I'm not sure how many years of my life you could subtract that were lived in fear and anxiety, but I'm sure it's more than a couple. I even went looking for a picture to embed in this post (as I usually do) from my photo albums, one in which I was seriously anxious and afraid. I couldn't find any--it would be kind of weird if I could.
Of course we don't take pictures of these moments and if someone captures one by chance we certainly don't go posting them for everyone to see. We keep them hidden, and for good reason--fear is a kind of nakedness. They reveal some of the deepest parts of ourselves, a vulnerability we reveal to only those closest to us and even then only in the most trusted environments.
Fears are weird. Let me give you an example. At one point when I lived in Philly and had only had a car for a year or so (it wasn't until 2009 at the age of 29 that I really started driving on a regular basis) my anxiety got so bad commuting on Roosevelt Boulevard that I started seeing a cognitive behavioral therapist. I was also afraid of parking garages, so much so that I avoided them at all costs. I hated the feeling of being trapped and closed in.
There was a lot of shame attached to these thoughts and feelings. I think at the root of it (and this applies to many things, I believe) was the fear of public humiliation. The thought of being in a crowded city on a Friday night, trying to leave the garage and the wooden barrier not raising up because there was something wrong with the ticket with a line of cars behind me getting impatient, honking and cursing and looking like an idiot, was enough to almost drive me to the point (in my mind) of just driving straight through the barrier in order to get out. It's a silly fear, but it was very real. At least, it was in my mind.
I know my brain is wired a bit differently and a bit more vulnerable, so I have to be sensitive to these kinds of stressors. CBT helped a bit. I can drive into parking garages now and on interstates without thinking about it too much. Beyond these esoteric but acute situational instances, though, there are deeper, generalized fears that many people share...the existential ones--the fear of rejection. The fear of losing face. The fear of loss. The fear of death.
But fears change over time, too. When I was younger I was so so anxious about breaking down in the car in a strange part of the country on vacation, and not being able to get home. Or that there would be some natural disaster like a flood, or an earthquake that would destroy everything we had. Even a zombie apocalypse was something I was bracing for.
In my thirties, and two kids in, my fears began to drift to something that should be a source of joy and blessing: I became fearful of us as a couple having more children. Without realizing it, I had absorbed the contraceptive mentality from the culture, one that views children through a lens of liability and burden rather than a gift from God. I was convinced we couldn't handle any more--emotionally, financially, logistically. One night at the kitchen table I googled "Catholic Babies Fear" and stumbled across a blog written by my now-friend Leila. I believe this was the particular post I came across. (Another powerful one here.) It was about surrendering your will to God as a way of abandoning fear.
Do you know what command is issued by Jesus more times than any other? It's "Fear Not." "Do not be afraid." "Be not afraid." It appears more than seventy times in the New Testament.
Do you know what scene in scripture just flabbergasts me, almost to the point of l-o-l'ing? Mark 4:37-38. The disciples are out to sea with Jesus. "A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped."
"Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion."
ASLEEP! On a CUSHION! Just snoozing away lol.
Jesus trusted his Father completely. And yet he also sweat blood in the Garden of Gethsemane, sorrowful and afraid "unto death" before his crucifixion. He was human, like us in all things but sin. The devil reminds us of and exploits our fears. He wants us to live in them. Fear is the antithesis of trust. When you are afraid of someone you don't trust them. When you don't trust a bridge to hold your weight, you are afraid it will cave beneath you.
When we began to trust God with our fertility, I began to no longer see babies as a threat or something to fear. Something changed when we handed it over to God. I've done the same with any concerns I have over the state of the Church or our country; over finances; the possibility of weather-related catastrophes; losing my kids; losing my wife; losing friends because of my faith; losing my job. I did it when our daughter was born because there was so much to worry about I told God outside a Wawa "it is too much. I can't. You can." I am trusting God, "casting my fears on Him, because (I know) He cares for me." (1 Peter 5:7), and working to cultivate in prayer a perfect love that casts out fear. (1 Jn 4:18).
When things get too big, when the army is too large, when it becomes literally impossible to win whatever battle you are fighting on your own by yourself: surrender. Surrender your will and trust God, who is bigger than any problem, fear, or concern, to handle it. Pray hard and step out in faith. It takes faith and practice, but when God comes through and witnesses to His great power, it builds on itself and lays a foundation for trust, since "He did it before, He can do it again." I have a long way to go, but have also come a long way, by God's grace. I still deal with occasional anxiety from time to time. But nothing like before. Given all things, I probably shouldn't even be married, a father, employed, or even alive today if it weren't for the God that saved me and preserved my fragile mind to do His work in the world. Yet here I am. Fear is a great burden, a heavy jacket. I'm happy to lighten my load, for the sake of my life and my travels through this world, to leave it behind.