On the Crippling Power of Fear

It’s often said that fear is simply:

False
Evidence
Appearing
Real

This false evidence can show up in our lives in many ways. Many people are enslaved by this false evidence, others can be victims of it, and many of us, unfortunately, are both enslaved and victims.

This fear can be crippling, which was certainly the case in my life for a long time. For 14 years I thought I had to be a priest. I would meet perfect strangers and they would tell me I should be a priest. Many people in my life would introduce me and say, “He’s going to be priest.“ Others would greet me by saying, “Look it’s Bishop Lisella“ or “Let me introduce you to the next bishop of Pittsburgh.“ I really believed that was going to be my path if I was to be ordained a priest – and when one is trying to discern if he should even be a priest and he’s being told he’ll become a bishop – that’s crippling.

How crippling?

Keep in mind human beings are made up essentially of body and soul; heart, spirit, and body are all tied together. So if our spirit of our heart is afraid, that manifests itself through stress in the body. Fear creates a burden that we have no business carrying. My burden was becoming too heavy and nearly impossible to carry because I thought I had to do it by myself.

“Come to me all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my home upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble of heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.“ – Jesus in Matthew 11

I had more back pain than any person my age should ever have (which still needs to be healed). My back muscles have so many knots I could probably open a ropes course.

When I got extra stressed I stopped taking care of myself. It’s fitting I publish this on the feast of my confirmation patron, St. Maxmillian Mary Kolbe, who before his death was starved by Nazis for two weeks. He sang hymns of praise and thanks to God, and when total depravity of food and water didn’t kill him they injected him with poison. When I was stressed I didn’t eat because my stomach would be in knots too.

I had a post nasal drip and throat so irritated, that the vocal range of my singing voice was finished. At times when I pushed myself too much I went through 200 cough drops in a month.
*Warning: disgusting content ahead*
If I pushed myself physically really hard I’ve thrown up because all that was in my stomach was mucus and my body needed to get rid of it. When it got that bad I would even begin to lose my voice.

So how did I respond to this crippling fear?

I ran.

I ran to every activity in which I could succeed while in high school.
I ran the audio / video for my alma mater while in college, and used it as an escape.
I ran from my bishop and rector because I believed they were obstacles to the path everyone said I should take.
I ran from the other seminarians because I felt like no one understood me.
I even ran from Jesus. While I never stopped praying I hated praying in the seminary chapel, and only went there when I had to, because I felt like I was praying differently than everyone else – and that wasn’t acceptable.

All of this running did only one thing – I felt very, very alone.

So what did it take to be delivered from these fears? What events occured in my life that took away my irritated throat and restored the full range of my voice?

It took leaving the seminary.
It took telling the bishop and the rector that I was running from them out of fear.
It took writing a letter to the seminarians and helping them to understand who I am.
It took enduring the shock of announcing to my home parish that I left – which came with audible gasps and tears from many people who looked to me as their hope in a very broken church.
It took God sending the right people in my life at the right time – people who are like angels – to open my eyes to the life of fear in which I was living.
It took stepping back from bouncing around to be still, to hear God’s voice, to spend hours in adoration, and to stop and smell the roses that God made for us to enjoy.

For the past 14 years I was a slave to fear, and after leaving the seminary I once again believe that I am a child of God.

And so what is the lesson for all of us (which is why I’m writing this post to begin with)?

If anyone comes to me without having his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own life he cannot be my disciple… Everyone of you who does not renounce all his possessions cannot be my disciple.“ – Jesus in Luke 14

What does this hatred look like?

Often times we must disagree with the people that we love.
Often times the things we love need to be taken away.

When we live in fear, we can be afraid to tell the truth. When we live in fear, we can begin to believe in false evidence, and hide what we know in the bottom of our hearts to be true.

What happens when we hide the truth?

