LIONS, AND TIGERS, AND BEARS, OH MY!!
Let's talk about fear.
FEAR may not be the topic you expect during the Easter season... this time of JOY & Divine Mercy. But let's face it... fear paralyzes us regardless of the season.
What do you fear most?
(I can hear you navigating away from this page... valid. Perhaps discussing fear is your greatest fear. Tough, this is happening.)
I would say for most of us, our greatest fear isn't really spiders or public speaking or Oh Mys--but failure, great suffering, losing a loved one, losing everything, emptiness, suffering, loneliness, being stuck, making the wrong choice when the stakes are high, humility, suffering, not getting our way...
Fear makes us sweat, cry, scream, hide, and can even make us tremble--have you ever had that kind of fear? Teeth-chattering fear? I have been there. It's not fun. Fear can be--and often is--debilitating. John tells us in his first letter:
"There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear because fear has to do with punishment, and so one who fears is not yet perfect in love." 1 John 4:18
So... it looks like I am not yet perfect in love. Shocker. (Another fear of mine realized--my lack of perfection pointed out again... Argh! Fears on fears! Does it ever end???)
What could John mean that there is no fear in love? I clearly love God, but I have so many fears. Don't you? The only perfect love is that of God's... so I have to ask God to chase out these fears. And what "punishment" am I fearing? Suffering? Embarrassment? Rejection? Humiliation? We tend to fear these things because we think we have brought them upon ourselves.
In our feeble human attempt to explain suffering we tend to think one of two things: (1) It must have been something I did. I brought this upon myself. I am so terrible that the Lord felt it necessary for me to be humbled, for me to suffer, for me to be singled out. Me.
Notice... who is the center of this line of thinking? We are. Yuck. That's not healthy. It's normal, but it's not healthy. As if we are soooo powerful and so special that our interior poverty warranted some divine retribution. How self-centered. How self-righteous. The reality is suffering is part of life. We get different portions of it... for some suffering comes in the form of going to a crawfish boil with a serious paper cut on your hands. That hurts! For others it is losing everything. And yet for others it is never having anything to begin with... suffering isn't "fair" and it isn't "earned"... Do we reap consequences in our lives? Sure. If I commit a felony and end up in jail--my subsequent suffering in my cell isn't because God deemed me to be humbled--we make choices. Choices have consequences... but the broken world we live in is just that. Broken. Bad things happen. Life isn't fair. And that is a tough pill for us to swallow--even for the faithful.
Another way we try to explain suffering is blaming others. (2) You did this to me. God did this to me. The whole world is against me. Woe is me. Me. Having a victim mentality in regard to suffering is also an easy trap for us to fall into. Adam blamed Eve (and God--remember? The woman YOU PUT HERE gave it to me...), Eve blamed the snake... We are good at finding the roots of evil in our lives. And more often than not it is never our fault. This line of thinking is also unhealthy and tends to make us feel worse not better.
[Aren't you glad you clicked on this instead of a cute video of raccoons eating grapes?]
So what do we do with fear?
How do we get out of analysis paralysis and move forward?
Where can we look?
(1) Not at ourselves. There are no answers written on your belly-button, so stop navel-gazing. I recently went to confession and was given the best penance: Spend 10 minutes in front of the Blessed Sacrament and ask Jesus to help you look at Him instead of focusing on yourself. AMEN. I need that to be a daily penance! We keep going back to the well of self-pity, and surprise--there is nothing there but misery and darkness.
(2) The Cross. St. Rose of Lima said, "Apart from the cross, there is no other ladder by which we may get to heaven." When we're stuck in fear we need a way out of that pit of despair--need a ladder? How about the cross? Jesus, our Savior, our God become Man, came down from heaven because suffering and fear are a reality in our lives. And He showed us that the remedy is not looking for blame or looking for WHY--rather, it is a total emptying of self. We have to empty ourselves. Lent was supposed to be a time where we prepared, we sacrificed, we stripped more of us away--but just because it is Easter and a time of "joy"--our work isn't done. We must always be looking to get out of our heads and into the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
(3) The Saints. They suffered. They feared. They figured it out--through a lot of divine grace, but they did it. We must seek their help. The Blessed Mother had so many sorrows--and yet she was able to be at the foot of the Cross. Her perfection may be too intimidating for us to ask for her help. God gave us the example of so many men and women, canonized and not, who were not immaculately conceived, and yet were able to tackle the fears of everyday life. Particularly the fears of suffering.
“My God, I choose everything, I will not be a Saint by halves, I am not afraid of suffering for Thee, I only fear one thing, and that is to do my own will. Accept the offering of my will, for I choose all that Thou willest.”
St. Thérèse de Lisieux
When I am afraid... I spend time with this quote from St. Therese. She had fear right. The only fear we should all have... Not a fear of suffering, not a fear of screwing things up, not a fear that God is holding out on me, not a fear that I am ordinary, not a fear that I will never be normal, not a fear of choosing the wrong thing, not a fear of being imperfect, not a fear of humility--a FEAR of doing our own will. A fear of selfishness.
Do we fear selfishness?
Do we fear doing our own will instead of the will of God?
Nope. I fear doing God's will. I fear that I won't like it. I fear that it is too hard. That it is too lonely. That it is too much work. That I can't handle it. That I will fail. That I will disappoint Him. That I will disappoint my family, my friends, my students, my readers, my neighbors, the strangers in the street. My fears are all wrapped up in self...
We have it backwards. We cling so tightly to what we want for fear that the Lord will not give us what we want. Our creator who knows us so intimately, so personally, who has counted every hair on our heads. We do not trust His judgement of what we need in our lives. We are so afraid.
Let's live the paradox St. Thérèse offers us this Easter. Let's turn our fears inside out---rather than fearing the suffering, let's ask for God's will. Rather than fearing losing our will, let's give it to God in His Easter basket.
As Divine Mercy flows out, we offer the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity, of Your Dearly Beloved Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ in atonement for our sins and those of the whole world. Have Mercy on us Lord. Turn our Tears into Dancing & and Fears into Desire for YOUR WILL not ours.
Reverse our fears. Change our hearts. Empty our souls of the things not of you. Send us your Spirit. Love us as we are--so broken, so scared, so silly, so selfish. Teach us to see our interior poverty as a graced opportunity to come to you in humility. Love us unconditionally, and teach us to Love like you do.