why you need to tell someone how scared you are

The pool opened this weekend so the air smells like burgers and coconut sunscreen. I spent the weekend fully clothed in my lounge chair – most days it was too cold for me to swim. But it’s never too cold to people-watch and one of my favorite places to do that at the pool is down by the diving boards.

diveI watched my son fly off the low-dive, swim to the ladder, walk fast back to the diving board line and fly off the end of the board again. He doesn’t even think about it.

But that isn’t the case for some. While he made his rounds on the low dive, I noticed a little girl – maybe 8 or 9 – standing at the end of the high dive. She wasn’t jumping.

Instead, she stood there looking around for another way down. She bent her knees like she was preparing, but quickly stood up straight again.

Bend, straighten, repeat.

After a few tries like this, other people began to notice her and it wasn’t long before all eyes were on her. Her dad appeared from the crowd shouting encouragement and waving a thumbs up.

It happens a lot at the pool – some kid gets scared at the top of the high dive and everybody watches from below. Secretly? I kind of love it. I don’t love watching scared kids – I love watching scared kids jump. It never gets old.

Someone started to clap. Soon, everyone was clapping, cheering her on. We could tell she desperately wanted to jump, but I heard her say faintly, “It’s too high.

She couldn’t do it and slowly climbed backwards down the ladder.

My heart sank for her. But you know what else? My heart sank for me, too. I wanted her to jump. I don’t know this girl personally, but I understand her fear.

Ten minutes later, I saw her climb back up. I nudged John next to me, “Look! There she is again.”

She seemed more determined this time, standing on the edge. She bent her knees same as last time. And again, she straightened back up.

Crouch . . .


Crouch . . !


jumpThe crowd began to clap again, this time with more energy. Several people from across the pool started a countdown – 3 . . 2 . . 1 . . and with one slow motion crouch, she flung herself from the end of the board, arms straight above her.

As she fell, we all whooped and hollered, our collective happiness coming from a genuine excitement for her. I know she heard us before she hit the water.

Here’s the thing: kids jump off that board every 30 seconds and nobody cares. They turn flips and touch their toes and they do it 10 times in a row.

But it isn’t until someone hesitates that the crowd gets involved, even a crowd of strangers.

With a little more than a month left in the only job John and I have ever known as a couple, I feel like we are not only standing at the end of a diving board, we’ve decided to go ahead and set up a tent there on the edge.

Last week I spent some time with the other pastor’s wives at our church. They were kind to gather in the midst of a busy month to spend some time with me and say goodbye. As we sat around the table eating pimento cheese spread on crackers and a delicious chocolate cake with my name on it, I cried as I shared with them my excitement as well as my fear.

They prayed for me, and in a very real way, I felt like I was standing scared at the edge of the diving board. But I had a profound awareness that for those moments, these women were a tiny crowd around me, encouraging me to jump.

If I hadn’t told them I was afraid, they may not have known to cheer.

Now before you get the wrong idea, I want you to know something about this group of women – these other wives and I are not best friends. We don’t have Bible study together or go on vacation with each other’s families. I like them, I respect them, I love to spend time with them. But we hardly ever see one another and it honestly would have been easier and more comfortable for me to not let them see me cry.

After that evening with them, I reminded myself of this: Don’t insist your encouragement should come from a particular person or group of people. Be open to receiving God however (and through whomever) he may want to show himself.

Sometimes it’s good to let them see you sweat even when it feels awkward. Fear seems to grow in the darkness of isolation. But when you expose it in the light of community, it tends to lose power. Sharing my fear is often the path that leads to courage.

So here’s to climbing up on top of diving boards and being honest about how terrified we are. May you push through your insecurity and fully admit your fear. And may you be open to receiving the kind community of people there waiting to cheer you on.


  1. says

    I found myself sharing some deep “stuff” yesterday with a woman who would not be considered a confidant. Yes sometimes we glean encouragement from and open up to unexpected souls. This is a beautiful telling of a strange part of our humaneness, how we gather around and encourage those who seem afraid or timid in their living. How love and empathy rise up with strangers. Emily, it makes me think of how very grateful I am and have been for other adults in my children’s lives who come around at the just right time with a word, a voice, of encouragement. They too are saints.

  2. says

    What a beautiful post! I have felt like the little girl on the diving board on many occasions. Once I backed out of the cardboard box entrance to the school’s haunted house. All the kids behind me had to unfold the line so I could leave the way I entered. I wish I had moved forward. Admitting fear is one of the unexpected blessings of blogging. To be effective, you have to share your weaknesses. I am learning to be more vulnerable. Thanks for the lovely reminder.

