Dear Pope Francis,
Fear. I’m so over it.
It seems like I’m being told to be fearful of everything these days. Don’t vote for this political candidate because she will take your rights away. Don’t vote for that politician, either, because he will be bad for the economy. Be suspicious of anyone who doesn’t believe in the right kind of God. Don’t drive, fly, drink bottled water, or even eat quinoa, because you’ll be a bad person. Don’t eat eggs; that’s just asking for a heart attack. Avoid doorknobs at all costs
If you’re Catholic, don’t you dare speak your mind; you’ll be silenced for having an opinion.
You know, it’s no wonder many of us are stressed out, anxious, eating too much, and not sleeping enough. We’re constantly told to be scared. Of everything. We live in a soup of fear.
What’s worse, we’re told to be scared of ourselves, our ideas and opinions, and the way we live our lives.
Maybe it would be worth it if fear worked as a motivator. I’m not convinced of that, however. If it did, wouldn’t we live in a happier, safer, more egalitarian world? If fear worked, would the diet and sleep aid industries be making billions? Wouldn’t pews be packed on Sunday and seminaries and convents filled to the rafters?
I know how I react when I’m afraid. I don’t feel motivated at all. In fact, it’s just the opposite. Tell me I need to lose weight or bad things will happen, and I will reach for the nearest chocolate bar. Warn me I’m not getting enough exercise, and I’ll spend the weekend on the couch playing video games. I react to fear by shutting down and going on autopilot. It’s not a way to motivate me to change.
When we’re afraid, we also make bad decisions. As a communications professional, I’ve counseled clients through some tough crises. Inevitably, a client’s first response to a perceived threat is either to adopt a bunker mentality or go on the attack. Neither posture is terribly supportive. As an outsider, I’m able to provide a more levelheaded perspective on the right course of action. The reason? I’m not amped up on fear. I can think clearly.
I think Jesus also knew fear wasn’t a winning strategy. He did not say, for example, “Blessed are the fearful.” He knew Peter would deny him three times out of fear. Even the angels heralding his birth told those poor freaked out shepherds not to be afraid.
Jesus did not operate from a fear-based mentality. His approach was one of openness, peace, and understanding. That is an attitude in complete opposition to fear. You can’t be open, peaceful, and understanding if you’re afraid — or fear mongering. Try it. I dare you. Just like I dare you not to think of a pink polka-dotted gorilla wearing a tutu now that I’ve mentioned one. See? It’s impossible. (And, you’re welcome.)
If Jesus did not embrace fear, why do we, his followers, insist on it? Why is our response to a new idea always condemnation? Why do we base our faith around a fear of going to hell rather than embracing the Kingdom of God that Jesus told us was already ours through grace?
Why have we made fear our eighth Sacrament, and a requirement for being loved by God?
For me, personally, it’s time to take fear out of my faith. Thankfully, there are good models to follow.
I recently found out that St. Francis of Assisi, who I always thought was just naturally saintly, was actually deeply afraid of lepers. But, here’s why St. Francis was a saint: he pushed through the fear, and kissed pretty much every leper he could get his holy mitts on. He didn’t let fear affect his response to others.
Now that is an evolved spirituality I can get behind. As a follower of Jesus, and admirer of Francis, I’m going to strive to give up my addiction to fear and kiss more of my own personal lepers. It won’t be easy, but I think continuing to live out of a spirituality of fear will be far worse.
For the good of the world, I fervently hope others pucker up as well.