My second year of college, during Lent, a very awesome priest and Capuchin friar made an audacious resolution: his fasting in Lent would be a fast from fear. This decision made me raise my eyes in wonder and surprise. First, it's unusual. Chocolate is far more common (not knocking people who give up food items, it can really be a spiritually enriching endeavor if done with the right disposition). Secondly, give up fear? Really? Is that even possible?
Maybe just saying that he gave up fear isn't the right way of putting it. Giving up the involuntary response of fear is like saying that one is going to give up being sexual: it doesn't work that way. He sacrificed giving into the fear that he felt in those moments where the unknown and the unwanted raised their heads, when the uncontrollable and the unpredictable surfaced, and when the sense one gets one one weighs the powers at work in the world against one's own painfully obvious limitedness creeps to mind.
I've been thinking about that a lot here. I think about it when it comes to having responsibilities with the kids, when I have no idea what to do, when I'm the voice of authority, when maybe I don't want to share what I've been doing with the community, when I'm ashamed in Confession, when the future looks grim and undetermined and insurmountable...in a phrase, when I feel tempted to give into fear and to worry.
It's made me question how often I let fear meddle with my decisions. It's forced me to ask, "Well, what's the worst that could happen?" and the subsequent question, "And is that really so bad?" Especially when it's at the price of integrity or being as good of a person as I imagine I am capable of being.
I'd like to say, "That's it! I'm tired of it! Never again!" but I'm human, so I know I'll succumb every now and then. But the other day, I just had a crystalline moment of what life would look like without fear or the forgone conclusions that fear can etch into my mind under the pseudonyms of "Realism" or "Practical" or "Reasonable" or "Honest" or "Ease". It's a much more open life, where love as any Christian worth their salt would want to participate in is possible. Possibilities abound.
My final decision to come to Peru really had to do with realizing that I was afraid of the prospect of everything from the language to the food to the workload being different, and saying, "I'm not going to let that be my determining factor!" When I decided to put fear in its place, many of my reasons for staying seemed weak and all of my reasons for not going melted away.
The trick for me is acknowledging when fear's playing the puppeteer in my mind, because once I see it for what it is, once I name the infernal thing, I have an internal "Oh, no you don't" moment.
Is this my Lenten practice? In part, perhaps, but not officially. It certainly has been on my mind, though, as you can tell. How often do we take the time to let us see what factors are really behind our decisions? But imagine life without fear behind the wheel. It's a much brighter world.