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3 Truths For When You Feel Inadequate

Although my life is generally free from life-threatening dangers and perils, I still find much to be afraid of. I’m afraid of large dogs. I’m afraid of leaving a bad impression. I’m afraid that I won’t find a meaningful job when I graduate or that I’ll make a wrong decision. The list goes on. Call them unnecessary anxieties or irrational fears, but they often feel very real to me.

Perhaps the deepest and worst fear of all is my fear of insufficiency—the tiny voice that tells me I’m not good enough. The voice that I have mostly learned to ignore until my advisor asks me a question that I can’t answer, or I receive my third rejection letter from top fellowships, or see that fabulous photo of where I want to be or who I want to become on Instagram. The fear of insufficiency often comes from unmet expectations, whether instilled in me by society or by myself. My failure to meet those (often subconscious) expectations can lead to strong waves of anxiety and fear.

When I was a first year PhD student, I was devastated when I was rejected from all the competitive research fellowships I applied to. It wasn’t that I needed them; I could fund my studies through teacher assistantships. But I had worked extremely hard on my application and deeply hoped for at least one of them. Hence, while my friends and classmates celebrated their offers, my unmet expectations were crushed and the fear of insufficiency swallowed me into self-doubt and depression.

That wasn’t the first, or last, time I struggled with my fear of insufficiency. But I have learned to confront this fear and refocus my attention on God and His promises. There are three verses in particular that have helped to frame my mindset in fighting against my fear of insufficiency, and I have found them to be helpful whenever I’m paralyzed by fear.

 

1. We’re not the only ones struggling 

No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it. (1 Corinthians 10:13)

Whenever I get stuck in the pit of my own fears, I tend to convince myself that I’m alone and the only one struggling. But I’ve learned to remind myself that, while my situation is unique, many have faced similar struggles or fears. Thousands of others were rejected from the fellowships, just like me. Moreover, everyone has probably faced rejection from something they have worked very hard for.

Remembering this removes me from my self-focus-induced isolation and enables me to see a bigger picture. I must remind myself that my anxieties—these trials or temptations—are common to mankind, and God has promised that He will always carry us through if we trust in Him.

 

2. Trials can help us uproot lies and idols

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. (James 1:2-4)

When I trust in God’s promise to help, I can then view my situations in a different light. Instead of wallowing, I can rejoice and treat it as an opportunity for God to mature me.

As I depressed over my fellowship rejections, I eventually saw that it wasn’t the lack of funding or research flexibility that I was mourning. I was upset because I couldn’t believe that I wasn’t selected for one of these competitive fellowships. Self-assured about my academic accomplishments, I had egotistically convinced myself that I deserved one of them. I wanted them not because I needed them, but because they would be another accolade on my resume. As the letters came, my ego took a hit. God used these rejections to show me that I had grown prideful and lacked humility. As a result, I began to relinquish my ideal of academic success and learned to put faith in His plans for my studies instead.

Our struggles often point us to lies or idols that we should give up to God. Persevering in faith through our trials helps us grow closer to Him. Because, after all, perseverance produces character, and character, hope (Romans 5:4). And hope is what stabilizes us when the waves of self-doubt and fear threaten to sweep us away.

 

3. Facing our fears reminds us of what truly anchors us

We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. (Hebrews 6:19a)

As I’ve learned to put my hope in God, I’ve come to trust Christ as an anchor for my soul. Today, there are so many opinions and models of success that it’s easy to get pulled in different directions and to pursue the achievement standards the world values. However, having true hope in God doesn’t always come easily. It’s a muscle we must exercise; something we strengthen through battles with our fears, failures, and anxieties.

For me, this hope in God has given me the courage to face my fears—to rebuke the voice that tells me I’m not worthy or I’m not good enough. Paradoxically, God also showed me that courage comes only through humility. In order to conquer my fears, I must first find the strength to face my own flaws and idols.

With the fellowships, it took me months to find the strength to face my own ego. In hindsight, it all seems a bit ridiculous. These were the nation’s most competitive grants and I was conceited to assume that I would get one of them. I had built up getting a fellowship as my image of perfection. Indeed, I fell short of that picture of perfection . . . but that image was false—a mirage conjured from worldly models of success and reinforced by my own ego.

