Breaking the Lock: An In-Depth Look at Insecurity and How to Face It with Jesus

Author’s Note: This was originally written as a chapter for a book I was working on. I have decided to scrap that book idea and pursue a different direction with it, but still wanted to share this chapter. It’s a bit long, but I hope it’s helpful. The text is altered to reflect its status as a blog post and not a chapter in a book.

As I labored — and I mean labored — over how to structure and write this post, my insecurities came out.

Let me list them:

  • No one will really care what you think.
  • You’re not even qualified to do this in the first place, are you?
  • You’re not even Christian enough for this.
  • You’re just a 25-year-old guy from Sanford, North Carolina. You won’t go anywhere, and your writing certainly won’t go anywhere.

Writing, while being one of my favorite things ever, exposes many of my doubts and many of my insecurities. So it’s only fitting that, while trying to write a blog post about insecurity, they all come out.

I write now about insecurity because I know for a fact that it’s one of the major stumbling blocks in being vulnerable and being transparent with others. I write that because I’ve experienced it myself.

I’ve always struggled with completely being myself with others. Yes, that’s in the present tense. It’s very likely that, as you read this, I’m somewhere struggling to completely be myself. It’s kind of funny as I think about that, but it’s the truth.

Let’s dig a little deeper.

Private School Blues

From my 5th to 12th grade years, I went to this place called The O’Neal School in Southern Pines, N.C. It was a great education. I had great teachers and I learned a ton and felt pretty prepared for college. For a place that describes itself as a “college preparatory school,” I guess they succeeded, at least with me, at least a little bit.

At O’Neal, I learned a few things about myself. Mostly: I’m kind of a nerd and I’m not super comfortable socially. These two things led me to not be the most popular kid in school. If I had to rank myself amongst my fifth-grade colleagues, I’d probably be the bottom 5 or 6 when it came to “popularity.”

And that always bugged me. It shouldn’t have, at least I don’t think so. But I was 10, 11 years old. What else was I supposed to think? I saw the kids that everyone liked (at least I thought everyone) and I was jealous. I quickly became known as one of the smart kids — if you had a problem with your homework, ask Zach! It became my thing, I guess.

As I moved into the latter years of middle school, I began to realize how much people didn’t really care for me, at least at school. A couple of girls that I liked basically rejected me. True story: one of them told me that I “kind of freaked” them out. Hard to come back from that.

As I look back now, I realize that I liked them because I thought they were pretty and that was about it. No real connection.

But that’s what you do in middle school: you “like” other people. And you get built up or torn down by that. At the time, my best friend was one of the “popular” kids who girls liked all the time. I saw him and all the girls line up to be his friend and whatever it was in middle school guys and girls did, and I was jealous.

As high school began, I started to make a few more friends, a couple of whom I still stay in touch with 10-12 years later. But I still felt like I was on the outside.

The thing about private school is that cliques, which you’ll find at any school, are exaggerated, and the differences between people are exaggerated because the numbers are smaller. I had 48 kids in my graduating class. My brother, who graduated two years later, had something around 35 students in his class. We were on the high and low ends, respectively.

If you’re on the “low end,” in this magical formula, you feel it. And I did. I felt like I was from a different planet. My junior year was especially hard. I was able to start driving to school, so I had my car on campus. During lunch and my free periods, I would go sit in my car and watch The Office on my laptop or read or do homework. By myself. I remember walking out of many rooms because I didn’t think I belonged. I legitimately thought people didn’t want me there.

There were some good things in high school! I was part of the track and field team in my sophomore and senior years, which was one of the best experiences in my early years. I was a thrower — I was “eh,” skill-wise — but it was a great time with friends and I was in good shape at the end of track season. I got half-decent at making short films for a high school kid, and I had some great teachers who taught me great lessons.

Side note: One of them told me that the best stories you can tell and the best writing you’ll ever do will come from experience. Has stuck with me ever since, in case you can’t tell. It came after I wrote a short story about secret agents on some Mission: Impossible-style mission. It was not good.

After high school, I went to Elon University. I experienced some of the same things when it came to being around people and not feeling like I fit in. I wasn’t the most comfortable socially, I was kind of nerdy and my faith and morality kept me from some of the activities that the friends I had made, especially in my first two years, participated in. I don’t regret that last part, but it definitely hindered my security among them.

When I was part of a different group, a Christian ministry during my junior and senior years, I felt the insecurity, but in a different way.Funny enough, I didn’t feel as accepted as I had my first two years.

