In the days leading up to
my ordination service, I was surprised to find that I dreaded
the event as much as I looked forward to it. While I knew that
important benefits would come from being ordained, the thought
of taking the step frightened me. I feared that I didnít deserve
the honor and wouldnít be able to handle the increased sense of
significance it would bring.
Yet once the service was over and the formalities past--once
there was no easy turning back--I suddenly felt at home with my
new status. Never, in fact, during the thirty-two years since
then have I wavered in feeling comfortable with the distinction
of being ordained, which in its own way has served to open many
There are a multitude of fears we may experience when making a
major personal change. We can fear success as much as failure,
and--in relationships--commitment as much as rejection. So
often, though, the heart of the problem is simply that we donít
like change. When we look carefully at what frightens us, we
find it is the fear of change that is holding us back.
This was clearly the case as I approached my ordination
ceremony. Becoming ordained meant letting go of a comfortable
old identity for an uncertain new one. And it meant growing up a
bit, opening myself to new responsibilities. And that was scary.
Letís face it. Change of any sort--whether modest
or major-- can be unnerving. Journalist Ellen Goodman notes,
We cling to even the minor routines with an odd tenacity. Weíre
upset when the waitress who usually brings us coffee in the
break-fast shop near the office suddenly quits, and are
disoriented if the drugstore or the cleaners in the neighborhood
closes. . . . We each have a litany of holiday rituals and
everyday habits that we hold on to, and we often greet radical
innovation with the enthusiasm of a baby meeting a new sitter.*
Surprised by Mixed Emotions
Of course we find unwelcome change unsettling. But this can be
just as true when the change is one we strongly desire to make.
That is to say, we can long for the change on one level yet fear
it on another. Such ambivalence when making a major change is
extremely common, although many people are surprised when they
Not a few Christians are startled to experience such divided
feelings after making a decision to marry. One brilliant, mature
Christian man I know went through three major episodes of doubt
during the two months before his wedding, even though he had
committed to marry with great conviction of heart. In another
case, a woman was ready to cancel her wedding on only ten daysí
notice. She had earnestly desired to marry this man and at the
time of her engagement was certain God was leading her to do so.
Yet as their wedding day approached, her apprehensions grew to
the point of practically overriding her better judgment.
As my ordination experience demonstrates, though, the fears we
experience in the face of a major change are often deceptive.
They are aggravated by our knowing that we still have the
freedom to change our mind. Once we take the step and are no
longer free to renege, they usually vanish. In the case of
marriage, it typically happens that after the vows are taken and
the festivities are over, the fears that were so disabling are
We go through this identical process in other changes as well.
Taking a decisive step is usually necessary to put our fears to
Misunderstandings About Perfect Peace
Complicating the matter for many Christians, though, is an
unfortunate notion about Christís peace. Many assume that if God
is leading you to do something, youíll experience perfect peace.
This is usually thought to mean that no fears or doubts will
intrude. If you have any misgivings at all, God is warning you
not to go ahead.
While Scripture teaches that Christ gives peace to those who
follow him, it never guarantees that we will feel
peaceful as we begin to take a step forward. God doesnít
overrule our psyche. The peace he gives, rather, enables us to
transcend our fears--to move ahead in spite of many
hesitations. We may, in short, feel a mixture of peace and fear
at the same time, especially in the early stages of making a
major change. Many of us, too, are so constituted
psychologically that we simply cannot feel peaceful in
advance of a major step but only afterward. Taking the step
is vital to experiencing Christís peace and opening ourselves to
Godís full blessings.
Indeed, faith often involves the resolve to move ahead in spite
The Lure of the Comfort Zone
The call of Moses provides a helpful example of these
principles. When God confronted Moses through the burning bush,
he offered him an exceptional opportunity to do something
meaningful with his life. Yet Moses responded with extreme fear
and reluctance. ďWho am I, that I should go to Pharaoh and bring
the Israelites out of Egypt? . . . O Lord, please send someone
elseĒ (Ex 3:11, 4:13).
We could easily conclude that Moses didnít really want the
position God was offering him. As a young man, though, he had
displayed exactly the aspirations this position would now
fulfill. His passion to free his fellow Jews from oppression was
so great that it spurred him to murder an Egyptian whom he
caught abusing an Israelite (Ex 2:11-12). In all likelihood this
zeal was still inside of him, though it had been repressed for
Fear of repercussions from killing the Egyptian led Moses to
seek refuge in the desert. For forty years he worked as a shep-herd
and lived in the home of a respected priest. We may guess that
while life was not bristling with adventure for Moses during
this time, it was not terribly stressful either. When God
finally asked Moses to deliver Israel, Moses expressed intense
fears of failure. Yet he undoubtedly feared change as well, for
accepting the call would mean leaving a number of familiar
Interestingly, as Moses responded to Godís call, he not only
realized dramatic success but experienced remarkable fulfillment
also. Not that it was easy. He was stretched and challenged
enormously. Yet through the whole process came times of
unparalleled intimacy with God, substantial growth in his
leadership skills, and the radical joy of knowing that his life
was accomplishing something noteworthy. His long-term physical
vitality probably benefited too, for at the time of his death at
age 120, ďhis eyes were not weak nor his strength goneĒ (Deut
Perhaps you are considering a major change. It may be a career
move or a new educational pursuit. Or a change in your living
situation. Or a step forward in a relationship--or the
breaking-off of one. Or a change in your church affiliation, or
a new venture in using your gifts within your church.
