Friday, August 17, 2007

Be Not Afraid

365 times, it is said, scripture admonishes us to "fear not"-once for every single day of the year; and yet somehow for my mortal mind never enough to calm my anxious self.

Perhaps the rest of you don't struggle mightily with fear of, well, in a nutshell, everything, but for me it is one of my great-perhaps the greatest-roadblocks. And for as much as I know that, there are a couple of other people who know it, too. One of them seeks to comfort and console, to show that with Him there is no need for fear, His perfect love cast it out long ago. With the other, however, my flawed humanity often forgets to close the door on my personal fear demon, who like a stiff wind needs it left only slightly ajar in order to blast it wide open and dishevel the entire house in an instant.

Too many times have I held back from doing something as my rational head conversed with my trust-at-all-costs heart while a heated conversation between the two ensues.

After our second child was born, I was overcome with fear about subsequent pregnancies. (Those of you who know me in real life can just nod in agreement about that.) The fear never totally went away, but I found courage and strength in God, and gave birth to two beautiful little girls that would never even exsist today if I handed over my thoughts to the Devil. Never even exsist--but that's where the Devil lurks, isn't it, down in the murky unknowns and the shadowy what ifs that have plagued people for ages. And while he is still the Devil, he's not stupid. Imagine the effort he'll put forth to stop God's will from happening--especially if the war trophies are souls.

Sometimes, I think, you can actually *hear* the conversations between good and evil playing out in your head. Almost three years ago, I attended a Mass for Mothers put on by our parish's Elizabeth Ministry group. We were brand new to the parish and the area and it seemed a great opportunity to be with other mothers. But then, at the end of the Mass, the priest announced that there would be a reception in the hall. I looked around and decided to beat a hasty retreat out the back of the church. I had come alone... I hadn't sat near anyone... These women all already know each other... Why on earth would they care to meet me? As the recessional finished, I quickly made my way to the vestibule, where I stopped in my tracks. And I remembered something I had heard at a previous bible study: sometimes, a voice whispered, the Devil will use our fears to prevent us from doing something that will bring great glory to God. I didn't know why, but I knew right then and there that I had to start making my way to the hall. Once there, I was greeted by many warm, friendly women, who were happy to welcome me to the parish. Someone even pointed out another new mom and she and I got to talking. Needless to say, the friendship that developed that day changed not just my new life here, but the lives of many women in our parish. My new friend (and future godmother of H!) encouraged me when I began revamping and coordinating our church nursery and, in turn, I encouraged her as she resurrected our parish Mom's Group. A couple's bible study was formed. A Women's bible study began. At Easter, this group took on the annual egg hunt and using Resurrection Eggs brought the gospel message to hundreds of children.

Having been given these (and many other!) opportunities to hone my anxious nature has actually been a blessing and not the curse it would seem. For all the hair-pulling and teeth-gnashing that I tend towards engaging in, it would seem that perhaps along the way I might have actually learned something. It really is as difficult and as simple as not being afraid.

"But even the hairs of your head are all counted. Do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows." Luke 12:7


jena said...

I have walked this path many many times, and I know that I can look back and see where God has tenderly guided me from a place of fear to a place of trust...


I cannot tell you how much I relate to this. You really hit the nail on the head. I look back where I've been in almost paranoid states and thank God for getting me through them and carrying me out of the depths of what I thought was hell. Theres still a part of me that fears that fear. Fear of slipping back into that anxious paranoid state. Especially after the baby comes. I never had postpartum depression but before I got pregnant this time I went through some heavy anxiety. God knows exactly what he's doing. He allows things to happen for a reason. Sometimes it's hard to internalize that. But anyhoo, thank you for this post. I needed to hear it :o)

Anonymous said...

Of course you revamped the church nursery! You're amazing (stores)!
Thanks for the awesome post and for sharing your faith and wisdom.

Brett said...

