Befriending Fear

Photo Credit: Stephanie Evelyn McKellar

Photo Credit: Stephanie Evelyn McKellar

By: Stephanie Evelyn McKellar

Don’t be afraid.
My love is stronger.
My love is stronger than your fear.
Don’t be afraid.
My love is stronger.
And I have promised,
promised to be always near.

John Bell
(Scottish hymn-writer, Church of Scotland minister, member of the Iona Community)


It scares me to go out on stage.

The week before my Level 1 improv showcase, I sought out as much stage time as I could find. I still felt anxious as the night approached. A peer and veteran comedian gave me this advice: There is nothing past the edge of that stage. Up there, it is just you and your classmates.

I prepared my family and friends: “Thank you for coming. I will look forward to seeing you after the showcase. Until then, you’re dead to me.”

The showcase was a blast. Fortunately, our audience was filled with folks who wanted to support us. They cheered, but my favorite part was the ongoing game that my classmates, teachers, and I played on stage for half an hour. In the company of these people, I trusted that my courage would not be wasted.

Brene Brown, a shame and vulnerability researcher, based the title of her third book, Daring Greatly, on a quote by Theodore Roosevelt, which says,

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming…at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly…

Through improv, through a community that challenges and supports each other, we are able to explore and make mistakes. We step in without knowing what we will say, we leap in and make eye contact, finding the answer will be in what we co-create with our scene partners.

Security is abandoned for new discoveries.

Comfort is sacrificed for the sake of exploring new places and getting to know ourselves in a new way.

As people of faith, as people nourished and chiseled by the stories found in the Bible, we are people of the wilderness. We are people whose spiritual ancestors have departed security, again and again, for the sake of venturing out into the great unknown. Relying on manna from above and just enough for the day ahead, we are people whose muscles in body and spirit are strengthened by the daily journey forward into uncertain times and trails.

We are people of the wilderness, and it is in the wilderness where we practice what it means to practically trust that God will show up. In the wilderness the people formerly enslaved in Egypt, the people of Israel, became a people of God. Guided and shaped in the wilderness by our Creator, we become creative, empowered to be a kin-dom of people set apart for the sake of mercy, healing, and justice in the world.

Confidence (on stage and in the wilderness) builds on memories of being supported before, by God and by each other. We trust not in the predictability of what may happen (on that stage or in the wilderness), but in knowing that no matter what happens, we are supported, and can count on that support.

It’s incredible. It’s terrifying. And it’s the way we grow.

Through our bravery and trust in reliable community, we stretch and emerge larger and brighter than we were before. I know that up on that stage, there are others who face the same fear, and that I can count on them to show up.

Improv invites me out, into a spiritual practice of wilderness, and stretches my muscles of depending on the community surrounding me, the creativity and innovation within me, and that the God I trust is ever present and guiding me.

The truth is, I am still afraid when I go out on stage. I think that is just the way of it. Improv, like the wilderness, is teaching me not to become immune to, but to befriend fear, as I trust in the roots that grow in the journeying together.