The friends I had made as a freshman and sophomore liked me and hung out with me despite some of my differences. I eventually learned to be myself among them. My nerdiness was common among my friends, so it didn’t set me apart. Some of the insecurities remained, but I was much more comfortable.

When I basically switched friend groups, the discomfort and insecurity remained. I eventually developed new friendships within I could be myself and not give a care in the world, but among the main group, I was struggling. My insecurity was at an all-time high again, like I was in middle school.

The Ins and Outs of Insecurity

Insecurity robs you of your safety and your peace. It’s right in the word.

“Insecurity” is the combination of the prefix “in-” and the word “security.” “In-” attached to the beginning of a word means the opposite of, or “not” that word, the lack of. So “insecurity” means the lack of security. Security comes from having peace and safety. It’s why people buy security systems for their homes or their businesses. They can feel at peace in their home at night, or feel that their possessions are safe when they’re away from their business.

When you’re insecure, ironically, you’re actually locked up tight. You’re hiding things from the world because you don’t feel safe and at peace with yourself. It’s a restricting feeling. I can think of so many times in my life I didn’t make a joke or say something because I was afraid how people would react to me. I kept it inside. I might have chuckled to myself, but I kept it all inside.

There have been other times where I haven’t put myself out there or haven’t shared something I’d created for the same reason. I didn’t feel safe in doing that. I was afraid of what people would say or concerned about how they’d react, and it would prevent me from letting it go.

For instance, my first book (shameless plug) was called In the Midst of Madness: A Christian’s Experience with Anxiety and Finding Relief. It’s five days away from releasing on the iBooks Store as I write this. I held onto it for more than 18 months because I didn’t know what to do. Besides, if I shared it, who would read it? A couple weeks ago, I decided to just share it. What’s the worst thing that could happen?

But even still, I’m insecure about what’s going to happen. Is anyone going to read it? If they do, what will they think? Will they think I suck as a Christian? Will they think I’m a bad writer? It’s the risks that come with being a writer, but everyone experiences them in some way. When you come up with an original thought and decided to share it, you take the same risks, whether you put it out in a conversation with your best friend, share it at a party or post it on social media.

Why on earth do we doctor our Instagram photos? We want to find our best side, put on the best filter. It’s literally called a filter! Filters are used in everything from Instagram photos to air conditioning systems to cars to make sure things are produced as flawless as possible.

We try to filter out our insecurities. We hide them. We do it when we go to church just as much as when we go to work.

I’ve known just one person in my life that seemed completely free of insecurities. His name was Jimmy. He just did whatever he wanted, no matter who was watching. He’s a great guy, loves the Lord, loves other people. What some people do only when they’re drunk — sing karaoke, run in the snow in a singlet and short shorts (he was a cross country runner in high school and college), post crazy videos on Snapchat — he did completely and truly sober.

I think we talked about it once or twice, but he obviously had insights as to why and how to break the locks of insecurity on our hearts, mouths and minds. I’m not talking about doing crazy stuff all the time. That’s not for everybody. I’m talking about being honest, being open and being yourself despite any weaknesses you may have.

If it involves running in the snow in a singlet and short shorts, that’s up to you.

The Wrong Source of Security

The first thing that we have to realize is that far too often we look to the wrong place to find security, safety and peace.

In middle and high school, I looked to my classmates for security. I would hope to get a laugh out of a joke, or a smile back from a cute girl, or some type of in-class accomplishment. Maybe I had the winning answer in the day-before-the-test game that would earn my group the bonus point on the test. Maybe I hit a sweet shot on the basketball court at lunchtime that earned props from the guys I was playing with. Maybe I held a door open for a cute girl and she thanked me with a smile.

Any of those things would bring me a bit of confidence, a bit of swagger and a bit of peace in who I was. I felt like, just for a moment, that I was enough on my own! A few seconds later, though, I’d be back to where I was, searching again for that self-confidence that was gone.

What I eventually realized is that finding security in the world is fruitless. It’s not fulfilling. Scripture gives us a couple hints to that.

Is Not Life More Than Food?

In Matthew 6, Jesus is giving the “Sermon on the Mount.” Starting in verse 25, he tells the crowd to “not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on.”

In middle school, shoes were the thing. Nike Shox were the biggest deal. They were basketball shoes that had four circular columns in the middle to the heel of the shoe. They were supposed to help you jump and run better, and I did play basketball in eighth grade, but I got them because they looked good. They were expensive — so my parents really got them for me — and they were hot stuff at the time. So I usually got some attention the first couple days I wore a new pair. I think Nike still makes them, but more for running now.

