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Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Moving out of Fear

"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.


  1. Good stuff Sam...this statement was very helpful to me and I like how you explained it:
    "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.....But God is not calling us to flee from something but rather to run toward something, the Supreme Something, God Him/Herself."

    However, I'm curious as to why you referred to God as "Him/Herself."

    1. Really glad it was helpful! But to answer your question, I've just begun using feminine language for God out of a recognition that all of creation is contained within God and comes out of God. Both male and female - whatever the essence of those categories is - are contained within God. Maleness is just as godlike as Femaleness. I've also started using feminine language to be more inclusive and out of a recognition that Jesus is the only member of the Trinity that is gendered. Even though we use "Father" for God (which is not wrong and is part of an important tradition), we know that God/Trinity is neither male nor female. "It" language takes away from God's personhood to me. So interchanging male and female language is appropriate and more indicative of God's true nature. I think that's my answer right now.

  2. I agree with Marc about that beautiful excerpt. This whole post is really lovely, Sam.

    I've had to give this topic a lot of thought, too, as I try to figure out what I'm doing (especially where I'm going) post-grad school. Sometimes I think the things that scare me the most are the ones I should most readily embrace as potentially good candidates: teach English in Prague! Move to Seattle! Move to Europe without any real plan at all! The fear that I have of doing any of those wondrous things does not mean they are wrong per se; it more than likely means that God has bigger plans for me than I have for myself. And I agree that God doesn't communicate His will to us using fear tactics.

    So what if we live a life of faith? Not everything will make sense in the moment, there are times we will feel horribly uncertain or inadequate (we need to remember the source of those feelings too, and let's just say it's never God). God's voice is one of reassurance because He stands outside of time and He's already seen the most beautiful and miraculous version of our lives. He offers peace not cavalierly or out of naivete, but because of what He knows about our futures. And they are bright.

    I'm excited to see your next step, Sam. You're wonderful.

    1. So writing a blog is quickly becoming a great way to build self-esteem, haha. Thanks, really. I love talking about these things with people and finding the common ground (though recognizing differences as well). There's something to be said for sharing these experiences together, I think. I get a great deal from people's comments (both on and off the blog) whether they relate to what I'm thinking about or not. Maybe that stems from how deep a mystery God is?

      And I get a lot from yours. As always, you write beautifully!

    2. Also, if I were to write a philosophy of spirituality it would now include that God wants "the most beautiful and miraculous version of our lives."

  3. I enjoyed this one greatly. Thanks Sam!