his borrowed strength to get through the next tough spot? I would never have been able to negotiate a mile-long zipline. I’d have been dangling there somewhere above the rain forest canopy praying for God to take me quickly before I died of terror. But with someone else to offer expertise, encouragement, and strong arms for the task? I saw the waterfalls, treetops, and blue skies I otherwise would have missed. I felt the freedom of soaring into the wind and the rush of planting my feet firmly on the platform having done the job.

When a new experience frightens us, we need a buddy. We need someone to tell us we can do it, to threaten us if need be, to remind us that with God and with the gifts he has given, we do not have to be afraid. Grab a friend and do that scary thing together.

3. Don’t underestimate yourself

IMG_4894.JPGOn our “grand tour” to Europe five years ago, after my husband left to go back home, the four of us ladies (three daughters and I) were left to navigate the continent on our own. In the first few days, we were stalled by a transportation strike in Italy. Stranded in Venice, we hauled suitcases up and down stairs, managed to locate the Grand Canal, hopped aboard the only moving train with no reservations and no real idea of how we would get where we needed to go, and eventually got there.

It was frustrating. It was exhausting. I may or may not have said words a pastor doesn’t say. But you know what else it was? Empowering. We did it. We got where we needed to go, in a strange country with a strange language, and we did it with a sense of humor. When I would normally have leaned on my husband to do the scary hard things, I had to do them myself. And I learned that I could.

In her book Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg notes that “Multiple studies in multiple industries show that women often judge their own performance as worse than it actually is.” Isn’t that the truth in your experience? I know it is in mine. I detest performance self-evaluations. I just don’t want to talk about how well I think I’m doing. Most of us feel more comfortable talking about how much we think we’re failing than how we think we’re crushing it. That’s sad.

Trying new experiences can be a chance for us to say, I can do hard thing. I can do this. And it feels good. Especially when you’re finally on the train and you can put those suitcases down.

Most of us feel more comfortable talking about how much we think we’re failing than how we think we’re crushing it.

4. Not trying is the only failure

Another latest new experience has been becoming a friendship partner to a refugee family. This is so out of my comfort zone. I don’t do strangers. I don’t do small talk. I don’t do situations where I don’t know what my job is supposed to be. I definitely don’t do sit on a couch awkwardly not knowing what to say and not even knowing how to say it in a way a non-English speaker will understand. But it seemed suddenly so minute to worry about my discomfort when faced with masses of people for whom discomfort was quite the relative term.

Honestly? It’s not going well. I keep sending text messages, calling, trying to set up appointments. And I don’t get answers. I’m frustrated. I want to quit. I won’t, not until I know that it’s just not going to work.

Even if I do end up quitting though, there is value in the trying. Learning something from a new experience that didn’t work is not failing. It’s obedience. I hope I works out, and I will continue to work with the organization in other capacities if it doesn’t. But if that happens, I will have tried. I won’t regret not trying. And I will have learned.


5. Listen to the call, not the catcall

I did something brand new this week that is possibly the most terrifying thing ever. I applied to be a senior pastor. I never thought that was something I would do, and I have no idea if it will end up happening. Surprisingly, I am at complete peace with the whole thing. Also surprisingly, I have been having recurring bad dreams about the whole thing. Apparently, my subconscious is not nearly as unafraid as my conscious.

Dreams like, I am asked to preach and find myself in front of a Willow-Creek-size sort of crowd. With my sermon slides projected in Disneyworld-like 360-surround and a giant spotlight on . . . me. I’m not particularly frightened of speaking to crowds, so this has not yet reached nightmare proportions. Until I go to pull out my trusty new iPad with sermon notes, and I find that instead I have a pocket full of crumpled up receipts, paper scraps, and napkins on which those notes are scratched. I am standing there trying to uncrumple twenty papers, put them in order, and read the tiny bad handwriting. In front of thousands of critical people.

Yep, this is where it turns Chucky Doll scary. I do have recurring bad dreams of not being prepared for things. They have escalated.

But see, this is also where I have to pull back and remember a few things. I am called. God has asked, “Yes or no?” And I have answered. I don’t have to listen to the voices that tell me I’m not enough or I will surely fail. I only have to listen to His voice. If He says walk right into this new scary thing, it means He will walk with me. That little word “with”? A tiny preposition in English. You know what it means in Hebrew? Alongside me, behind me, before me, above and below and all around me. Enveloped by God. That’s pretty good assurance to head into that scary thing.

What’s your next scary thing? Maybe it might be a good thing to try.

6 thoughts on “Five Things I Have Learned about Doing that Scary Thing

  1. I love your two rules! I am trying to push myself out of my comfort zone more also. I have been in those situations several times where I decline and later regret it. “Enveloped by God. That’s pretty good assurance to head into that scary thing.” Yes! Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh gosh, yes. I always said that if I had had to step off the platform, I may never have done the zipline. But since you only have to pick up your feet, that I could do. 🙂 There’s probably a sermon illustration in that somewhere.


  2. You adventure-types intimidate me 😉 But it sounds like you weren’t always so adventurous so there is hope for me! I am glad you have taken the big leaps and learned along the way. Maybe some of the earlier, smaller new experiences help build you up for those great big ones. Thank you for sharing your wisdom with us!


    1. Oh no, I have been extremely nonadventurous most of my life! Something about that experience with the transplant changed my outlook. I was tired of being afraid after beating the worst. Baby steps are good! Also, just let it be known I will never, ever regret not riding a roller coaster or skydiving. So those are off the table. 🙂


  3. First of all, your picture of the Texas sign made me laugh!! Um…yeah….no offense Texas drivers, but this Wisconsin girl is terrified….TERRIFIED! Secondly, I really LOVE this post! Lots of great advice here!

    Liked by 1 person

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