Taking down the fences: fear and discernment

May 20, 2009 | 17 comments

Since the very beginning of my conversion, I’ve had a great interest in learning how to discern what God’s will is for my life (you can see all the posts that touch on that topic here). I’ve always liked the idea of radical obedience to God’s will, but when I’ve tried to put it into practice it always feel like it’s hard to tell whether I’m living according to God’s will or Jen’s fantasies about what she wishes God’s will would be.

I recently noticed that things have been a lot better lately. My husband and I both feel like we’ve seen big improvements in the past few months in terms of not only being able to more clearly “hear” God’s voice in our lives but also actually being obedient to what he tells us to do.

“What changed?” I was asking myself yesterday. After a few moments, I immediately knew the answer:

Fear. I did a mental rewind on this year and tried to pinpoint when it seemed like my ability to discern and live God’s will saw such a marked increase, and it was exactly when I started the “day without fear” project.

When I think of my prayer life before I started working on fear, I imagine myself standing at the edge of a forest with hundreds of different paths in front of me, yet most of them are cordoned off with barbed wire fences, put there by my fears. God might start leading me a certain direction, but I’d quickly run into the razor-sharp barbs of “that’s too hard!” or “I’d have to sacrifice too much!” or “c’mon, people just don’t do that!” I’d end up asking God to show me which path I should go down — choosing only from the ones that weren’t blocked off by fear.

But when I started letting go of fear one day at a time — starting with the littlest things like not worrying about the next day when I’m up with the baby all night or trusting that God will work it out if I get caught in an unexpected traffic jam — one by one, those fences started to come down. Suddenly there were a whole lot more options in front of me; when I would think that God might be leading me down a path that seemed crazy at first glance, I would be willing to continue to pray and carefully discern whether this was something I was supposed to do, rather than outright rejecting it out of fear as I would have before.

I still have a long way to go, and there are still plenty of fences I’m too scared to take down. But I’ve found that one of the best ways to learn discernment is to first learn to let go of fear.

photo by neilalderney123


  1. Christina

    This is so true! It’s something I’ve begun to realize as well, but from the opposite direction. I was given the penance about a year ago of praying “Jesus I trust in you” on every bead of the rosary, by the end I was shaking because it seemed that for each bead there was a worry and I had to repeat that phrase of trust.

    So I saw it as learning trust (as opposed to letting go of fears). In fact I probably wouldn’t have classified it as fears at all, but what are worries but fears?

    I need to keep this in mind as I’m in discernment now and I have a fear of “choosing against what God’s wants.” Let go of that fear and trust his guidance at each point in the day (not worrying about what I’m supposed to do tomorrow).

  2. Shelly W

    This is fantastic, Jennifer. I love this post, and I think you’re on to something.

    Recently our church (it’s large–about 2,000 on a Sunday) did a survey of all of our congregants, asking questions about family life and parenting and personal devotional life, etc. One of the lines of the summary of the survey results has haunted me: “Most parents are parenting out of fear.” That really hit me. How are we to raise children who change the world for Christ if we ourselves are afraid? We’ll be raising a generation of fearful Christians! Our God is so big–He is working in this world–and there is nothing to fear.

  3. NancyinAbq

    This is so right on to my situation today. I need to remember that the Word is “a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path”, BUT that lamp of that Biblical time was a very small thing that illuminated only 12 inches ahead. That’s one step at a time. I often don’t act out of fear because I can’t see the entire journey or the entire road ahead. But the Word tells us to just take one step at a time in faith, trusting in God with all my soul, all my might. I’ve taken that first step in accepting a marriage proposal now, really knowing that God has ordained this path for me and I need to obediently proceed. Thanks for the reminder.