As I read Matthew 6 earlier this morning, those shoes came to mind, particularly for the latter part of verse 25 — “Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?”

Life is more than the things we own. Life isn’t limited to what we wear. Existence goes far beyond the Nike Shox I had in seventh grade or the new laptop I got in ninth grade or the new hoodie I wore in eleventh grade. It goes beyond the spaghetti I’d bring for lunch or the new bumper sticker on my car.

Jesus says finding security from the things we have or the attention we get from people because of the things we have is a fool’s errand because life is much more than those things.

For the Former Things Have Passed Away

Revelation 21 is pretty awesome. John is recounting what Jesus showed him about the end of time, and he’s seeing what it will be like when there’s a new heaven and new earth and God reigns over every dang thing in existence forever. In verses 3-4, a “loud voice from the throne” starts talking.

In verse 4, the voice says, “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, and neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the further things have passed away.” Verse 5 continues, “And he who was seated on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new.’ Also he said, ‘Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.’”

At the end of time, these verses tell us, everything that causes us pain will be wiped away. The Scripture says they will “have passed away.” They’ll be gone.

Why seek security from things that will pass away? The approval of man will be gone one day. The things you (try to) find contentment in will be gone one day. The things of earth are not stable or strong enough to provide that security.

The Right Source of Security

Remember the definition of security from earlier. I’ll repeat it here: “Security comes from having peace and safety. It’s why people buy security systems for their homes or their businesses. They can feel at peace in their home at night, or feel that their possessions are safe when they’re away from their business.”

Where else would we find the most peace and safety in who we are except in the God who created us and knows us better than anyone else?

He (Literally) Is Our Peace

The latter part of Ephesians 2 dives into the relationship that Christians now have with God after the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It also explores what relationships between the members of the body of Christ should have.

It’s a relationship that centers around peace. Verses 14-16:

“For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the last of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.”

Jesus’ goal is peace. Verse 17 says that Jesus “preached peace” to those “who were far off…(and) who were near.” Isaiah 53:5 prophecies that the Messiah’s punishment by death on a cross for our sins will be “the chastisement that brought us peace.”

The verses in Ephesians 2 specifically focus on peace between the Gentiles and the Israelites, two different groups of people that viewed things completely differently. But God intervening, through Jesus Christ, was designed to create a unity around peace.

We can have peace with others and in our relationship with God through the death and resurrection of Jesus. Why? It removes our sinfulness before God. It doesn’t remove the fact that we sin, but it breaks down the barrier there. And it tells us that God loves us no matter what. Anything that might hold us back from being real with others doesn’t hold God back from loving us. So we can feel comfortable in who we are because God loves us as we are.

This doesn’t mean we just let sin slide, of course. We gotta fight it with all we’ve got. But we’re at peace with God, so we can relax.

God Is Our Refuge

Safety. It’s why kids wear those little arm floaties in the pool when they’re little. They can’t swim, so they need them to stay afloat.

The safety we find in God is not necessarily a physical safety from harm or danger, but an emotional safety we can turn to when we’re stressed or insecure. Psalm 46:1-3 captures the idea pretty good:

“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though the its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling.”

People run to a refuge when they’re seeking safety, protection, a comfort zone. “Refugees” are people seeking safety. God is our refuge in that He is a place we can find safety. We can completely be ourselves with Him. We can shed any insecurities and unload our fears, concerns, doubts, worries and more onto Him. That comes through prayer and confession of sins.

In turn, that can help us become more vulnerable with others. It helps break the lock of insecurity by realizing we are safe and secure with Him. So even if others question us or don’t give us the reaction we want, we can feel secure with God.

As flawed human beings whose brains don’t always work, we will struggle with this idea.

Insecurity is the natural course of man in a lot of ways. In the constantly-changing atmosphere in which we live, it’s hard to stay stable. So we’re going to have weakness and we’re going to have flaws. It’s hard to think that we’ll ever get to a point where we won’t be insecure about something.

That’s where it’s best to rest in the grace and mercy of God. That same peace that we have through Christ to help with insecurity helps when we feel the weight of our sin. We’re freed from an eternity without God to an eternity with God, as one of God’s own. So freeing and refreshing, isn’t it?

I had a lot of insecurity about my sin. I’ve mentioned before in this book how my Christianity became the most important thing to me because I though that’s how others judged me. Whenever my sin becomes evident, I feel that insecurity all over again. I feel the weakness, and it feels exploited. I don’t feel strong enough to fight through it.

But then I have to lean on the grace of God. I am so much more than my sin, He says of me. He says that I’m good, that I’m set.