    • says

      I, too, have been that girl all too often. Unfortunately, my response frequently has been to back down and go sit in a quiet corner somewhere feeling like a fool and never venturing back up the ladder for a second try. Too late I realize how many opportunities and how many chances to be cheered on I missed by escaping the crowd, expecting jeers rather than cheers of encouragement.

  3. says

    This has to be one of my favorite posts of yours. I want to stand up and cheer! Since my son is doing his last math lesson of 5th grade right behind me, I’m refraining. But I’m standing up and shouting on the inside. God hasn’t given us that spirit of fear, but of power, love and a sound mind. Hugs.

  4. Susan Disher says

    Please know Emily that by “coming out” with your fear with the group of wives at Westover you received a great gift of encouragement but you also gave them permission to look honestly at whatever fears they may have. My husband is a senior pastor at a multi-staffed church…I have lived through seasons of uncertainty and yes, fear…and learned the freedom from naming my fear out loud…you have given all of us in “spouse” ministry permission to face our own fears honestly and hopefully we will be received with the grace-filled love as you were. Will continue to pray for you and John…
    Susan Disher

  5. says

    Thank you for this,
    “Don’t insist your encouragement should come from a particular person or group of people. Be open to receiving God however (and through whomever) he may want to show himself.”

    In our “jumping” I’ve not received encouragement from some people I thought should give it in abundance. People who claimed to be lifelong friends. We’ve gotten the opposite actually, we’ve felt resentment from them. And I’ve been holding on to some residual bitterness because of it. You are so right though, God is showing Himself in other places and we are not suffering from lack of encouragement.

    Thanks for the reminder to keep my eyes on God and what He is doing in our midst. I have a feeling I’m going to come back to this post again and again.

  6. says

    Hey there, Emily.
    I’m not sure if I ever shared this with you (and of course this isn’t your situation), but we’ve had several of our own stepping-into-the-unknown pastorate situations, one involving a failed church plant (which led to my husband being without call for 18 months). I am so glad you have the courage to be honest about the exhilaration and fear in the midst of this wildly new life phase. And I’m thankful you have support in person and on line. Your candid posts these last few weeks have been a gift to so many. I hope they will be a gift back to you, something you can draw from when you need strength.

    Email if you ever need an ear. xo

    I need constant reminders to be brave. Your words work their way deep in me. Thank you, friend.

  7. says

    What a great example for me to think of as I am being asked to step out in faith! I have been that encouraging voice and clapper for BOTH my girls (but can I say it was watching my girls on the LOW diving board?!) So courage is something we could ALL use more of. Thank you!

  8. Donna says

    As usual, an excellent and thought provoking message! And I love the pic of the girl on the diving board.
    Thank you Emily, you have a beautiful heart

  9. says

    Thanks for this encouragement, Emily! Especially this: “Be open to receiving God however (and through whomever) he may want to show himself.” Here’s to fear losing its power!

    Looking forward to hearing where God leads your family, Angela

  10. says

    This is so true: “If I hadn’t told them I was afraid, they may not have known to cheer.” And we do just the opposite. We hide when we are afraid. Maybe we suspect that people will take advantage of the vulnerability? But you are right. More often than not, people respond with kindness and sympathy. Good word today.

  11. says

    Lovely words today. I don’t think any one of us is fearless. There is always something holding me back…fears…anxieties.

  12. Shelly says

    I’ve found that sharing that fear – whether I’m in the throes of it or have dealt with it – is almost always used by God as a way to help others do the same. Helping others is one of the things I know I was put here for, and he’s used my fears to help others – and it’s a beautiful thing.

  13. says

    You are so right – when we confess our fears, they lose their hold on us. And, God can and does use the most unexpected people to meet us right where we are when we most need it.
    Blessings to you, and prayers for the new journey ahead!

  14. says

    I love what you said about fear losing power in the light of community!!! Even of the community is a group of practical strangers.

    You are absolutely right. Thanks for the push off the end of the board!

  15. Sarah Schulz says

    I love this. I’ve even experienced a little bit of it recently, being able to open up to people I haven’t been close to and receiving courage from them–while close friends haven’t been able to provide me with that. I love the idea that being vulnerable, especially about fear, could bring encouragement rather than judgment from those around me… yet I constantly doubt that, hearing in my head old voices, church voices: “You’re being so selfish,” “You must not be in God’s will, he would give you peace,” “If you would repent and listen to God, he will speak directly to you and erase all fear and uncertainty,” “Questions are doubt.”

