This year’s Thrive Conference is a celebration of God’s audacious love: What it looks like, how it overcomes our greatest fears, and how it inspires us. We’re thrilled to announce that, in conjunction with the conference, we’ll be releasing a NEW devotional! On this 31-day devotional journey, you’ll discover the meaning, power, and purpose of God’s audacious love—and be inspired to share it with the world. Want a sneak peek? Join us from now until the conference as we reveal snippets each week—this week’s article is from Amber Gerstmann, one of our amazing co-emcees from the conference. And don’t forget to join us for the Thrive Conference!

Here I was for the umpteenth time in front of an audience of whom I was scared to death. It was almost my moment to step into the spotlight, and my lips were bleeding. No one could tell; I chewed them inside my mouth as I fretted away my anxieties. Will I remember the words? Will this be impressive enough? Why did I agree to do this? I want to go hide in a dark corner.

I had terrible performance anxiety, that dark corner of my mind suffocating me in fear, causing me to avoid any bold moves because they just might be the wrong ones or, even worse, be met by disapproval.

I’m not exactly sure where it started, but somewhere along the way I picked up this awful idea that the world had purchased tickets to the performance of my life and held up low-numbered score cards to each thing they saw. And I figured God did, too. I pictured life with Jesus as more of a tightrope walk than anything even remotely spacious. At any moment I could say something unkind, act with the wrong motive, or pass up an opportunity to shine my light and find myself falling headlong off the tightrope of his approval.

So in that dark corner of anxiety I hid, not making any sudden moves.

I don’t know about you, but to me the stride is reserved for the tall. Long, lean supermodel-type legs (probably, I’m sure of it) traipsing, frolicking freely wherever they go with a perpetual catwalk and slow, almost angelic arm swings. If I had supermodel legs I would traipse, too. But let’s be real, when my non-supermodel five-foot three-inch frame is doing a stride, it may as well be the “Prancercize.” (“What’s that?” you say? Google it. You’re welcome.)

But as silly as it might sound, that is how I picture the carefree steps Psalm 119 speaks of, “…and I’ll stride freely through wide open spaces. . . .” That space is so welcoming, so generous, so safe.  And so opposite the way I lived.

I’ll never forget the moment this truth first shined its light into my anxious hiding space. “What are you doing over there?” Jesus asked. So kind, so unassuming, arms extended in invitation to something greater. He spoke his great love for me and the security of his grace, not dependent on my behavior or performance, dependent only on him. He reminded me, “I have come that you may have life and have it more abundantly (John 10:10 ESV),” and that no height or depth or a long list of other things could separate me from his love. Wide open space indeed.

This extravagant, audacious love changed everything for me. Not only did I realize this space was safe to live and move in, I also learned it was safe to rely on his Spirit within me. His voice guides my life, steers my heart, and, above everything else, speaks love. Every time I feel that familiar tightness of anxiety, Jesus whispers, “It’s a wide open space. You’re safe in the next step and the next after that, even in front of people. I’ve got you. I love you.”

God’s invitation into the wide open calls to each of us, and I’m starting to believe it is the place of our greatest effectiveness. Here we are not trying to protect ourselves in anonymity or some vain pursuit of perfection but are instead trusting Jesus to shield, guide, and use us for his glory.

So here’s where I stand, and I want to invite you into this same freedom. The incredible, audacious love of Jesus offers us a wide open, abundantly free life with him. He’ll change us where we need changing. He’ll guide us where we need guiding. And perhaps best of all, he’ll invite us into adventure with him to discover purpose for our life. He’s already got a plan.

So come on out of whatever dark corner you’ve been hiding. Step out into the wide open. There you’ll find me in stride, no longer afraid. And maybe, just maybe, doing the Prancercize.

Reflect and Respond:

In what areas of life do you feel unprotected or afraid to take the next step?

What is one way you can step into your purpose in the wide open space of God’s love and grace today?
Amber Gerstmann is wife to Trevor and mom to three little wiggles. She’s a minister, worship leader, Bible/theology teacher, and total coffee snob. Amber is passionate about communicating the great love and truth of Jesus, and when she’s not chasing her littles, one can typically find her dabbling in photography, running, or singing.