Let the storms come to hunt us and hurt us. They can’t take our Lord from us, bro, He got us a verdict. Not guilty, He’s with us and He stays present. Never leaves me, He even gives me stage presence. – Trip Lee, “I’m Good”

Sometimes I’m so thankful for Your loyalty. Your love, regardless of the mistakes I make, will spoil me. My confidence is, in a sense, a gift You’ve given me. And I’m satisfied to realize You’re all I’ll ever need. – Relient K, “I Am Understood?”

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Agree to Disagree: When Christians Argue

I hate disagreements. I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in this. But it sucks.

I feel like a phrase I’ve been uttering a lot recently is “agree to disagree.” It’s a good way to diffuse or end a tough argument. In Christianity though, this is super hard. Christians often disagree over things they very strongly believe.

For instance, I had a disagreement with a friend recently over the legitimacy of some feelings I was having. I almost yelled at this friend. It was difficult because I wanted to avoid an awkward situation, but it was something I had to do, something I had to say.

I think it’s partly human nature, but there’s an aversion most of the time to peaceful disagreements within the body of Christ. We want to stick to our guns and how we feel and think, but we can’t seem to be friendly about it. There’s always frustration, and even bitterness sometimes.

I was thinking about this and wondered how the early church handled disagreements. 1 Corinthians covers this in a few places. Paul writes, “I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and judgement” (1:10). He was referring to the Corinthian church’s tendency to disagree on who they followed – Paul, Apollos, Peter or Jesus. In this matter, Paul insists that there be agreement, and I’m pretty sure the agreement is over following Christ.

Shouldn’t we be the best at disagreement? Not in an intellectual sense necessarily, but in a loving sense. God loves us in spite of our many daily disagreements with Him. And because He loves us, we love others (1 John 4:19).

I think of myself and how little I love people I disagree with. Even in the moments of disagreement, my love of people turns into contempt or, at worst, disgust. For example, I don’t always agree with everything my pastor says. I can get frustrated when he handles a piece of Scripture differently than I would. How petty is that?

When you talk about anything religious, it’s difficult to agree to disagree because it’s usually a very strongly held belief. Sometimes those convictions are well-founded and sometimes they’re not. If it’s something that the Bible is explicit about, I won’t back down. But if it’s up in the air, there’s not need for me to be so stringent.

Or is there? For instance, I’m on board 100 percent with Christians being honest and transparent in ministry settings. My main reason: why not? When we’re transparent, Christ is made much of and the grace of the Gospel is more practically understood. I struggle in a lot of areas. I feel like being real and authentic about it will be much more beneficial.

But not everybody agrees with that approach. And I suppose that it’s OK to feel that was since the Bible doesn’t explicitly say to be transparent in all ministry settings. We shouldn’t put up a front, but there’s nothing that says it’s OK to sugarcoat things, which happens far too often when it really shouldn’t be happening at all.

See? I get thinking about a deeply held conviction I have and I disregard everything else anyone thinks. We are hesitant to even admit that we could possibly be wrong. I could be wrong. I don’t think I am, but I could be. It takes humility to admit you could be wrong, and I am very often in short supply when it comes to humility. We don’t need to cave and always assume we’re wrong, but we need to be willing to be wrong.

So what’s the solution? The solution is that I need to be transferring more of God’s grace to me towards others and not be so mean and arrogant. There’s a difference between stubbornness and arrogance. Stubbornness is believing what you believe and sticking to it, while arrogance is believing no one else has even a small chance of being right.

We need to agree to disagree, but not in an avoiding or begrudging way. In a loving and gracious way, the same way God treats us when we disagree with him. Like in our relationship with God, we should share our honest thoughts, opinions and feelings on situations. We’re free in Christ to do that.

But let’s be nice about it.

The Need for Transparency within Christianity.

Hey guys! Hope you’ve been enjoying the stuff I’ve been writing. There’s a book I’ve been working on that is tentatively titled Transparent: Be Vulnerable. Especially When It Hurts. This is the rough draft of the introduction. I’d love your feedback on it. Check it out below:

I don’t know if you, reader, have ever listened to the Backstreet Boys, but there’s a song they put out called “Shape of My Heart.” It might be my favorite one. I even sang it as part of a five-piece group at a church talent show during my sophomore year of college. I sang one-time-CCM-singer Brian Littrell’s opening verse. My performance was just OK, I think it’s on YouTube somewhere. I haven’t looked too hard to find it.

