"I'm called to be a Catholic priest." At least that's what I felt not very long ago. I was seriously discerning my primary vocation and had been for years. After a great deal of prayerful discernment I reached a point where I felt that priesthood was my path.
Getting to that point is its own interesting story but the things I learned about discernment are really the lasting parts. Though I'm no longer in a place of feeling my vocation is priesthood, I learned a lot about the relationship between God and fear through that experience.
"Fear of the Lord" is a biblical phrase a lot of Christians have held on to but that's not the fear we're talking about here. Here it's just the regular, good old-fashioned, universal kind. It's fear at its most basic, its most primal. It's fear that cripples, that hinders, and that oppresses.
As I was discerning a vocation to the priesthood I was forced to work through a lot of fears. I was confronted with a good deal of the notions my false self wanted to cling to, which was a series of assumptions and rules I'd made for myself based on what I thought I needed, which of course is what we all do. "I can't live alone!" "I've always wanted marriage!" "What if I'm not holy enough?" "What if I make a mistake?" "What if I won't be happy?" It won't mean the same thing to everyone but to me my vocation of priesthood felt like being asked to give up my life.
But the loudest voice in my discernment process was actually fear. Finally I had to acknowledge that fear does not come from God. It never does! God does not speak to us through fear. This was actually a "rule" laid down in one of the discernment guides I read. God will never guide you to His will by making you afraid to do the opposite, as if His designs aren't good enough in themselves and He can only win us over by doing a smear campaign against the alternative.
Unfortunately that's how I used to think and how a lot of Christians do. But God is not calling us to flee from something but rather to run toward something, the Supreme Something, God Him/Herself. It's the difference between saying you married your spouse because none of the alternatives were good or saying you did it because you actually found someone beautiful, a goodness in itself.
I sometimes think that next to love fear is the most powerful emotion. As someone with an anxiety disorder, I know firsthand the power of fear to destroy your identity as being made in the image of God and to make you doubt Reality itself.
But when we know that God does not speak to us through fear, then we have freedom. Joyce Meyer speaks about the spiritual nature of fear and says "just do it afraid." Take fear out of the equation. That's the freedom we have by right. We can know that fear is not of God and then we no longer have to act because of it, or cater to it, or nurse it, or hold it, or feed it. We can still sit with it but we know it's the least important thing in the room.
Once we realize our freedom despite fear, then we can choose to quit that unhealthy job or relationship, or to move out of state, to meet with that person, to offer a family to that child, to choose a vocation that scares us, to risk our hearts in matrimony, to follow the promptings of the Spirit even though we don't have all the answers.
Though I no longer think my vocation is priesthood there are countless stories of men who found their lives despite their fears of that calling. And that's true of any calling. If you can move out of fear and move away from all of your own fear-based parameters, imagine the freedom you'll find! Maybe even the freedom to give up your life. Or to find it.