3 Common Struggles Actually Revealing You're Afraid of Death
Look, nobody wants to die. And many people–myself included–are uncomfortable with the inevitable reality of death. But for the most part, we ignore that fear and think we’re beyond it. We might not realize just how much it affects us every day.
The fears you avoid have power over you. We’re beginning Lent today. Instead of avoiding my fear, I’m choosing to face it. I know I’ll live a fuller life as a result.
Here’s some of the places where my fear of death has cost me peace and joy on a regular basis. Becoming aware of these fears, and acknowledging them as they start talking, is the best way to make peace. Heaven knows avoidance hasn’t worked.
Perhaps uncovering these struggles can help you too.
Do these confessions sound like you?
1. I’M CONSTANTLY TRYING TO FIX OTHER PEOPLE’S PROBLEMS.
Sometimes, when people are sharing their story with me, I pretend like I’m Dr. Phil and I’ve got to spike the ratings before commercial break. I’m digging with incisive questions and I’m dropping little nuggets of wisdom (or at least some kind of nuggets), and I’m hoping I can correct whatever’s gone wrong in their life.
Of course, I’m doing this to hide how uncomfortable other people’s problems make me. I don’t want to feel what they’re feeling–I want to help them win! I feel threatened, in an existential way, by their brokenness.
I have a hard time being present in their pain.
Pain reminds me how life doesn’t always work the way you expect it would. And sometimes things suck, and sometimes the suck just continues.
I try to protect myself by being proactive on behalf of other people-“think positive!”–but I end up feeling like the world’s worst motivational speaker. And I have the emotional depth and nuance of an inspirational Instagram.
I'm becoming aware of my own insufficiency.
Sometimes, people need help something far beyond help. They need a healer.
And true healers always start in the middle of the pain.
They don’t start fixing the problem until they have a chance just to sit with the broken.
They have no trouble forgetting how many problems are far too complex to be fixed.
I don’t have a problem with counselling, giving advice, or wanting to help other people. But I’m also learning to be content to simply be with those I care about in the midst of the conflict.
It’s the only way I can see the hope of a healer greater than my own insecurity.
2. I GET DEFENSIVE WHEN I’M CRITICIZED.
You got a problem with me? Suddenly I’m Judge Judy. I’m authorized to talk back to your sass. It doesn’t matter how legitimate your concerns are, or how much pain I’ve created. I cannot afford to admit I’m as guilty as I seem to be.
Even when I apologize, I pivot sometimes. I find some aspect of the issue that doesn’t belong to me. In the labyrinth of an argument, I’m always aware of the exits.
How’s this for a confession: sometimes, when I drive around, I craft a fictional defence of my driving in case a police officer is just about to pull me over.
My wounded pride reminds me of my weakness. The more right I feel, the more invincible I am.
It’s hard to remember you’re made of dust when you deny any sense of loss you’ve created.
Believe me, this is subtle. Even when I don’t defend myself outwardly, I can be raging on the inside. Acknowledging hurt and loss and admitting I caused it only draws attention to the fact that life is short and others matter far more than my pride does.
I'm becoming aware of my own vulnerability.
I don’t need to defend myself.
This isn’t one of those “Only God Can Judge Me” tattoos. I can remain sensitive and open to feedback, and I can acknowledge how I come across. But I’ve let my pride and good honour go, in a sense.
The dignity I protect with defensiveness is the sort of treasure moth and rust destroy.
Apologizing without excuses. Refusing to react. Refraining from being critical as a reflex. These are all little forms of death I can stop avoiding everyday.
3. I CARE WAY TOO MUCH ABOUT BEING SUCCESSFUL.
I used to wake up in the morning and hear the voice of my own ambition. My brain would act like my own personal life coach. I’d be my own personal Richard Simmons for accomplishment aerobics.
I’d sell myself on the idea if I did enough, I would have all the success I’ve always dreamed about.
I push hard to stay organized and fit as much into my schedule as I possibly can. I have a hard time saying no to things. I don’t feel good about my day unless I’ve knocked enough off my to-do list.
I’m really just afraid of being meaningless. I’m scared I won’t leave a mark on anything lasting. My outward accomplishments validate me far too much.
Life, in this way, is too much about the pleasure of productivity. This puts death–in disguise–as the fear of failure.
Eventually you get exhausted trying to obtain whatever elusive marker you’ve put out in front of you, or–what’s often worse–you succeed.
I'm becoming aware of my own mortality.
Ultimately humans build castles and ships and towers on the outskirts of Babylon because we’re trying to be like God–the one immortal being who just might be up there somewhere if we build high enough.
Surely he isn’t afraid of dying, is he?
Well, I’m only in this Lenten season because I’m following Jesus. And as Messiah–as God–He was terrified of death. But He faced it anyway. He didn’t avoid death or try to ignore it. He didn’t give into false trappings of success, or mask the insecurity with defensiveness or distraction.
He faced death, and He embraced it. He willingly let go of His own life. Nobody took it from Him.
And, if the tradition holds true, He’s the first one to have come back from death. He’s faced our greatest fear and conquered it.
He proves there’s a resurrection on the other side of the ultimate defeat.
In short, I’m learning how to surrender. When I’m staring death in the face, and I’m about to lose the argument or give up another hopelessly unproductive day; when I’m scared of other people’s pain or when I’ve deceived myself into thinking I can solve all the world’s problems, I decide instead to kneel in Gethsemane and look death in the eye.
I’ll probably sweat a lot of blood. It will be uncomfortable.