The fact is, I’m not perfect and I’ll never be perfect. The very goal of reaching “perfection” through any effort of our own is unrealistic—that’s why Jesus did it for us.

For “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

God offers us deliverance and infinite grace despite our imperfections and mistakes. Wherever I lack, He will provide. Wherever I fall short, He will lift me up.

With His love, I have gained the courage to stand up to my fear of insufficiency and say, “You’re right. I’m not perfect. But I don’t need to be. The only thing I ever needed is His perfect love.”

There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. (1 John 4:18)

3 Questions to Ask When Confronted with Fear

It was the darkest day of my life.

I was approached by a respected church member who threatened me, “Listen, Jap. This is our church and we were here before you got here. We will be here when you’re gone, so go back to your country. You don’t belong here.”

I had been at the church for four years. I was on pastoral staff. I knew ministry was tough, but had never experienced anything like this. I had heard negative comments in the past, but this time was different. I was scared. It felt like the church that once so loved me now rejected me.

My job was on the line, and my family was threatened. I felt like there was nothing I could do to change anything, and my fear only grew and intensified. I felt trapped. I felt hopeless.

I prayed to God, “Am I under attack by Satan? Are You working to move me to another church? God, I am so discouraged. I feel so low in my spirit, filled with a sense of emptiness, I am ready to quit. God why are you silent in my fears?”

As I submitted my fears to God, He comforted me, and here are three questions I learned to ask from the experience.

 

1. Why Do I Feel Fear?

In a nutshell, I felt fearful because my thinking wasn’t right. In fact, in the midst of my circumstances, I wasn’t even thinking about God! When on occasion I did think about God, He felt neither good nor close. I felt like God had forsaken me. I was letting my circumstances and situations affect my understanding of who He was.

The Bible tells us again and again not to worry: “Do not worry about your life” (Matthew 6:25); “Do not worry about what to say” (Matthew 10:19); “Do not be anxious about anything” (Philippians 4:6); and many others. So why was I afraid?

I was afraid of what this world could do to me. In my own little world, I was so worried about what men might do that they became big in my mind, and God became small. In the midst of possible rejection, attacks or oppression, I completely left God out of the picture.

Fear is not just a horizontal problem—a problem of our circumstances or situations. Fear is actually a vertical problem—a problem in our relationship with God.

 

2. What Lies in My Heart?

Our knee-jerk reaction is usually, “get out of the situation!” We want to shift gears and avoid our negative emotions by changing our circumstances or situations, the people we surround ourselves with, our hobbies, our career, our possessions.

However, Proverbs reminds us, “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it” (Proverbs 4:23). When we respond to what life throws at us, our words and actions point back to what’s in our hearts. When I complain about my situation, what is hidden in the deep compartments of my heart are made evident.

Much of my fear revealed how far my heart was from God, and how close it was to the world. I thought my circumstances dictated how my heart responded, but that wasn’t true. The problem was that my heart submitted to my circumstances, instead of looking beyond them.

As I looked to the Bible, it became evident that my fear was magnified when I did not look to Christ as the source of all my hope and all my healing. Instead, my heart had made an idol of the approval of man, and could not see beyond the circumstances.

 

3. How Should I Respond to Fear?

The antidote to fear is the Father’s unconditional love. I need not dwell on my own imperfections and inadequate response to my circumstance. Instead, I needed to dwell in the abundance of God.

How do we do this? We remember God’s past provision in our lives as we look forward to His hopeful future. When we are hopeless, Scripture reminds us “My grace is sufficient for you” (2 Corinthians 12:9).

I needed to surrender the idol in my heart, and let God take the throne. When I refocused on God, He became so much more pleasing, beautiful, astonishing, lovely, glorious, and breath-taking! This enabled me to overcome my sinful fear and experience true freedom.

Dr. Stuart Scott, one of my professors in seminary, said it well, “Hope is not defined by the absence of hardship. Rather, hope is found in God’s grace in the midst of hardship. Hope is found in his promise to give us a future.”