I totally relate to this. So much so that I often use the ID of "benotafraid". When I was an atheist, I rarely had any kind of anxiety or fear. Why? Because atheism is the right way to live? Au contraire! Atheism lets you make your own rules (I will not serve). As soon as you feel a tinge of guilt, blame someone else or say everyone's doing it or you know people who are doing much worse. As soon as you feel any fear, lie, cheat or deceive to mold the situation to an acceptable comfort level. No options are closed to you! Sure, your M.O. is to choose good and avoid choosing evil (though you'd never use the word evil except for comic effect) but, hey, if things start to happen... sometimes ya just gotta do what ya gotta do to get by. Whenever you feel envious, cut someone down. Whenever you feel lonely, escape to a "healthy fantasy life". Whenever someone hurts you, stop caring, write them off, you're better than them. Whenever you hurt someone, too bad, you've been hurt worse.

The funny thing about such a disposition is that to the world you can craft an image of yourself that meets all expectations. You look great all the time. In one arena you are respectable, traditional. In another you are freethinking and spontaneous. Passionate. Wise. Silly. Serious. Whatever you need to be. Not because that's who you are but because that's what the situation calls for. You're a split personality. And when you stop a second, when it's quiet and dark, when there's no one to bounce things off of, when you have time to reflect you see... what? nothing? emptiness? Look away.

The flip side of atheism for me came in these moments. This is when the existential fear came. A fear of death, of non-existence, that is bigger than the yawning chasms of space that make our universe.

Well, when I began to believe that Jesus is God, Lord of all, those fears went away. Joy entered my heart. Emptiness evaporated.

But. Eventually the little fears began to creep in to my life and accumulate, gaining momentum. Fears like, The tone of my voice isn't pleasant enough, sincere enough, caring enough: I don't sound like a good Christian. Or, This person is annoyed that I'm smiling, what should I do, stop smiling, smile more, try to get to know them better? Or, That person is being flirtatious with me, how do I react without giving them the wrong idea, without sinning, without making them feel rejected?

And this, I think, represents a couple of great traps that Christians fall into. Maintaining a Christian image. That's number one. And worrying about making others feel good all of the time. That's number two. The first one is flawed because it diverts attention from loving others, which means always willing the good for them, and turns our gaze back onto ourselves. We should be looking at the other, trying to serve them, not constantly checking back in the mirror to see how we look. Do I look Christian enough? How 'bout now? No, no, no. Just do it. Forget how it looks. Sometimes it looks terrible. Sometimes gut-wrenching love looks to the world like hate, because the experience for them is not pleasant. Because we refuse to pretend that the thorn of sin is not stuck in the lion's paw. Because we risk our lives being stomped on so that we can try to remove the thorn. Because the pain is much worse when we pull on the thorn, though the lion will be much better off if we can get it out. We can't please others all of the time and be Christian. They are mutually exclusive. We have to be the person who always will the good for the other, not strain to be always appears pleasant, nice, flattering, accommodating. And all of this without judging. Without saying or thinking, I'm better than you. Without presuming that this person is going to hell but I'm going to heaven. The race is not over. The choice is not fossilized. We can fall away and choose self. The others can fall back and choose God. No one is our enemy except for the devil and his minions. Even the most vile criminal is not hopeless, though he is a pawn in the service of darkness, at least for now.

What's my moral of the story? I don't know. I guess I'm telling myself, stop worrying how you look and just act with a pure heart, no matter the cost. Don't fear being wrong, doing wrong. It's going to happen. Again and again and again. The fault is not in the doing wrong accidentally. The fault is in choosing the wrong repeatedly, obstinately, willfully. Everything else we should not give a second thought. We should be not afraid.

patjrsmom said...

Thanks for the affirmations everyone! And boy, Brett, I should have called and just let you guest post on this topic because you really drove the point home. What a joy it is to have this forum filled with other serious, committed, Christians who are trying to make their way and inevitably lift my consciousness over and over again. May God Bless you all!