Fear. That sickening, sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach. That brief moment of hesitation which can cause you to completely freeze like a marble statue. Much of our everyday fears come from some form of change, which can be sudden and unexpected or looming and something to dread.
The older I’ve become, the more I’ve noticed that I tend to gravitate towards routines and stability and away from change — especially big, personal changes. As creatures of habit, we like our routines and stability, at least until the boredom sets in and becomes this suffocating entity of its own. Change on any level can be scary, but boredom can often be scary too, especially in this high-tech world where changes are happening faster, broader, and deeper. As a software developer, I’ve often felt there’s an invisible expiration date stamped on my forehead; someday I’ll have outlived my usefulness in writing code and be unable to find work again. And that fear brings a whole slew of others along with it!
Needless to say, the last couple years have been chalk-full of change both personally and professionally, and as life would have it, both happened at exactly the same time for me. Two years ago while my marriage was unraveling, the group I work for decided to get serious about building the next generation of software. The days of working on a hardened seven-year-old code-base with well-established patterns and processes were numbered. Pervasive change was imminent. But it wouldn’t involve just developing a new platform or product based upon what we were already familiar with — we’d only end up in the same place in less than half the time! No, we would have to throw everything out and start over from scratch. New platform, new languages, new architectures, new databases, new everything. Level Zero.
To put that in layman’s terms, imagine being all settled into a nice life in a good neighborhood with a decent job and established routines. Sure, there are upsets and such every now and then, but those are handled as they arise. Now imagine being called to live on the other side of the world — next week. Imagine leaving that familiar, comfortable life in the American suburbs and moving to the middle of Mumbai with nearly 13 million people packed into a small area. Suddenly, even basic functions of life become incredibly challenging, like finding food, water, and shelter. It’s hot, crowded, and everything (and everyone) is moving all around you and never stops. Though you have money, you don’t even know how to use it to get what you need. To make matters worse, you went from a place with one official language to more than twenty, and you don’t speak or read any of them. All the things you took for granted and didn’t even think about before have instantly become overwhelming! Suddenly, you’re trapped in this cycle of confusion, fear, and frustration!
There are two responses I’ve observed about dramatic, sudden change and the fears that accompany it: resistance and acceptance. For most of us on the team (especially us veterans), we resisted the changes for awhile before we reluctantly though gradually began to accept them. Our attitudes were poor and we were very skeptical of the new processes and practices because they seemed very inefficient and counter-intuitive. Meanwhile, the handful that accepted the changes and had good attitudes ended up adapting to the new world much faster and were soon excelling. Instead of change being slow and gradual as before, now it’s often sudden and sweeping and ongoing. Nearly two years later, we’ve all mostly embraced it — particularly with how often the carpet is pulled out from under us — though it’s been very challenging and frustrating at times.
Looking back, why did most of us resist these huge changes while others accepted them though the benefits were obvious? As analytical people, we all agreed that the benefits far outweighed the risks and detriments. So why all the hesitation and reluctance? FEAR, plain and simple. We feared all the changes. We feared all the unknowns. We feared being replaced by younger, smarter people who cost one-third of what we do. We feared what we didn’t even know what to fear. The thing is, often the fear is much worse than the actual thing itself. So why fear? What does fear do except delay the inevitable?
The curious thing about all the challenges and fears of the last two years (especially the last six months), is that we found out what we’re made of. Speaking for myself, I think I finally found my place on the team, and my review for past year reflected that. Often I’m the “Bulldozer” who plows through things and pushes hard (and pushes others) to get things done on time or earlier — especially when we have a ton of work to do. I tend to take on bugs and junk that others don’t really want to do because it can be tedious and boring (like fixing broken builds). For myself, if it’s mindless grunt-work with which I can tune everyone out and just hunker down for a change (Hello, Spotify!). Sometimes I picture myself as Newman (from Seinfeld) surrounded by garbage-bags full of muffin-bottoms that have to be disposed of. I sit down, assess the situation, and then get to work and plow through it — and usually without fear.
So while I’m getting used to not fearing change at work (as much), I still have this underlying fear of change when it involves relationships. I think I’ve always had it to some extent, even before my divorce and everything surrounding it. I’m afraid of blowing it in new situations and having to start over (and over and over like “Groundhog Day”). I’m sometimes afraid to step out of my comfort-zone and take risks, to put my heart out there, to open up and really be vulnerable. And yet after everything that’s happened, I almost have this attitude of Job where he said, “What I feared has come upon me; what I dreaded has happened to me.” (Job 3:25 NIV), and I find that oddly reassuring. If God has already brought me through that which I feared the most, then why should I worry about whatever might happen now or in the future? Why should I be afraid any more?
God is intimately aware of all our relationships and all the intricacies within each of them — and He’s always doing something whether we realize it or not. Usually He’s doing so many things all at the same time that we can only comprehend a handful of them! In His creation, so many things are always in motion and changing, whether it’s reproducing, being born, growing, moving, or dying. Ultimately, our fears of change really have very little impact on what He’s doing, but can easily hamstring or cripple us. We may plant the seeds, pull the weeds, water and fertilize those plants, but God is responsible for the growth. Our responsibility is to trust Him in His timing and His ways of doing things. Sometimes He wants certain relationships to put down roots, flourish, spread, and grow. Sometimes He doesn’t because He has other people and things in mind for us. Unlike us, He sees everything, along with past, present, and future, and knows exactly what’s best, when, how, and why.
However, for as much as He likes change, God Himself does not. In fact, He is probably the ONLY entity in this entire universe that never changes! In the Bible, God portrays Himself as a Rock to which we can go anywhere and anytime we want to. Our Rock is always solid and perfectly stable, and often He’s the only source of stability in this very unstable, unpredictable, and often chaotic universe (at least in our understanding)!
The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer; my God, my strength, in whom I will trust; my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. (Psalm 18:2)
Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. (James 1:17)
The other good news is that God is with us (those who place their trust in Him) and will NEVER forsake us, though everyone else might turn away or even betray us. Though the storms may be raging all around, we are to NOT fear because of Who goes with us. And not only does He go WITH us, He goes BEFORE us! He leads the charge and clears the path, defending and protecting us from danger, predators, and our enemies.
And the Lord, He is the One who goes before you. He will be with you, He will not leave you nor forsake you; do not fear nor be dismayed. (Deuteronomy 31:8)
Throughout the Bible, God tells us not to fear, to not be afraid when life throws us one curve-ball after another and we keep striking out. It’s so easy to think of His many words concerning fear as if He’s kindly saying “Shhh. There, there. Don’t be afraid.” But I think it should be read/heard like more of a command that a military officer would give: “Do NOT be afraid!” “Fear NOT!” “Never give in to fear!”
Ultimately, God wants us to love, trust, and obey Him. I’ve read before that the opposite of love is not hatred, but fear — distrust. And maybe that’s His purposes in sending all these changes and these ever-changing relationships. If we really trust Him with our lives and our future, we will trust and obey and will NOT fear. We will NOT be afraid!
Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by your name; you are Mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned, nor shall the flame scorch you. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior… (Isaiah 43:1b-3)
So as we go through this life of ever-present changes, relationships, transitions, unknowns, twists and turns, upsets and upheavals, let us remember Who is really in control of everything. Every wall we hit at work and every time things blow up at home, let us remember that He is right there alongside us. Let us remember to NOT fear!
“For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” — 2 Timothy 1:7