You may have approached this decision carefully and prayerfully
and have good reason to believe that God is prompting you to go
ahead. At the same time, you are dogged with doubts and fears
and a general uneasiness about making any change at all. If so,
let me suggest five points of perspective to keep in mind:
1. Second thoughts are normal. No matter how
mature you are spiritually and how diligently you have sought
Godís will, it is still common to have second thoughts about
your decision. Yes, you may look with envy on friends who leap
into marriage with perfect confidence that they have found Godís
choice, or on those who make career changes with surreal
assurance that they are following Godís will. Remember, though,
that you are constructed differently psychologically than they
are. You may even be a deeper thinker. And they may be ignoring
misgivings that will come out later in more damaging ways. Be
thankful that you recognize your feelings and are not repressing
Remember, too, that Scripture is full of people, like Moses, who
took major steps in the face of considerable ambivalence yet
were clearly following Godís will. Accept your psychological
makeup for what it is.
2. Take time to mourn what you are leaving behind.
No matter how greatly you desire to make this change, you are
still letting go of certain cherished benefits in order to do
it. The person eager for marriage, for instance, is
relinquishing the treasured freedom of single life and forsaking
forever the possibility of considering another option for an
intimate relationship. Even when the change brings unquestioned
improvements to your life, itís still normal to feel grief over
what youíre leaving behind. Donít be ashamed to face up to this.
Take time to feel your grief and work through it. But donít let
it hold you back from moving on to Godís best.
3. Pray for strength and eagerness. While prayer
has many purposes in Scripture, one of the most essential is to
gain courage when taking a major step of faith. Jesus gave us a
vivid demonstration in Gethsemane. Through an hour or so of
earnest prayer his outlook was transformed, and he gained the
determination and confidence he needed to proceed with his
mission. Give some dedicated time to praying about your
decision. But donít merely ask for guidance--ask for strength
and eagerness to take the course that is best for you. Praying
in this fashion can make a significant difference.
4. Take control of your psyche. You have
considerably more control than you probably realize over the
mood swings that accompany a major personal change. The people
with whom you associate, for instance, affect your outlook
dramatically. There may be those who, regardless of their
intentions, find it difficult to feel positive about the change
you want to make. Their own identity is tied to how you are now.
For you to change means adjustments for them too--in their
routine, in their pattern of relating to you, in how they see
themselves. They may not do anything overtly to discourage you
about moving ahead. Still, itís difficult to be around them and
not feel guilty for upsetting the equilibrium in their lives.
You wonder if you should be making any change at all.
Others will be much more forward-looking in how they see you.
They are able to think beyond their own narrow concerns and
appreciate what God is doing in your life. They trust your
judgment and share your excitement for taking on new adventures
and risks. And they genuinely want to see you succeed.
Donít forsake those who find it hard to agree with you. But give
priority to spending time with those who are able to think
creatively about your life. Their perspective will be
contagious. Remember that Jesus himself chose to move away from
Nazareth into settings where peopleís expectations of him were
higher. This suggests that we should consider it a point of
stewardship to avoid too much contact with negative people. We
benefit most by being with those who see us dynamically.
5. Accept the principle of tradeoffs. The modern
belief that we can ďhave it allĒ subtly affects our outlook as
Christians. While Scripture promises that Christís blessings
during this life are immense, though, it teaches that there are
always tradeoffs involved. Challenging choices must be made to
let go of one benefit in order to enjoy another. Once we accept
this--and that perfection is never possible in our choices--it
becomes easier to take steps forward. Change itself becomes less
We may not be able to overcome our fundamental uneasiness with
change. Still, we donít have to let our fears of change be the
controlling factor in the decisions we make, or the final word
in our life. There is much we can do to break the grip of these
fears, and the outlooks weíre suggesting can help greatly.
The best news is that God is on our side as we make the effort
to confront our fears of change and embrace his best for us. We
should be determined in this effort, trusting that he
will give us all the grace we need as we step forward. May God
grant us the wisdom to see his best at every point in our life,
and the courage to move beyond any fears that stand in the way.