The chorus goes: “Lookin’ back on the things I’ve done, I was trying to be someone. I played my part, kept you in the dark. Now let me show you the shape of my heart.”

First, what does that even mean? Even in the context of the song, it’s a bit confusing. It makes no sense. But a lot of the Backstreet Boys’ lyrics don’t really make much sense. However, that doesn’t prevent me from thinking some of their songs – including “Shape of My Heart” – are awesome.

Anyways, back to that chorus. The singer talks about how he was trying to be someone before, he played his part and kept his lady in the dark. He prevented his lady, apparently, from seeing the true shape of his heart. But now he’s done with that, he’s realized he was hiding, and he wants to show her the true shape of his heart.

As a general rule, and the reason why I’m writing this: sometimes in the church, we don’t like being ourselves. We don’t like exposing the true shapes of our hearts. We don’t want people to see the “real” us.

Now, before you come at me and say, “No, I know PLENTY of people who are ‘themselves.’ Sometimes I’m even myself before others!” Maybe you are. Maybe you aren’t. But I’m going to make a statement that might surprise you. As a body of Christ, we would be much more reflective of what God wants of us if we were honest about everything in our lives.

Honest about everything? Everything? Every little detail?

Yup.

Jesus was honest about everything. Paul was honest about everything. Yet we want to be the people that hide our flaws and hide our thoughts about others, ourselves, the world, etc., and therefore we misrepresent ourselves. We put on masks. We put on disguises. We go to church and act like everything is OK, but we go home and look at pornography because we’re longing for satisfaction. We lie to our spouses because we don’t want them to know the truth. We cheat on our taxes because we want to save money for that toy. We force ourselves to puke after meals because we don’t want to be fat. We misrepresent ourselves every day because we’re afraid that people might not like who we actually are.

I could write the umpteenth thousandth book on not being two-faced, but that wouldn’t do us any good. If you’ve been in a church in the last x number of years, you’ve probably heard a pastor or Sunday school teacher or somebody else talk about the importance of being who you say you are, a Christian. And I agree! If we’re Christians, we should pursue obedience and holiness because our actions are a reflection of the status of our faith.

But when they don’t match up, which is going to happen all the time, we hide it.

Some of us are pretty good at being “vulnerable,” being honest about our sins. But even sometimes in our sins we qualify our confession with, “But I’m getting better!” Even if we really aren’t. Sometimes we don’t tell the whole truth.

We’re afraid to be honest because we don’t want people to think we’re weak. That’s a universal thing, I think, but I think it’s even more of a problem in the church.

I write this because you can replace “we” with “I” and “us” with “me” in pretty much every sentence and it describes me to a T. I’ve spent the majority of my life as a Christian thinking that my faith was defined by how good I was at being obedient, how good I was at studying the Bible, at praying, at sharing the gospel, at living in community, at seeking ministry opportunities. I didn’t want other believers to know that I was struggling with hidden, debilitating sin or feeling like I was worthless as a Christian and as a person. Sometimes I would be open and honest with people. And sometimes what I heard back was encouraging.

But I think sometimes my well-meaning brothers in Christ wouldn’t know what to do with that level of honesty and transparency, maybe because we’ve been trained to put on a face and a smile. I think of the penguins in the Madagascar movies. The moment that was the funniest when I first saw the first movie was when they were standing in the zoo being watched by the crowd. The lead penguin instructs the others, “Smile and wave, boys, smile and wave.” Then he turns around and talks to the penguin named Kowalski who was working under a manhole cover covered by fish, planning an escape. That line has always stuck with me and sometimes I’ll insert it in conversation when I’m with people and we’re taking a picture because it’s kind of funny.

But how often do we take that very same attitude to church with us? To conversations with believers outside of church? We smile and wave, putting on a front that everything is OK, that nothing is wrong or nothing is fishy behind the scenes. We hide what’s actually going on in our lives.

Sometimes, nothing is good. Nothing is OK. Everything is terrible. Everything is awful. Everything is going wrong. We feel terrible about ourselves and our sin, the way we look, the way we speak, our grades, our work performance, our friendships, how we handle situations x, y and z. So we hide.

It’s a perfectly natural human reaction, foreshadowed by our forefather Adam in the garden. What was the first thing he and his wife Eve did when they discovered their sinfulness? They hid. They were naked and ashamed. Thing is, God still saw them. He saw their insufficiencies and their failures. He saw their shame.

However, God gave them the opportunity to have their shame covered. It’s a foreshadowing of the shame-covering we get from the blood of Christ. And it’s the same thing we can take into opening our relationships with other people.