God used those moments of fear to make me more like Christ. In fresh ways, God pointed out the work that Jesus has accomplished on the cross. In the midst of the imperfections of this broken world, we all need reminders of the death and resurrection of the Savior Jesus Christ. When we do so, Jesus’ perfect, faithful, steadfast, and undying love becomes the strength for today and hope for tomorrow.

That is the reason the Psalmist can cry out, “For I was envious of the arrogant. . . Until I went into the sanctuary of God!” (Psalm 73:3, 17).

Why this hardship of fear in our lives? Ultimately to bring glory to the Father by redeeming His people from the curse of sin.

 

Faith Instead of Fear

This storm I experienced revealed once again my need of the Savior. Christ’s power is made perfect in my weakness and drew me ever closer to Him. In a divine moment, God allowed calamities and suffering for the sake of humbling my heart and bringing me back to holy reverence.

Maybe you know someone who needs to hear this, or maybe you yourself needed this reminder.

Even when things are not going the way you had hoped, you can still have hope in the Lord. God may not change your circumstances, but God promises to give us the perseverance needed to face tomorrow.

During that season, God did not change my circumstances. But He gave me His peace which surpasses all understanding, and that protected me in the midst of the storm. My future was no longer guided by the fear of giving up. Jesus became the source of my hope.

“Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” (Lamentations 3:22-23)

If you’re facing fear in your life, be encouraged. God will give you comfort and draw you close to Himself.

You’re not alone in your fear and your struggles, and I want to encourage you to take a moment today to turn to the Lord in prayer.

Trusting God In Spite of My Fears

I have been taking swimming lessons in the open ocean for two summers, but I have not quite shaken off my fear of the deep, blue water.

My adventure with the open seas started three years ago when I toyed with the idea of joining my local surf lifesaving club. I wanted to meet new friends, contribute to my community, and I thought the surf sports the lifesaving clubs put out seemed fun.

I had also naively thought that the transition from a pool swimmer to an open ocean swimmer was an easy one. I learned a hard lesson when I signed up for my inaugural 500 meter open ocean swim, equipped with limited knowledge of swimming in the ocean.

I was seized by panic, and had clung on to my friend for the best part of the swim. That was when I knew I was not ready to be a lifeguard, because what lifeguard is afraid of the ocean?

So when I heard there was a workshop dedicated to coaching swimmers of varying levels of open water confidence, I immediately signed up for it.

I found my first few months in the open water rather terrifying, and I would refuse to paddle too far out. If I could not feel the ground, I was not keen on going any further, so I spent a huge amount of time swimming with the beginners.

To make matters worse, I kept having flashbacks to my first 500 meter swim where I was convinced I nearly drowned (I didn’t because I was kept buoyant by my wetsuit and if I had been in real danger, I would have been fished out by a lifeguard).

Even when it was soon obvious to the coaches that I could (and would be better off) swimming with the more advanced beginners’ group, I would flatly refuse. There were two specific scenarios that I feared: swimming too far out in the open ocean that I’d be unable to swim back to shore, and drowning under the watchful eye of the coaches.

As you can see, my fears were irrational, but I guess that is what fear does to us—it makes us entertain all sorts of crazy thoughts.

However, while I can now laugh at how irrational my fears are, I cannot begin to tell you how much I regret allowing fear to rob me of the potential to go further in my ocean swims. For example, if I had not spent so many months like a petulant toddler at the side of the shoreline, I am sure I would be able to enter various ocean swim races held in different places of New Zealand by now.

Don’t get me wrong, I am still no pro, and sometimes the sight of the choppy waters is enough to make me backpaddle to safety. But looking back, the root of my fear was my lack of trust in God.

Had I been more aware of God’s protection, knowing He will have His eye on me, I think I would have been  less afraid of the open water.

Had I spent less time nursing my fears, and focused more on pushing myself, I would have passed my surf lifeguarding course and would be patrolling beaches this summer, keeping swimmers safe.

Fear is a great robber, but I’ve learned that instead of entertaining various morbid thoughts, I could pray for safety, for the coaches to be alert, and for favorable water conditions. And even if the water conditions are less than favorable, then I could pray for the strength to continue swimming.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that I should be putting myself out there to do something outrageous if I wasn’t equipped to do so, but that I can entrust my fears to God even as I progress in my lifesaving course.

