Years ago when I had just moved in to begin a week-long retreat, a remarkable thing happened. A hot air balloon landed in the field across the way. We retreatants ran outside to watch, and a woman in the balloon called, “C’mon, Sisters! Who wants a ride?” I wanted to accept the extraordinary invitation, but I didn’t. Why? Not for fear of the balloon (well, maybe a little), but for fear of what others would think! How often we miss out on opportunities because fear paralyzes us. We’re afraid to drive on highways, we’re afraid to take a chance, we’re afraid to swim, we’re afraid to go to the doctor, we’re afraid to speak in front of an audience. (That last one is supposed to be the number one human fear!) Granted, some fear is healthy and shields us from harm. But many fears are just plain harmful and useless.
Christians have good reason not to fear. Jesus told us not to be afraid. He assured us of the Father’s love, the Father who knows how many hairs are on our heads. We believe that God is good. We believe in God’s loving providence. Moreover, God sent the Holy Spirit to be with us, the Spirit who gave us among the seven gifts the gift of courage that we can tap into. We can rely on God to be our strength just as the people we meet in the Bible did: Abraham, David, and, of course, Mary. Sometimes God sends other people who are like angels and encourage us to be brave.
I find it heartening that at the Eucharist right after the Our Father the priest prays that we be protected from all anxiety. St. Teresa of Avila’s bookmark too is comforting. It exhorts, “Let nothing disturb you, let nothing frighten you, all things pass away; God never changes.” There is such a delicious feeling after we’ve conquered a fear—pride, self-satisfaction, a boosted self-esteem. Conquering one fear empowers us to conquer other fears.
What fears have you overcome? How?