I pity anyone who was my friend when I was single.
I was the king of second-guessing my dates, and my friends had to bear the brunt of my neuroses. “We talked for three hours — do you think she’s all talked-out?” “She said she likes me — is she lying?” “She said she’s busy on Friday but can go out on Saturday…but do you think she’s just avoiding me?” “She said we need to talk tonight…is that bad?” (It turns out the last one actually was). I was so convinced that any potential relationship would end that I walked in constant fear of everything I said, every gesture given, every signal sent my way.
One of the reasons I knew my wife was “the one” fairly early in our relationship was that I never had many of those feelings of insecurity for too long. Kelly and I were on the level about what we wanted out of a relationship from the start, and one of the things I love most about her is that is that she can’t lie — I always knew where I stood. And even now, in our marriage, what fleeting moments of fear I have about losing her are settled when she tells me I have nothing to worry about. With marriage, I believed, my insecurity was at an end.
But it turns out it just crept into every other relationship.
To ask someone new to hang out brings the same heart-in-the-throat feeling I’d get back when I’d dial six digits of a girl’s phone number, hang up and then try again eight more times. I worry that people who hang out with me will quickly grow wearied or annoyed, seeing how lame and boring I am. I’m convinced that I’m one stupid comment away from burned bridges. And it happens in almost every relationship. My awkwardness comes not from being shy or prideful — I’m trying to keep myself from saying something dumb.
This migrating insecurity comes in at other areas in my life. A few years back, I had a job where I confessed to one of my coworkers, “about once a week, I’m sure I’m going to be fired.” It was a hard job, a different atmosphere than I’d ever been in and some of the higher-ups were a bit prickly. I’m in a totally different environment now, I work with very nice people and I think I do a good job. And still, sometimes the thought comes: “you’re going to be told to pack a box any day.”
It comes with health — even after doctors tell me everything looks great, I think that every rumble in the stomach is a sign of impending doom. It comes with parenthood — I’m proud of my ability to make my kids laugh harder than anyone, yet I feel wounded when they prefer their mother to me. It comes with blogging — why don’t I get more pageviews or comments?
In Jon Acuff’s book “Start,” he talks with a counselor about the internal voices we all hear when we take a chance and start something new. And he brings up a fantastic point: no one’s inner voice is positive.
The truth is, I’ve been surrounded by encouraging people; very rarely have I encountered true jerks. My bosses have always told me I’m doing well. My friends have been loyal even in my worst moments. My family loves to a fault. There are very few external situations in my life that discourage me.
It comes, instead, from those internal voices. The ones that say “you’re going to fail.” “People will leave you.” “This isn’t going to work out.” “You’re not good enough.” I listen to them like truth, probably because they come from so deep inside that I feel I have no reason to doubt them. After all, they’re from inside me. They know me better than anyone else. Why shouldn’t I trust them?
But here’s the thing: those voices have a horrible batting average. Every fear they’ve instilled has been overcome. Every nightmare has been debunked. Every horrifying scenario has been avoided. Even when things go wrong, I’ve found that the reality is not nearly as bad as the voices have warned me.
The voices are liars. And even when they’re not totally false, they’re horribly inaccurate.
So why do I still listen? Probably because they won’t shut up. And they yell.
The solution? Yell louder. Speak longer. Fight back.
In my mid-twenties, when I struggled with anxiety and depression, I found great hope in Psalms 42-43. John Piper talks about this passage as being one where the Psalmist preaches to themselves, asking their soul “why are you so downcast?” and then admonishing “put your hope in God!”
I need to do this with my insecurities. I need to tell this voice that my friends are loyal. I am talented. The world is not out to get me. I am loved. God is sovereign. This is not the end. And failure, when it occurs, is not permanent.
When your voices talk to you — yell back.