    Your post today encourages me to let go of those old voices, and remember that the past need not predict my future in Christ. Thank you.

  16. says

    I love, Love, LOVE this post! Too often we afraid to share our fears. We don’t allow others in to encourage and support us. And on the other end, we don’t always take the role of encouraging someone else seriously enough. We are timid about it. More often than not, God works through support systems of people. Willing and obedient vessels to aid in the process of letting us know it’s okay and to keep on keeping on.

  17. says

    Well I just teared up. What a beautiful story, and a beautiful picture of the people He uses to cheer us on – strangers, even, as we dive deep.

  18. says

    This makes me think of the night I almost lost my daughter to a semi-truck. How a nurse I never got to meet showed up at just the right time to encourage my daughter through all that fear and trauma. My daughter remembers everything she said to her on that eery pavement and we still don’t know who she is. But God does. Thanks for this Emily, you never cease to inspire me.

  19. says

    Oh Emily! I love so many parts of this.

    I think sometimes I am afraid to even get on the diving board for fear of the ridicule from onlookers… I never thought to consider that the voices of encouragement might very well drown out the sneers. Gracious this is good!

    We are in the process of our own sort of diving off. Its is both exhilarating and and nerve-wracking. So imagine I am waving at you from our diving board with knees knocking a bit. 😉

  20. says

    Thank you for such encouraging words today! I am guilty of only really opening up to a select few people, in fact, I tend keep it to myself and wait until I can share it with one of them. It really is like jumping off the high dive to share with people outside my normal circle and to look to others for prayer and spiritual encouragement.

  21. says

    Emily, thank you for this reminder. We’re told to be strong, but we need to show our fear so that we can receive encouragement just like you said. I especially loved this, “Fear seems to grow in the darkness of isolation. But when you expose it in the light of community, it tends to lose power. Sharing my fear is often the path that leads to courage.”

  22. says

    Oh Emily, you’ve done it again with your words. Thank you for sharing this. The end of that diving board can be a bit scary and intimidating,but you have so perfectly reminded me there are those around me willing to encourage and cheer me on as I dare to make the leap.

  23. says

    Thank you Emily. I’m definitely on a journey toward freedom and vulnerability and courage because of the words you are writing. It’s not easy for me, at all, but each time I realize I’m not afraid! or I would never have done this a year ago! or this feels so freeing! I’m thankful for the things I learn each time you write.

  24. says

    I almost began this with an apology for not commenting very often, but then I remembered you said it didn’t matter ;). Thank you for putting into words what I’ve been searching for. We recently adopted our son and I have been compelled through the process to be much more public with my needs and the fears and struggles that come with adoption than I normally would. Like WAY more open. I’m extremely introverted and the one who always has it together and I feel weird about putting myself out there. But I’ve found myself needing it. And you just stated the reason why. “If I hadn’t told them I was afraid, they may not have known to cheer.” Yes. We stepped out to do something scary that is outside the realm of the typical support people know to show and the only way we could get what we needed was to open and up and say, “This is scary!! Help!” I’ve felt uncomfortable about that vulnerability so much over the past months and I’m so thankful you posted this. I think it will help me be less hard on myself about it all.

  25. Juliet says

    Emily I just want to say Thanks for your inspiring, revealing and encouraging words through your blog posts – I often think this and don’t say it. This one resonates with me as I struggle with juggling the needs of little kids at home, a little boy with aspergers at school and a very busy husband. It is too easy to think I should “have it all together” like so many other mums at school appear to have, but being honest and showing my fear and uncertainty at times, will encourage connections and enable God to put the people in my path who I need there. Thanks again for your insights, they are a blessing for me as they often light my path with a better understanding :)

  26. says

    I stumbled upon your post as I was last-minute checking my Facebook newsfeed before heading to bed. I so needed to read this post. I just finished a year-long contracted job and feel as though I am on the top of that diving board, wanting to jump into the next thing God has for me- but the water is unclear and I am afraid to move. I’m sad that my job ended. Taking the leap off of the board means having to swim to the side, which I really want to do, but it’s been a while since I free-styled in the blue. The other option is to let GOD catch me, which I know He will, but that too causes me to look down in hesitation and worry…what if I miss the mark? My best friend and husband both cheered me on today- and I felt like a naysayer, doubting their encouragement when I know that, through their words, God was saying to me, be still and know. Even though I am afraid, even though things are uncertain- your post helped me see that I must accept their encouragement and support. I need cheerleaders right now. Thanks for writing God’s truth.

