Written By Emily Anne Hall, USA
“What an opportunity!” I said to myself, after happily accepting an invitation to my neighbor’s home for dinner that evening. Six months ago, the family had emigrated to the United States from a predominantly Muslim country; this was the first time I had gotten an invitation from them.
I felt excited at the chance to share Jesus’ love with them and make them feel welcome. I was also grateful for an opportunity to make friends with my neighbors—something I learned was more challenging as an adult in an apartment complex than as a student in a college dorm. Back then, it seemed as though we all craved relationships so making friends with other young college students was a natural and easy affair. Now, with everyone busy with their own families, building relationships definitely took more effort.
This dinner invitation was indeed a rare opportunity. It also seemed like something God might have organized. Knowing, serving, and loving my neighbors well were the things I wanted my life to be about. I wanted God’s command, “love your neighbor as yourself,” (Matthew 22:39) to be the consistent theme in my life’s story.
But while I knew the dinner was a great opportunity to get to know people from a diverse background, anxiety, fear, and insecurity filled my heart throughout the day. By evening, I had worked myself up into a frenzy, pacing around the living room.
One hour before our scheduled dinner appointment at 5:30 p.m., I began to wonder: Is it too late to cancel? Maybe it’s not too late. People cancel plans—it’s a normal part of life, right?
Though I am struck with compassion for those on the margins, who feel lonely and are in need of community, I was afraid to be the good neighbor God called me to be. I felt afraid I would say the wrong thing and turn the family away from engaging with Christians and Christ forever. I felt afraid that I might not say enough about the gospel and that my disobedience would grieve the Holy Spirit. I worried that my neighbors would ultimately reject me.
For years, fear kept me from relationships and kept me blind to the subtle shift from enjoying being alone to being stuck in loneliness. As a child, I had a good family and access to friendships, but always avoided wading too deep into relationships. I felt pressure to do and say the “right” Christian things so others would think well of me. I found it difficult to share things from my heart (like my faith) with people who thought differently from me. These fears caused me to hesitate to love and let people love me back because the risk of judgement—real or imagined—was just too big. As I entered adulthood, my desire for deep relationships and understanding grew but I was still fearful of rejection.
But over time, God showed me stories in the Bible of how He lifted those paralyzed by fear and set them onward. Moses held a conviction for justice, having witnessed the treatment of enslaved people while growing up. But he was afraid to lead them away to freedom like he was called to do. And God patiently confronted Moses’ fears with undeniable truth (Exodus 3:1-4:17). When Moses expressed doubt in his own ability, God said, “I will be with you,” (3:12). When Moses shared his anxiety about what to say, God replied, “I will help you speak and will teach you what to say,” (4:12). Moses’ fear did not vanish, but he followed God’s command to lead the Israelites out of Egypt. And sure enough, God was with him and taught him what to say.
“Lord, send someone else.” (Exodus 4:13) I found myself repeating the same words Moses had said, thousands of years later in my living room. Afraid of failure and rejection, I prayed to God. I told Him about all the fears that held me back from leaving my front door. Then God reminded me of His constant, close presence. He reminded me of the beautiful life I could be living if I would keep following Him, step by step. One foot in front of the other. One faithful yes after another.
My fear did not magically melt away after praying. But because God reminded me of who He was and who I was, my perspective shifted from magnifying my fears to magnifying Christ. At 6:30 p.m., I opened my door and walked downstairs to my neighbor’s apartment.
That evening’s dinner with my neighbors turned out to be a wonderful time of eating delicious food and getting to know kind people. My neighbors accepted me right away and listened closely to my stories about Jesus and Christianity. Now, many dinners later, I have friends whom I love and who love me too.
Fear almost won that evening. But God’s love for me encouraged me to go out and love my neighbors by spending time with them and sharing my faith with them.
When God leads you to do something and a sea of fear starts filling your heart one drop at a time, choose to follow Him anyway. Be mindful that the story you’re living shouldn’t be dictated by fear, but rather motivated by love.