Yes often leads to terror for me. I’m always nervous. I used to second-guess myself a lot. I would get really worried about whether or not I would fail. I often do fail. I also often embarrass myself. But that’s the cost of pushing into the unknown. That’s the cost of a life well-lived. At the end of the day, who cares if I fail? Who really cares if I embarrass myself? If I don’t mind, why should anyone else?
Here’s the funny thing. Saying yes gets easier the more you say it. I still get butterflies before I walk on stage to teach a church congregation or into a room full of military families. The good part is that the nervousness disappears once I start talking. How funny is that? I’m more nervous anticipating something than actually doing it. You would think that it would be the other way around but it’s not. The brain plays funny games and we can’t let it rob us of life.
Stephanie and I were skiing once in Mt. Hood. It was really cold. We should have taken the cues from other skiers as they sat drinking hot chocolate in the lodge. We were some of the only skiers on the lifts in white out snow conditions. The wind had kicked up pretty bad and as we rode the lift back up the mountain we were miserably cold. As we huddled together trying to stay warm for the five-minute lift ride I started having an internal dialogue.
“I’m really cold! Colder than I have ever been.”
“What part of me is cold?”
“Is it all of me or only a part of me?”
“Actually, most of me is fairly warm.”
“My face is really cold. So are my hands.”
“So, I’m not cold, only my face and hands are cold.”
Suddenly, for some reason, I didn’t feel as cold anymore. My brain still fought me to take over, but I had a bit more control after that. I shared my thoughts with Stephanie as we rode the lift and she agreed that it helped. Even then, we went straight to the lodge to get something warm to sip after that lift ride. This was a date after all.
Could it be that our brains make things out to be worse than they really are? If that’s the case, can we train our brains to chill out and not worry so much? Can we really take our thoughts captive?
I actually think we can control our fear and use it to drive us. I think we can survive a lot more than we think. I think that after the initial shock of whatever circumstance we find ourselves in, we can take our thoughts captive enough to bring perspective. I think perspective allows us to endure a whole lot more than we would be able to do otherwise. I also believe that as we push ourselves away from comfort and step into the unknown, God uses those experiences to prepare us for bigger and better.
I have a friend, Jarrod, who served in the US Army Special Forces (SF). I met him at church randomly one day and we hit it off. At the time, Jarrod worked for a company that made and sold tactical infra-red lasers for assault rifles. I got a call from Jarrod one day and he asked me to help him out. He had just hired a new salesman for their lasers and needed to train him on how to present the product to the likes of Special Forces, Navy Seals and SWAT teams. He asked me if I could be his guinea pig for a live fire training exercise.
My first reaction was fear. I’ve shot rifles before but nothing like this. I’m probably going to embarrass myself in front of my SF buddy was the thought playing over and over in my head as I drove to the gun range. I showed up early and waited around for the two guys to show up. I sat there like a fish-out-of-water in my jeans and button-up shirt. Everyone else brought their arsenal to the range and I waited, empty-handed, like a lost little puppy. The tape continued to play over in my head. You don’t belong here. Just go home. I buried the certainty of embarrassment and watched as Jarrod and his co-worker arrived.
These guys looked straight out of a really cool action movie. They walked in as confident as I’m sure they deserved to be. They had gear bags in their hands and weapons slung across their backs. As they walked past me the only thing Jarrod said was, “Follow us.” I jumped in formation as I tried to match the bravado I had just witnessed. They walked straight past the guy at the counter with a nod. He didn’t even check their ID’s. Anytime I’ve been to the gun range it’s been a 5-minute ordeal filling out paperwork and verifying identity. Not with these guys. I played my part as Mr-Cool-Guy-who-deserved-to-be-there, pretending like I knew what was going to happen next.
We walked upstairs to a private shooting bay that I didn’t know existed. As the door closed, the first thing Jarrod did was reach up to the security camera assigned to the room and disconnected the wire. What was I getting myself into? I think he saw the look on my face as I contemplated whether or not we had just committed a felony and assured me, “This is what we do.” I guess I’m part of the “we” now and I also guess that’s pretty cool.
The shooting bay was empty with nothing but a bench to set up a weapon and multiple bays to set up targets. Like second nature, Jarrod began setting up his rifle and talking me through the use of the laser he and his co-worker were to present to a SF group a day later. I sat there and listened as if I knew what was being said and played my part as the guinea pig. After all the technical jargon practice, Jarrod looked at me and said, “How about we shoot.” It wasn’t a question. He handed me a helmet to strap on. He showed me how the night vision goggles worked. He turned off the lights to the shooting bay and for the next hour we shoot assault rifles; in a gun range in the dark!
He talked me through the different settings of the infra-red laser and told me when I would use them in a combat situation. He had me engage targets one at a time. He showed me how to shoot multiple targets at a time. He taught me shooting drills that he had learned while serving. It was all in the dark. It was like a dream I never knew I wanted and magically someone had read my deepest desires and made them come true. I’m sure it was just a day in the life for him. For me, it was a moment I’ll never forget.
My time with Jarrod that night culminated in a shooting drill that he talked me through. As fast as you can, shoot three targets next to each other. Shoot the first target center mass twice. Move to the next target center mass twice. Move to the third with four shots. As fast as you can, move back to the second target for an additional two shots. Finish off the circuit with two final shots in the first target. In all, four shots fired at three targets as fast as possible.
I went through them as fast as I could as he recorded the progress on my cell phone (the lights were on for this part). All I heard him say was, “That’s really good.” I looked at my 6”, center mass grouping and let my self-confidence rise. I felt like I had accomplished something momentous in my life. I just had a guy who shot for a living tell me I did a good job shooting. What a compliment!
As I handed Jarrod the rifle I asked him to take a turn. He hadn’t fired a shot all night. He politely declined, but I insisted. After all, how cool would it be to see a SF soldier handle a rifle. It would be like watching a professional athlete in their element. I wasn’t going to let him wiggle out of this one. After some coaxing he agreed to take a turn. I watched in awe as he smoothly executed the shooting drill. He did it twice as fast as me and with an unreal amount of accuracy. It’s always a thing of beauty to watch someone do something that they’re gifted at with such excellence. I would actually say that it’s an act of worship to the God that both Jarrod and I love to watch him perform with excellence like I observed. A memory I will never forget.
I alluded to this idea of God preparing us for the future as we step out into the unknown in the present. Fast forward a few years later to the moment I held the glock in my hand with the SWAT team drill. In that moment, the shooting drill Jarrod took me through played through my head. It gave me confidence to know that I, in a very small degree, had prepared for a situation like this. As I saw the first officer step into view I took two shots, center mass. Hit. I rotated to the second officer and took two more shots center mass. I’m not sure if I hit him or not. I rotated a bit more to take four shots at the third officer but chickened out as I heard them start to return fire. After all, when a SWAT team starts shooting at you, you should probably give up or hide. I am only human!
Keep doing stuff that makes you uncomfortable. Keep pushing into the unknown. It’s good for you to not know what happens next. You can do way more than you think capable. Embrace the discomfort. Control the fear. See what God leads you into. What an adventurous God we serve!