    • says

      Catherine I’m there, too. After “commuting” from my home state to do short term contracts in DC for over a year, I signed a lease – and 10 weeks later I learned that the work is drying up, moving further south. Ouch. There is work I want to do here and elsewhere, but it all involves concentrating on learning entirely new sets of skills (business management, marketing, tech) which is hard to focus on while number crunching and barely bill-paying. But one of the nice things about this apartment is that it does have a pool, which will now make me doubly happy when I see it and remember this post and these people.

  27. says

    What a beautiful post Emily! I teared up over that little girl finally jumping and can relate so well to her fear! God has had me doing some big things lately and my first inclination is to quit and run away, God has been my cheering crowd, telling me that He is bigger than my fear and I’ve been pushing through and jumping off! I have no idea what He is preparing me for, but the process has been amazing and if it’s for nothing other than learning to get out of my fear and depend on Him, that’s payoff enough!

    Praying for you as you inch closer to the edge and cheering you on! You can do it! You got this! God’s got this!! xoxo

  28. says

    Emily, thanks for this! Loving it so much. Kind of feeling edge-of-diving-board-ish myself these days, for several reasons. Back to you though – so love where God has you guys and continuing to cheer you on. Jumping is such an adrenaline rush :) xo

  29. says

    I LOVE this! Fear is something we ALL deal with, especially when we step out into uncharted territory. In the summer of 2010, the Lord called me to quit a job with no sign of anything coming in the future. My husband had just graduated from college (at the age of 49). He was unemployed, and I had been working to support the family while he finished school. That was the hardest and scariest step of faith I had ever taken. We literally had no (zero!) income for weeks and we had no savings either. But the Lord did AMAZING things to provide for us. I found two signed photos of the famous basketball player ‘Pete Maravich’ tucked away in a drawer, during that summer, and my husband sold them at a “Collector’s Auction.” The money from the pictures paid our bills for nearly an entire month. We continued selling stuff that summer and made it through without skipping a beat. Every bill was paid on time with neither of us having jobs. By the end of that summer, my husband was offered the best job (in the field he felt God calling him to) he’s ever had in our 28 year marriage. I’m sure the Lord will test our faith many more times throughout our lives.

    I excitedly await to hear the new plans Christ has for your life! I feel confident that the best is yet to come for you and your family! :)

  30. says

    man! i love the visual of the body of christ standing below us on that diving board clapping their hands off in support and encouragement. and i think – i want to be a cheerleader like that.

    who’s standing on some diving board in their life that needs to hear my clap? i tell ya what.. i’m looking around now, thanks to your post!

  31. says

    Thank you so much for this blog! I can’t believe how timely this was for my husband and I. We just found out last week that we need to move to LA for my husband’s career (from VA), leaving our secure jobs at our church and both our families. It’s so exciting to have his music career take such an amazing upswing, but we’re needing a LOT of faith and courage to walk into this new season. Part of me is just scared! We’ve been talking a lot about how, when and what to tell our church family and this blog couldn’t have come at a more beautiful time. Thank you again x

  32. says

    I just loved this. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been that scared little girl at the edge of the high dive. And yes, the times that I managed to jump had a lot to do with the cheering encouragers that surrounded me.

    I love how you said to not limit God in how He might bring encouragement into our lives. Sometimes His most unexpected sources are just what we need.

    A year ago, I moved from my home of almost 29 years – away from family, friends, and familiar places. Off the diving board, for sure. And, lo and behold, the loudest cheering fan was God Himself – who held my hand and jumped in alongside me.


  33. says

    Hi Emily! I just found your blog (after searching for your book, Grace for the Good Girl–hoping to get my hands on it someday soon because I’ve had 2 or 3 people recommend it now!) and HAD to comment on this post. I loved it. I loved the illustration of the diving board + how much truth it speaks to telling others about your fears. That’s something that I do on my blog, but don’t do nearly enough in real life. Anyway, I just wanted to thank you for this post + I wanted to tell you that I can’t wait to read more of your work (both in print and on your blog!). :)

  34. says

    hi emily,

    I am from india, but what you described in this blog is a universal thing,
    your lines “Fear seems to grow in the darkness of isolation. But when you expose it in the light of community, it tends to lose power. Sharing my fear is often the path that leads to courage” is total reflection of what i say to myself when i am scared..
    your word are meant to me like hearing straight from my deep heart..
    keep sharing

  35. says

    I really appreciated the reminder to stay open to who God brings into life to offer encouragement and support. First, because it’s an awesome reminder that, the more we approach life in a genuine, open way, the more we make it okay for everyone to do that. (And doesn’t the world need more genuineness??)