We will hurt people, and more often than not, it is the people that we love the most. Often times we hide the truth from the people we love the most in order to “protect them.“ Priests often hide the truth from bishops out of fear of falling out of favor. Spouses often keep secrets of past sins and failings out of fear of that they will no longer be loved. Children often hide the vase they broke or the lie they told out of fear of disappointing those that have given them everything. Friends often hide the intimate details of their lives from each other out of fear that they will no longer be trusted.

And the results of hiding the truth are crippling:

False evidence appearing real. Bitterness towards authority. Gossip. Rumors. Slander. Calumny. Humiliation. Suspicion. Injury. Broken hearts. Isolation.

Life will not be without it’s fights and disagreements, and we may disappoint some people along the way. But that which is in the darkness must be brought into the light. It is the truth that sets us free.

“If you will abide in my word, you will truly be my disciples. And you shall know the truth, and the truths shall set you free.“ – Jesus in John 8

So maybe we’ve made some mistakes and caused hurt to those we love by hiding the truth. Maybe we’re still afraid to say the truth because we don’t want to disappoint someone we love very much. So what is one to do? With great love tell the truth, with great faith beg for God’s mercy, and with fearless hope ask for forgiveness.

Maybe we’re not ready for that yet… I think in order to prepare ourselves for something like this we need to tear down the walls or masks that we’re hiding behind and at the same time make space. Building walls and putting on masks prevent us from fully seeing the people we love, or we prevent them from fully seeing us. However, often times there are seasons when we need to create space. When we create space we can still fully see those we love from a distance, and that can be very healthy.

What can creating space look like?

Moving out of the house of one’s parents.
Unplugging from social media, the news cycle, and our cell phones.
Spending time away from those we love.

“Do not live to make your presence noticed, love to make your absence felt.“ – Bob Marley

“There is a remedy for those anxieties of yours. Be patient, have rectitude of intention, and look at things with a supernatural perspective.” – St. Josemaría Escrivá

Sometimes spending time away is exactly what we need in order to tell the truth and bring about healing. That’s why priests are required to get away on a retreat every year. This is why people go on vacation. This is why there are seasons in our lives when friendships fade. And that’s why at times God sends us into the desert. He sends us alone, fasting in the wilderness to prepare us for the Cross. Sometimes that preparation looks like a trial, and sometimes it looks like a fire. But if it is from God, the fire of the Holy Spirit is always a purifying fire. We can have full confidence that there will be an another standing in the fire next to us. It may seem like we have to cross an ocean, but there will be another in the water holding back the seas. It may seem like we have to move a mountain, but if faith can move the mountains, then let the mountains move!

This summer – and really this whole year – has brought a great deal of trials. My summers always seem to bring big crosses, and each year they seem to grow. Each summer seems to bring detachment from people that I love and things that I think I need; each summer seems to bring a little more death to self, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

“Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies it remains just a single grain; but if it dies it, bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.“ – Jesus in John 12

Through these trials I have had the faith that the same God who never fails will not fail me. Through these trials I have had the hope that God is working all things out. Through these trials I have had the love of God poured into my heart in an overwhelming, reckless way.

And through it all my capacity to love other has been increased. One of my favorite quotes of St. Maxmillian is, “For Jesus Christ I am willing to suffer still more.“ Knowing the fruit of love that has come from the suffering, I would gladly go through all of these trials again, for the sake of love.

“Love without suffering is impossible. Suffering without love is unbearable.“ – Scott Hahn

So what are we to do? Love until it hurts. Be not afraid to speak the truth in love. Open wide the doors of our hearts to Christ and to those around us. I’ve heard that the Bible contains the words do not be afraid 365 times. God knows we need a reminder daily to not be afraid, we need a reminder daily to take courage, for Jesus has overcome the world. Deny yourself, take up your cross daily, and follow Christ. Our daily cross never goes away, so we cannot think until death to lay it down, for only those who bear the cross may hope to wear the glorious crown. It is when we accept the cross that the Lord gives that our faith, hope and love will be increased. It is when we accept the cross that the burden becomes light and then yoke easy. And like Jesus we can be confident in the fact that Mary will accompany us on the way.

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