Over the summer, I met a wonderful musician named Jenny Snipstead who taught me a lesson that soon became a spiritual discipline.
Jenny was leading music at Woodleaf, a Young Life camp in northern California, when I was there with my group of girls from Thousand Oaks. One night, she played a song called “Paper Tigers.” She then elaborated on the significance of the song.
Paper tigers are things in our lives that seem daunting, overwhelming, and scary. But as we draw closer, we come to realize that they are merely made of paper— flimsy, lifeless, and unrealistic.
From a distance, many things in our lives are paper tigers. They seem to bear their teeth and growl. They claw at the ground and raise the hair on the back of their neck. They threaten and manipulate and spit lies. But, if from the depths of ourselves, we can muster up the courage to approach this tiger, we can take hold of the promises that God has made us to be “more than conquerors.”
Remember those origami projects you did in middle school art class? That is how I envision my paper tigers. They are so light and flimsy that you can flick it and send it soaring.
That is exactly what we should be doing with the fears in our lives. Instead of backing down and cowering in a corner, we should be facing those paper tigers head on.
This is now a continual spiritual discipline for me. Just like gratitude, this has to be consistent practice, or it is useless. I constantly have to check myself to make sure my paper tigers aren’t taking control of my life.
I do this by writing down my paper tigers once a month. This is especially important during a season of discernment, or preparation for a new chapter of life.
I was constantly revisiting my paper tigers while deciding on Bolivia, and during the entire preparation process. This is what my list of paper tigers looked like:
“I’m scared that I will be lonely.”
“The trauma of our work will be too much for me.”
“I’m not qualified or skilled enough.”
“My Spanish isn’t good enough.”
“I will be homesick and want to come home.”
But, you can’t just stop at writing them down. We must draw the most important weapon that proves lethal to any paper tiger—the promises of God. One by one, I cross out my paper tigers, and next to each one, write a promise that sucks the air right out of it.
“And there is nothing on this earth that I desire other than You.” -Psalm 73:25
“For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for the eternal weight of glory beyond all measure…” – 2 Corinthians 4:16-18
“I will instruct you and teach you the way to go, I will counsel you with my eye upon you.” -Psalm 32:8
“The LORD said to him, “Who has made man’s mouth? Now then go, and I, even I, will be with your mouth…” -Exodus 4:11-12
“In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I am not afraid.” -Psalm 56:4
Suddenly, that folded piece of paper doesn’t look so bad. When weighed against the eternal promises of the Lord, our paper tigers are the ones that go running.
When we face our fears head on, we are able to live our life in the freedom that Christ died to give us. What a waste it is for us to go through life consumed by our fears, when He has already promised us a way out. It is up to us to take hold of those promises and fight like hell against our paper tigers.