    Second, because it’s a smack-upside-the-head reminder that God works in His own way – that sometimes He may be bringing certain people into our lives for that very specific purpose, and we don’t want to miss it!

  36. says

    I must say that reading your posts over this last week or so about your new direction and your husband’s job change have been so incredibly encouraging to me, and to my husband as well. We are beginning to feel that nudge, and believe that God is beginning to move us in a different direction. And part of me is terrified while another is fully excited. My husband and I have been in youth ministry as long as we’ve shared our last name, however things are changing for us. And it’s not bad. Just different. We’re praying about what it will look like to walk away, into a different place. And while scared and hesitant, we know that we just might have a brand new thing to do.

    All of that to say, thank you for sharing your story. It encourages me to no end to know that it’s not just us, and it’s not bad. And it also reminds me that it’s okay to be vulnerable and real and cry and receive encouragement from all the various cheerleaders that God sends our way.

    Our prayers are with you. Don’t forget that God goes before you, he goes before all of us. And he holds ALL things together.

  37. says

    “Don’t insist your encouragement should come from a particular person or group of people. Be open to receiving God however (and through whomever) he may want to show himself.”

    I love this!!! Thanks Emily, as always!

  38. Rebecca says

    this is SO where I am at. it was so encouraging to read. thank you for writing and being real. we put our house on the market to follow a dream/a vision. there is nothing wrong with the house. I would be comfortable staying too. but I want to jump too. and it is scary.

  39. Sarah B says

    Thank you for sharing. I’m new to your blog, and am slowly working my way through Grace for a Good Girl. Your experiences and heart are breathing a new life into me.

    I am standing at the edge of my own diving board. I am engaged, sending out invitations without a reception site confirmed, quitting my job, moving 900 miles, and my fiance doesn’t have a job right now either. Our wedding is in just over two months, and I’m hesitating at the hugeness of this all. Trusting God has never been a strong point in my Good Girl life. I have been self sufficient to make everything happen. But I can’t this time.

  40. says

    I loved this so much that I want to hug you and say “let’s be friends.” Well that might be a little weird…so I never would. But I would invite you to coffee and we could swap stories! It would be glorious fun!

  41. says

    Isn’t it funny that we often listen to the negative thoughts in our heads? It’s so hard to think “I can do this!”
    Here is this little lone figure on the diving board who doesn’t know she’s a superhero. It takes the village to encourage her to grab that title and jump.
    Thank you for encouraging me to move on over to that village and start clapping!

  42. says

    Oh yes. That’s how last Sunday was. I hovered outside of the prayer circle with my arms around people looking like I was praying for them but waiting for my turn. I have a lot of fear of the future, I offered…and I want to also stand in the gap for others who are feeling the same. Our church is clutching onto us and whimpering as if we are abandoning them to the pound. Yup, we’re moving to a new pastorate and I’m scared to death. I’m scared of the lack of calls on my cell phone, of having to say hello to strangers over and over and over, of not knowing where I will tuck my children to bed at night. Yes, I’m scared too. They prayed over me with lots of scriptures I have forgotten but one I did not, “For I know the plans I have for you…” My friend, she said it with such authority that hope took root and is finally soaking up God-trust.

  43. says

    I love the image you paint of the little girl up on the high board, a place we all find ourselves from time to time. I especially love this: “Don’t insist your encouragement should come from a particular person or group of people. Be open to receiving God however (and through whomever) he may want to show himself.” Such good truth! We might very well miss out on something God wants to do in our lives or in the life of the encourager if we are not open. Thank you for your words Emily and prayers as you step off the high board…

  44. Mylinda says

    My husband and I have just recently made a same type of decision to JUMP. I’ve left my job (a really great paycheck and flexibility after 15 years) to be able to provide more staff support to my guy’s ministry for men that he started a few years ago. God is blessing the ministry and we are seeing great things happening but it was so hard to release that security of a steady paycheck and give up the “stuff” that went along with it. This is the first week of my “retirement” as we laughingly call it and there has been such perfect peace —- and lots of work getting done :)

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