A Christian colleague of mine once told me that he doesn’t ever worry because he has faith. If you’re truly faithful, he said, then there’s no need to worry. I’ve always had a tendency to worry, but remembering his perspective reminds me to stop.
Fear, though, has been much harder to conquer. That’s why, yesterday at Mass, I paid extra close attention to our deacon’s passionate and thought-provoking homily about Jesus’ parable of the three servants (Matthew 25: 14-30) and the damage fear can do. The third servant in the parable demonstrates that fear can prevent us from doing God’s work. As a result, fear can also prevent us from attaining the Kingdom of Heaven. Losing out on eternity with God should be our biggest fear of all, one so terrible that it should sweep all other fears aside. Our fear of the Lord should be our only fear.
Our deacon’s points led me to consider how I have let three kinds of smaller, inconsequential fears interfere with loving and serving God as I should.
The first kind is the fear of being judged or criticized. I confess that this fear has sometimes stopped me from openly discussing my faith with others. This is not only ridiculous but also dangerous. Being criticized by fellow human beings — especially people whose disdain is grounded in a lack of understanding — is far preferable to one day being criticized by God for not defending the Faith every time I was given the chance.
The second kind is the fear of failing or being wrong. It’s this kind of fear that will sometimes hold me back from acts of service. For example, various people encouraged me for years to become a Lector for Mass. I always deflected these suggestions out of fear that I might make mistakes while reading the word of God and embarrass myself. Because I want to expand my service to my parish, though, I finally said yes in spite of my anxiety. I’ve read twice now, and I’ve been nervous both times, but I’ve realized that practice and prayer will help me diminish this fear. A second example is my response to a deacon’s suggestion that I consider becoming a Spiritual Director. My immediate reaction was fear — fear that I don’t possess the knowledge and skills to be effective in an important role like that. Once again, fear stopped me from considering another opportunity to serve.
The third kind is the fear of deprivation. I confess that I’ve said to myself, “If I give up too much time to serving others, I’ll have to sacrifice valuable leisure and family time that I need” and “If I give up too much of my income, I may not have enough to meet mine and my family’s needs.” In truth, though, I can strike a healthy balance, and I need to trust myself to find that balance. And I need to remember that, in the parable of the three servants, the two who took their spiritual riches into the world, distributed them, and expanded them were the ones who were rewarded. What could be more personally enriching than service and charity?
In his first inaugural address in 1933, Franklin Delano Roosevelt said, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” This saying may have become something of a cliché, but it’s true: our fear of experiencing fear is often as bad or worse than actually dealing with it. In Prayer in the Catholic Tradition, a remarkable book that I will be writing more about, Loyola University professor emeritus Dr. Robert J. Wicks says that one of the benefits of living a prayerful, theocentric life is “being able to forego the comfort of denial and avoidance for the peace that allows us to fear nothing but instead welcome all of our emotions….” In other words, we can’t prevent unpleasant emotions, so we should learn to accept them and refuse to let them deter us.
This week’s homily delivered a message that resonated deeply with me. I’ve realized that my small fears (with a small f) have always felt so awful, but they’re actually not that bad — not when I compare them to the Fear (with a capital F) of failing God. So, I’ve resolved to feel those small-f fears and then push past them to serve anyway.