‘I sought the Lord, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears.’ (Psalm 34:4)
Fear. What comes to mind when we see that word? Maybe it’s images of giant spiders, teetering on the edge of a looming building or being alone in the dark. Maybe it’s a fear of the future, the state of our planet or what people think of us. In our uncertain world fear can often feel inescapable.
For Mairi, fear and anxiety were constantly bubbling away in the background of her life. But it was taking a step into the unknown that caused her fear to lose its grip. Today she shares some of her story:
For so long I was scared of rejection. I’d push myself away from people for fear of getting hurt. Scrolling through social media I’d begin to question things. Why were my friends online, but not talking to me? Had they ignored my messages? They obviously didn’t want to talk to me or be my friend anymore.
My mindset of fear quickly became very toxic and damaging, both for my friendships and for my mental health. I used to think I was a burden to everyone and that I wasn’t wanted. I didn’t trust people when they told me they wanted to talk to me or spend time with me. Instead I’d push them away and get out before I got hurt, which damaged a lot of my friendships.
A fish out of water
I decided it was time for a change. I’d always wanted to go abroad with a Christian organisation, so when I saw the opportunity to go overseas with Tearfund I applied straight away. Surprisingly spontaneous for me! As I began to prepare for three months in Malawi, emotions washed over me. In waves I felt nervous, happy, scared, sad and excited. But fear was still whispering at the back of my mind, questioning whether I was even worthy enough to go.
For three months I was going to be starting a whole new way of life, with girls I’d only met for a few days, in a country I’d never been to and doing things I’d never done before. People eagerly asked, ‘Are you ready to go?’. The truth is I didn’t know how to prepare or what to expect! For someone who likes to plan that was definitely a challenge. All I could do was hope and pray that I was ready, putting my trust in God.
In at the deep end
At the start of our placement, flipping through photos on social media, I found myself missing my friends and family. My attention began to slip away from what I was in Malawi to do. The negative thoughts came flooding back. ‘I’m in Malawi now. They’ve all forgotten about me. I’m not important.’ As the thoughts circled my mind, I decided to make a change and take the plunge. I deleted my social media.
I found such a release in taking my attention away from others’ actions and what they might think of me. The social media break has made me realise what’s important; to be present and recognise what God is doing with and through me, here and now. I feel less trapped by the fear of what others think of me, or if my friends will forget about me. I used to message my friends every day, but coming off social media I’ve realised that although we don’t talk all the time, my friends are still there for me. Our friendship is still the same. It’s opened my eyes to friendships I didn’t even realise I had! God has been teaching me that life isn’t as complicated as I’d made it out to be, and people don’t hate me. It has been a hard, but healthy transition.
I’ve learnt to let go of what I can’t control, asking God to guide me and putting my trust in him instead of trying to do it alone. I’m still working on it and I haven’t aced it yet, but I’m getting there. It’s okay to accept help and asking for it is not a weakness, especially when you’re asking God! In fact it’s the opposite. It’s the best thing you can possibly do!
Learning to float
For many people I met in Malawi, poverty and insecurity are a daily reality. Yet I have seen such extraordinary faith in them. My thinking has changed, and I’ve had to re-evaluate a lot of stuff in my own life that I’ve taken for granted.
I know that letting go of my fear will take a lot of time and trust, but being in Malawi has opened up my heart and mind in a way I’d never even imagined it would. It’s still hard sometimes, wrestling with homesickness and thinking about what my motivations for volunteering are. I’ve been asking myself what I’m here for: is it just for my own selfish ego? But seeking God in absolutely everything I do has helped me realise that I am here for a purpose and that God has a plan for me and for all those I’m encountering.
I’ve learnt more about myself over the course of my placement than I have in the past 18 years! My experience in Malawi has replaced my fear with a sense of calm. I am learning to trust in God and other people, not forcing things to be the way I want them to be, but instead giving it all to God.
I am a work in progress and I’m certainly not perfect, but I’m learning to be proud of myself; to love myself and others and to be quick to forgive. I’m learning to appreciate everything I have and all God has blessed me with. I’m learning to face my fears and overcome them.
How could God work in and through you on placement? Visit www.tearfund.org/go for more details.