I was 12 when The Fellowship of the Ring came out. It was the first PG-13 movie I ever saw, and that was only allowed because I’d read it 5 times.
PG-13 previews are still PG-13 though. Those were usually what got me. Twelve years later I still shut my eyes for some of them.
For example, somewhere about 13 or 14 years old they were showing a preview for something called “Anaconda: Hunt for the Blood Orchid.” The title is sort of seared into my brain because the preview was kinda a traumatic experience: there was a snake in it. A really big one.
And I stopped breathing.
I’m not actually sure at what point the non-breathing thing happened, but somewhere along the line of this massive serpent slithering in the depths of a river below a boat full of people ridiculously dwarfed by its size, I just froze, respiratory system and all, and didn’t even realize it until the preview ended and it hit me that inhaling would be a really, really good idea.
As it turns out, I am afraid of snakes. Unreasonably, terribly, hugely, non-breathingly afraid of snakes.
I am somewhat consoled by the fact that I share this weakness with Indiana Jones. WIN.
I’d been considering this lately because a while back someone referred to me as “fearless.”
Uhhm…not so much.
It was a reasonable mistake. I’m sort of a little freak and a lot of what I guess would be considered “normal” fears I’m just too dumb to have, and the ones I DO have are mostly the result of pride and therefore rather more difficult to see.
For starters, let’s talk about public speaking.
I don’t really know much about Jerry Seinfeld, but I hear he does say some funny things. Like:
“I read a thing that actually says that speaking in front of a crowd
is considered the number one fear of the average person.
I found that amazing – number two was death! That means to the average person
if you have to be at a funeral, you would rather be in the casket than doing the eulogy.”
On the one hand, I just went to confession yesterday so at the moment I’m kinda chill with being in the casket, but as far as a fear of speaking in front of a crowd…
I. LOVE. Speaking to crowds.
Amazingly much, actually. Like adrenaline junkies love skydiving, I love speaking to crowds. I know, it’s weird. Probably kind of dumb. But useful.
See, there are plenty of things about my job that, humanly speaking, probably should make me kind of nervous, but they don’t. That’s all God, and I’m grateful for it.
But there are plenty of things which I’m as scared of as the next person, if not more.
I’m afraid of confronting people I like. If I like them I want them to think I am sweet and nice and likable too. If it’s somebody I love on the receiving end who might be hurt, I’m afraid of reprimanding or “teachable moments” or hard truths. I’d rather take a hit or be lonely then confront a bad situation if it means estrangement from somebody I’d rather protect. I’m afraid of trusting people if others have let me down in the past. I’m afraid of hoping for things I’m afraid will never happen. I’m afraid of letting people down, of disappointing them. I’ve even been afraid of not being brave enough.
But, what if I weren’t?
See, I’m not sure fearlessness is the answer to all of this. In fact, I’m pretty convinced it’s not.
My proof? The four cardinal virtues: “Prudence, justice, temperance, and fortitude.”
Not a lot of people really use that word any more, which is kind of a shame. It’s a great word. Some of the definitions:
“Courage in face of pain or adversity.”
“Strength of mind that enables a person to encounter danger
or bear pain or adversity with courage.”
“Mental and emotional strength in facing difficulty, adversity,
danger, or temptation courageously.”
So, basically, courage. And what is courage?
“The ability to confront fear, pain, danger, uncertainty, or intimidation.”
“Mental or moral strength to venture, persevere, and withstand danger, fear, or difficulty.”
“The state or quality of mind or spirit that enables one to face danger, fear,
or vicissitudes with self-possession, confidence, and resolution; bravery.”
Ain’t nothin’ in there about fearlessness. In fact, that looks like a lot of fearful things. Pain, uncertainty, danger, difficulty, vicissitudes (Google it, awesome word). Fear.
But what if we weren’t afraid?
Or better yet, what if we didn’t have to be afraid?
Here’s my logic: fear is a result of sin. The Original Sin. So, in a way, it’s kind of in our DNA now. It has become our natural, fallen state. Genesis 3:10 gives us Adam’s first words to God after The Fall:
“I heard You in the Garden, but I was afraid, because I was naked, so I hid myself.”
After some introspection I recognize my own voice in those words.
“I saw You coming, but it looked intimidating, so I closed in on myself. I saw You pointing that way, but it looked scary, so I will just stay here. I heard You speaking, but what You asked sounded uncomfortable, so I will find a lot of noise to fill my ears instead and help me numb the longing to draw closer to You. Because I’ve messed up, big time – I know it and You know it, but I can’t stand to see the disappointment in Your eyes. I can’t stand to run the risk of failing You again…Because I am afraid, and I just don’t want to move.”
When I give Him half a chance, His still, small voice slips through, “But, what if you weren’t?”
The Imitation of Christ contains a beautiful story:
“There was once a man who was very anxious, and wavered between fear and hope. One day, overcome with sadness, he lay prostrate in prayer before the altar in church, and pondering these matters in his mind, said, `Oh, if only I knew that I should always persevere!’ then he heard within his heart an answer from God: `If you knew this, what would you do? Do now what you would then, and all will be well.’ So, comforted and strengthened, he committed himself to the will of God, and his anxious uncertainty vanished. Nor did he wish any longer to inquire into what would happen to him, but strove the more earnestly to learn the perfect and acceptable will of God, whenever he began or undertook any good work.”
What if you weren’t afraid?
How would you serve? How would you stand out? How would you defend the innocent? How would you speak the Truth? How would you say His Name…if you weren’t afraid?
Maybe trust is what happens when we recognize that we are afraid – and then leap towards God in spite of our fear.
Those quiet longings, those half-smothered wishes that stir up in our hearts when we dare to think what might happen if we weren’t so very, very afraid…I believe that oftentimes, those are the desires that most closely mirror the ones He has for us.
So what would happen if we acted on our trust, instead of our fear? What if we did what would most delight the heart of the Father and really just trusted Him? What if we took the example of His saints seriously when they said things like,
“The joy of the LORD is my strength.”
“It is not the actual physical exertion that counts towards one’s progress,
nor the nature of the task, but by the spirit of faith with which it is undertaken.”
– Saint Francis Xavier
“One life is all we have and we live it as we believe in living it.
But to sacrifice what you are and to live without belief, that is a fate more terrible than dying.”
– St. Joan of Arc
“When you draw close to our Lord, remember that He is always very close to you, that He is in you: The Kingdom of God is within you. You will find Him in your heart…Put out into deep water! Throw aside the pessimism that makes a coward of you…And pay out your nets for a catch! We have to place our trust in our Lord’s words: get into the boat, take the oars, hoist the sails and launch out into this sea of the world which Christ gives us as an inheritance – His kingdom will have no end. Doesn’t it fill you with joy to work for such a kingdom?”
– St. Josemaria Escriva
“Be Not Afraid! Open up, no; swing wide the gates to Christ. Open up to his saving power the confines of the State, open up economic and political systems, the vast empires of culture, civilization and development… Be not afraid!”
– Blsd. John Paul II