  4. Melissa

    Its interesting you say that – the key is to work with fear. When I first started coming back to spiritual practice I approached it through a buddhist book and set of tapes called something like “the places that scare us”. Pema Chodron. Highly recommend. It really spoke to me and the better and more deeply I felt the more I realised I needed to practice my spirituality and hence reverted to practising Catholicism, religion of my birth. On my spiritual journey, I am not yet convinced I am on the one true path. Rather I conceive of it as culturally appropriate for me to practice Catholicism. I do enjoy your insights and will be buying your book when its published.

  5. Kingdom Mama

    So true!! Amen!

    This reminds me of something God told me recently that I’ve been meaning to blog about. I guess I should do that before I forget!

  6. coffeemom

    This is spot on. And still, so so hard to let go and actually do. It’s the control freak we’ve been trained to be..ok, me. But it is a daily challenge, one I usually fail. Very often of late as well…. But, as you point out, so very much worth the effort of letting it go. The rewards are mind blowing. Thanks for this, love this post! M

  7. Becky

    Throughout my childhood I was a worrier, concerned about things that might happen conjured by my vivid imagination. During my early teens I loved to devour the prophecies of the Bible, especially Revelation and Daniel. As a result I used to worry incessantly about what the future might hold for me. Later, as a teenager during the “woman’s lib” era, I studied Proverbs 31 to get God’s take on what He knows is best. The entire chapter is incredibly inspiring and instructive, but what had the greatest impact in the many years since was the great strength and peace Christ brought about in me through verse 25. (New American Standard)

    Strength and dignity are her clothing,
    And she smiles at the future
    I learned that if I was a Godly woman I had nothing to fear. I could look forward with peace in my heart to anything He might lead me through. I have taken comfort in those words rather than worry about what “might happen”. Within the last few weeks I’ve been buffeted by fears of these uncertain turbulent times. I have had to revisit His promise, and even cling to those words. I am always amazed by God’s way of bringing His points around to me again and again, through different vessels.

    I’m so thrilled for you, and wish to thank you for sharing your angle on releasing fear.

  8. bronzedshoe

    Good point! I have also struggled with discernment, so I will give this a try.

  9. Carrien

    “For we are not given a spirit of fear, but of power, love, and of a SOUND MIND.”

    Hmmm kind of makes sense after all.

  10. Kelly @ Love Well

    I think fear is a stumbling block to many aspects of our Christian walk. And I think here, in American, we have a huge problem with fear. There is so much we CAN control (at least seemingly), we have a hard time trusting God.

    Great post, Jennifer.

  11. Aelinn

    Many of your posts have been real blessings to me… this is another that is timely and inspiring for me. Do I sound like I’m writing a Hallmark advertisement? Well, I mean it all anyway… Thank you for writing!

  12. Owlhaven

    This is great — I am linking to this post on Sunday. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.


  13. Dianna

    once again, another beautifully written post. Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us, so eloquently.

  14. Green Thumb Mama

    Very poignant and thought provoking!

  15. G

    At one point last yr, I framed a cheap Divine Mercy print & placed it above the mantel of our fireplace so I'd have to look at it everyday & say "Jesus, I trust you."
    Bottom line, Trust is the only real answer to fear. For me, I can only really Trust a person…not some vague philosophy or construct. JPII was led by the Holy Spirit to give us the Divine Mercy for this century for a good reason. We need it now & will need it more as time goes on.
    We learn to trust by trusting just like we learn to walk by walking. Every time I say "Jesus, I trust you" I fall in love with Him more & realize, to my delight, how much He loves me. That makes it easier to trust & makes fear seem as senseless as it really is.
    He is the one who told us, "Fear is useless, what is needed is trust."

  16. carmelitemom

    I am new to your blog…it’s quite wonderful! It was providential that I read your post. After talking with my spiritual director the other day, she advised almost the very same advice. When those obsessive negative thoughts of fear and worry start, I have to be aware and nip them in the bud. There are so many thoughts that cause us to *freeze* and render us unable to move to the next step…the next moment.

    Thanks for sharing this very powerful reminder.

  17. angela michelle

    I think you’re so right. How many opportunities and blessings do we miss because they seem out of our comfort zone or whatever?

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