One of my favorite verses is from Psalm 103:14, where the Psalmist says, “for He knows our frame, He remembers we are dust”. I believe this verse tells me God knows just how frail I am as I work up enough courage to paddle out in the ocean.

But what brings me comfort is the knowledge that the Bible is also filled with Scriptures telling us not to be afraid. Some of the verses that I often think about whenever I feel fear gripping my heart are 2 Timothy 1:7, Psalm 56:3, and Psalm 23:4. While these verses do not immediately erase my feelings of fear, meditating on them has made it easier for me to bring them to mind and strengthen me whenever fear starts attacking me.

Open ocean classes resume next Saturday after a three-week break. While I am not 100 per cent convinced I will not balk at the sight of the ocean the moment I step inside my wetsuit, I am determined to trust in God.

For instance, I will not panic the moment I lose sight of any one of the coaches, knowing full well they are positioned at different markers to keep an eye on us. Instead, I will take a deep breath, pray, and continue swimming towards the markers.

Instead of filling my head with various negative thoughts that leave me exhausted even before I start my swim, I will run 2 Timothy 1:7 in my head on repeat. “For God has not given us a spirt of fear, but of power, love and a sound mind.”

To further fuel my courage, I will also replay my past achievements. There was one Saturday where I managed to shovel my fear all the way back to the recesses of my mind, and completed a 1 kilometer swim in the ocean. I could hardly believe I did it—and I hope this achievement will motivate me to keep going further.

Fighting and banishing fear out of our lives is not an overnight activity. I do not know when I will be fully able to overcome my niggly fear of the open water, but I’m going to focus my efforts on my goal of joining the surf lifesaving group one day.

Fears are big, ugly, and generally rather irrational. I’m not trying to dismiss your fears—I know all too well how paralyzing they can make us feel—but I want to tell you that you can trust God with your fears. Whether you are heading out to new adventures, trying a new hobby, or faced with an uncertain future, God wants you to put these fears in His hands.

Step Outside Your Box

Title: Step Outside Your Box
Materials: Illustration
Artwork by: Lara Sim
Description: Are you boxed up in a situation that you can’t seem to get out of? Sometimes, taking the first step out of our comfort zone to tackle issues can be a difficult choice to make. But when we call out to God in the midst of all our troubles, He reveals to us the freedom we can receive by trusting. Will you obey Him to take that first step?

 

Are you trapped in perfectionism?

Many of us are trapped in the habit of comparing ourselves to others. If she’s not prettier than me, she has a more exciting job as compared to me or has more friends than I do. Instead of trying to be the perfect person, focus your eyes on the Perfect God that we have. He wants to free us from being stuck in the middle of all of these doubts and negativity we surround ourselves with.

 

Are you trapped in fear?

Is fear a monster in your life, waiting to pounce and eat you whole? Are you unable to be vulnerable before others for fear of being judged? Do you find yourself always needing the approval of man? The easiest thing to do in such situations is to hide ourselves in the box. However, after hiding for too long, we can become trapped. He calls us into His loving arms—a safe place where there’s no need to hide before Him.

 

Are you trapped in anxiety and worry?

Are you worried about your future? Will I be able to find a good job? Will I be married one day? These thoughts can consume us from time to time, leaving us in despair or panic. However, when we allow these anxieties and worries to grip us, it prevents us from being able to move forward in life. Although we may still be afraid, we can trust in the One who is in full control of every situation.

 

Are you trapped in materialism?

Do you find great satisfaction when you shop for material things? Do you find it hard to be generous in giving to others? Even after buying all that you want, you know deep inside you that these will never satisfy. Take heart, you are not alone in such troubles. Perhaps it’s time to “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness” (Matthew 6:33) and know for yourself the true satisfaction we can have in Christ alone.

 

Are you trapped in work pressures?

Another meeting? More deadlines? Got to get this done by today? Does this sound like you? Oftentimes, we are trapped under the overwhelming amount of work and are unable to escape. Some of us respond by being more driven by the fact that we are recognised for our ability to achieve the daily requirements, while the rest of us succumb to the stress of work. Either way, we fail to recognise that God calls us to rely on His strength daily and our calling to be a living testimony at work and beyond.