I have a confession to make:
I am a big, fat, scaredy-cat.
I was not always this way, but one rotten mistake from my past has left a mark that makes new situations and new people very nerve-wracking for me. Even though I have put this blunder behind me, I still struggle with angst almost everyday. There’s still a part of my subconscious which doesn’t trust my conscious decision making skills. I am afraid that I might inadvertently “screw-up” big time once again.
Depending on the severity of the situation, the intensity of these fearful emotions waxes and wanes…. Still, a habit of fear has become the consistent pattern for how my brain assesses new information. I’m not proud of it, but I also can’t really change it either. It’s not a conscious choice on my part to react in fear…
Thankfully, I have found the grace to overcome every uneasiness I face, a silver lining laced within my timid ways.
It starts with the recognition that feelings cannot be controlled. If fear “pops up” when I am trying to make a decision… it doesn’t mean I’m not brave, or that I don’t have enough faith, or even that I am about to make a mistake. It means that I are a fallen member of the human race… and I am being tempted.
Fear is just that… a temptation (not a sin)…and Satan uses it as a tool to disturb our peace, slow us down, stop us dead in our tracks, and if possible– to get us to run away.
Once, in college, I took a big risk and changed my major. I switched it from nursing– a career which was sure to offer me stability– to theology– a field of study that would not even guarantee a job after graduation. Now, my decision wasn’t on a whim, there was a huge “God-moment” during which God made it very clear that he wanted me to make this about-face… but that clarity didn’t stop my nerves once everything became official. Fear surfaced… and I didn’t know why! I knew that this was what God wanted! Why was I afraid?!
Later that day, I was doing some spiritual reading and I found my answer.
In a letter to one of his spiritual directees who was struggling with a decision she had already made, Padre Pio explained the phenomenon of “holy fear.” Based on the difficulties she foresaw in the coming months and years because of this said choice, she thought she had made a mistake in her discernment. She was panicking. Padre Pio assured her otherwise. Her ability to see her impending crosses did not mean she had goofed and chosen the wrong course. No matter what she chose, she would have faced suffering. If she had chosen another course, she would still be facing a cross… just a different one. And she probably still would have been worrying about it!
The fear of this woman was the simple awareness of the pain and the sacrifices that awaited her in the future, and at that point in my life, I could certainly relate. Padre Pio assured her (and me) of the grace within this realization… there was virtue in knowing the pain before us, but moving forward and facing it anyway.
Padre Pio’s take on this issue confirmed fo me that my fear was not due to a lack of faith. In actuality, the fact that I was being tempted to run from my decision was a sign that what I had done was very pleasing to God…and would probably bear much fruit.
So with this post, I just want to affirm any readers who may be experiencing something similar, that fear itself does not portray a lack of trust …
The lack of trust comes about when we run from our fear, or allow it to paralyze us.
Think of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. His time spent praying the night before he died is commonly referred to as his agony in the garden.
He knew what suffering awaited him in just a few short hours, and he was so terrified he was sweating blood. But when the time came, he stood up and chose to face his fear.
It seems almost “un-Christian” to be afraid. For a long time I thought so, since there are numerous times Scripture commands us to, “take courage” (Mt 14:27, Mk 6:50, Mk 10:49, Mt 9:2, Mt 9:22, Acts 27:22, Acts 27:25). However, how can it be “un-Christian” if Christ himself was once afraid? Maybe fear itself is not the problem….
By it’s very definition, to be courageous is to do something that frightens you. It is also said to be the recognition that something else is more important than the fear. To “take courage” doesn’t mean you aren’t apprehensive… it simply means that you are able to move beyond your fear.
Jesus is perfect embodiment of this truth. Fear should never keep us from doing the task that lies before us. Though Jesus was afraid of his cross, he knew that it did not mean he was not capable of bearing it.
So, whenever you feel afraid– be like Jesus.
Acknowledge your fear.
Pray for help.
Stomp that serpent
and go face your cross.
You’ll triumph like he did (Is. 55:11).