Fear and (Self-)Loathing

Praise the LORD, all you nations!
Extol him, all you peoples!
His mercy for us is strong;
the faithfulness of the LORD is forever.
This week our local parish was lucky enough to host Hallie Lord for our annual “Fall Mission,” a series of Mass, dinner, talks, and Adoration (sound familiar, Frassati folks?) to unify and build the faith of our Church community. Ms. Lord published a book titled, On the Other Side of Fear, and she shared much of her experience in overcoming fear in her life tonight. I’d like to share a bit of her story here.

Hallie was a convert to Catholicism, and after experiencing a strong movement of the spirit to join the Church (she had grown up in a “hippie liberal family” in northern California) after witnessing her now-husband’s resurgence of faith, she experienced a strong “New Convert High,” as her spiritual director called it. She was two years removed from her Confirmation, married to the man of her dreams, and her closest priest friend had come to visit for dinner. After the meal, he pulled her aside and struck a somber tone, far from his normal demeanor.
“How are you doing, Hallie? It’s been, what, two years now?”
She told him that things were as good as they’ve ever been. She felt filled to the brim with the love of God. This much he already knew.
“I just wanted to let you know, though, that it doesn’t last like that forever. I’m not trying to be a killjoy, but I believe people handle the rough patches better when they expect them.” He added, semi-jokingly, “If you’re a Catholic and you’re not suffering, you’re not doing it right.”
Hallie was understandably disgruntled, and more than a little in denial. By her own admission, she thought that maybe this cradle Catholic priest couldn’t understand the experience of a convert!
However, within two months, her family’s financial situation had undergone a dramatic downturn, and they spent the next 10 years digging out from under accrued debts, bad luck, and tough break after tough break. By all accounts, the math didn’t work out: her husband had a Master’s degree, was working two jobs, and they were living in relatively inexpensive cities. In retrospect, she says, it was clear that this was a Cross that the Lord had called their family to bear.
Hallie, for years, was fraught with anxiety and crippled by fear. Would their utilities be shut off tomorrow like it had been in the past? Would one medical emergency put them over a financial brink?
Finally, after the birth of fifth(?) child, her daughter Zelie, she reached a turning point. She, like so many times before her dark decade, offered her life to the Lord. He, in His own funny way, confirmed His love for her through an hour-long car-ride with three hitchhiking French friars.

In hearing her message, I was struck by how much room my faith has to grow, and how numbed and distant my heart had grown from Jesus’ lately. Hearing someone else talk about their unsuccessful efforts to ‘muscle’ through trying times, admittedly much more trying than anything I’ve been going through, brought some healthy perspective to my recent struggles.
For 27 years of my life, I’ve heard the message that the Lord offers us crosses and suffering to refine our hearts. For so many of those years, I’ve nodded my head, but not been able to truly believe it.
Tonight, for the first time in longer than I’d like to admit, I started to believe it again. Almost unbeknownst to me, My Way had taken hold of my spirit, and My Faith turned into something that better resembled My Contingency Plans, or, How to Avoid Disaster and Mitigate Risk.
Does that sound familiar to anyone? Are any of you struggling with a life or faith whose boundaries are set by your fears of utter failure? Are any of you living in what Hallie called, the “wreckage of the future”? How may of your daily decisions take into account bad- to worst-case scenarios that invite you to take the safe, least vulnerable path.
But has Jesus Christ ever once called us to safety, to invulnerability? I think you know the answer to that.
Can any of you by worrying add a single moment to your life-span?
But seek first the kingdom [of God] and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides.
—Matthew 6:27,33

Jesus does not invite us to live a timid life. Instead, we are called to make disciples of all nations. He does not invite us to safety. Instead, we are told that we will suffer for our Faith, but the Lord’s mercy is strong and his faithfulness can overcome any obstacle or fear.

Jesus calls us beyond our fears, inviting us to walk on the water with our eyes fixed on Him. The Creator and Redeemer of our universe wants us to abide in Him, which is not without its risks, but he promises not only safety and provision, but Eternal Life with He for whom our hearts long most.

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