“You’ve got to stop worrying.” Oh, the countless times this phrase has been spoken to me. The devil knows how to get to each one of us, striking where we are weakest in order to cripple and pull us from the path toward holiness.
One of my greatest weaknesses is how easily I capitulate when fear strikes. I allow it to take root in my heart and, from there, grow like a terrible weed throughout my entire being until it negatively alters my disposition, robs me of hope and joy, and nearly causes me to forget that my Father is king. I allow fear, worry and anxiety to obscure my identity and knock me from the path I should be treading.
When I got pregnant with my second child, the overflowing joy was very quickly overshadowed by dozens of fears. I felt crippled with anxiety when getting that first round of blood work drawn. Every day, I worried that I would lose our baby. I feared that the complications that had arisen with my first pregnancy would return with this child. These worries were robbing me of my peace and joy and ability to be present.
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I then realized I was caught in the lie that this weakness was just part of me — an almost benign personality trait that couldn’t be eradicated, but only dealt with and managed. The Lord, though, reminded me that he offers to free us, to renew us, to perfect us. I did not have to accept anxiety as a personality trait. I did not have to be a slave to fear.
Coming to this understanding was one thing; allowing myself to be freed from fear was another. The process was — or, rather, has been — slow. But it has been steady and fruitful. The Lord has shown me the way, little by little, unveiling the truth about trusting him. He has done so in a myriad of ways, each reshaping my heart in profound fashion.
First, he brought me to his word. In prayer, he illuminated those passages (there are many) in sacred Scripture that speak of trusting him and of being not afraid. In Isaiah, the Lord says: “Do not fear: I am with you; do not be anxious: I am your God” (Is 41:10). In the Gospel of Matthew, Christ says: “Are not two sparrows sold for a small coin? Yet not one of them falls to the ground without your father’s knowledge. Even all the hairs of your head are counted. So do not be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows” (Mt 10:29-31). In Chapter 4 of Mark, Jesus rebukes the disciples for their fear of the storm, asking: “Why are you terrified? Do you not yet have faith?” (v. 40). All throughout Scripture, it is evident that the Lord is with us always; that he knows all and has known all before the beginning of time; that his love for us is perfect; that we need only trust in him. Though we may hear these truths time after time, we have to allow Christ to speak them to us in the quiet of our hearts.
The Litany of Trust
Next, he led me to the Litany of Trust, the sweetest little prayer that has a tendency to gently shatter the hearts of those who pray it, but in the best of ways. Composed by Sister Faustina Maria Pia of the Sisters of Life, the litany first addresses all that binds us and then goes on to assert one’s trust in the Lord’s promises. “From the fear that trusting you will leave me more destitute, deliver me, Jesus. … From anxiety about the future, deliver me, Jesus. … That you are continually holding me, sustaining me, loving me, Jesus, I trust in you. … That not knowing what tomorrow brings is an invitation to lean on you, Jesus, I trust in you. …” The litany strikes at precisely that which holds us back from complete freedom to hope, to rejoice, to love and to be loved. It is in this way that it shatters hearts, crumbling the stony exteriors that have been built up by fear, anxiety and lack of trust. It invites Christ into our vulnerable, fleshy hearts so that he can, as the prayer states, teach us to trust.
‘Trustful Surrender to Divine Providence’
Finally, the Lord placed a small book in my hands, “Trustful Surrender to Divine Providence,” and it was this book that pieced everything together and finally helped me to fully grasp what it means to live a life unafraid. Written by Father Jean Baptiste Saint-Jure, S.J. and St. Claude de la Colombiere, S.J., this pithy text has impacted me more than nearly any other spiritual book. In just over 100 pages, the authors outline the secret of peace and happiness. It is, in a word, astonishing.
The crux of the book — the truth on which all other truths contained are hinged — is that everything is attributable to the will of God and that all is guided by his loving hand. Through both Scriptural and practical examples, Father Jean explains that all that God does is done with supreme wisdom and for our good — even that which may appear harmful to us. “Everything,” he asserts, “may serve to our advantage and perfection if we but cooperate with the designs of His providence.” If we but lovingly submit to the Lord’s will for our lives, he will “unburden us of all anxiety” and take care of all our needs.
St. Claude De La Colombiere details just how one is to go about practicing such submission to his providence, beginning with accepting the little things (such as a tear in our clothing) as coming from his paternal hand. He encourages the reader to ask great things of God with the surety that he will answer generously. We are, he says, to pray in this fashion: “Either take away my suffering, or … change it into delight for me, and instead of causing me affliction, let it become a source of joy.” He lays out an “exercise of conformity to Divine Providence,” which includes an act of faith, hope and charity and an act of filial submission to providence. When prayed faithfully, this will enable one to fall into the hands of divine providence with blissful abandon.
It may all sound so simple, yet when these truths pierced my heart, I experienced a freedom that I had never before experienced. All the fears that once had the power to cripple me virtually dissipated. Suddenly, I could see the events of my life — those that had taken place and ones yet unknown that would later take place — as perfectly, flawlessly and lovingly arranged. If a seeming trial took place, it would still be good. It would be for my greatest good. What, then, did I have to fear? Furthermore, if the Lord has ordained something, it will happen. Why, then, would I fear that which was yet unknown to me? Fear does not stop things from happening; it simply stops us from living as we should.
Though I am still tempted to worry, the Lord has offered me a new perspective on life. He has lifted the veil on fear itself and shown me that, behind it all, there is nothing that needs to be feared. He has also, though, shown me that, when the temptation to fear does arise, I don’t have to battle it. All I must do is cry out, “Father, I’m scared!,” and he will shelter me in his mighty shadow and go to battle for me — a battle that I can rest assured has already been won. In fact, all I must ever do is rest in him, trusting in his perfect paternal love. As Father Jean writes, “All we need to think of is to keep still in His hands while He works on us, and we can rest assured that the chisel will never strike the slightest blow that is not needed for His purposes and our sanctification.” For all whose hearts pursue the Lord it is true that he is within you; you will not fall. So, be not afraid.