A day without fear
When Lent rolled around this year, I knew better than to try to attempt too much. Since I was scheduled to give birth to my fourth baby in five years just two weeks into the season, I knew that to plan to give up too much or add too many spiritual practices would be just setting myself up for failure. I tried to think of some change I could make that would be doable given my hectic life yet also challenge me spiritually.
After some prayer I came up with an idea. It seemed too simple at the time, but it would end up having a far-reaching impact on my spiritual life: I decided to make a firm commitment, every day, to let go of fear.
As I mentioned back in February, I’d come to notice that the stresses I feel in my daily life very often come back to fear. For example, when I recalled the unpleasantness of repeated night wakings with my third baby, I realized a lot of my misery was due to fear. Sure, some of it was simply because I was tired; but a lot of my mental anguish could be traced back to thoughts that went something like:
Tomorrow is going to be terrible! TERRIBLE! I’ve only gotten four hours of sleep and now the baby is going to be up for the day and it’s only five A.M. and I’m going to be so exhausted and I’m probably not going to be able to catch up on sleep until the weekend and it’s only Tuesday and if tomorrow night is as bad as tonight then I’m DEFINITELY going to collapse from exhaustion and…
Well, you get the idea. In other words, it all came back to fear. And yet, I recalled that on the few occasions when I managed to summon up the spiritual maturity to actively ask God for his help, to pray that he give me the eyes to see that I could trust him not to give me more than I could handle, he always did. Every time. It was often something that would look unremarkable to an outside observer — maybe just an unexpected kind word from a friend, a little extra sleep just when I needed it, or even just a feeling of peace amidst the chaos — yet it was there nonetheless.
So, starting on Ash Wednesday, I decided that I would do nothing more for Lent than to simply make a conscious effort not to give into the temptation to fear. It seemed overwhelming to commit to that for more than 40 days, so I decided to just take it one day at a time. I wouldn’t worry about what I’d be capable of doing tomorrow. I would simply resolve, each morning, to make this one day a day without fear.
It was the perfect spiritual exercise for someone in this chaotic phase of life; not that I had any great crises to deal with, but learning to trust God with the constant stream of little stresses I dealt with through the birth of the baby and the newborn period was surprisingly hard (for example, I found that it was a lot harder to let go of fear when an unexpected traffic jam threatened to make me really late for an appointment than when we received a big medical bill that I didn’t know how we would pay) and it forced me to turn to God on a moment-to-moment basis as I’d never had to before.
The results during Lent were so powerful that I’ve decided to keep it up ever since then.
It’s not just the idea of giving up fear that I’ve found so helpful — I’ve known about that for a while, first starting to see it that night I was scheming about throwing a brick through a window at Google’s headquarters — rather, I think that what has been most helpful has been the idea of giving up fear one day at a time. In my previous efforts to work on this, I thought of it only as a broad concept and immediately began worrying about all the possible scenarios under which it would be practically impossible not to fear (seriously: leave it to me to fear giving up fear). But what I’ve found is that the simplest and most effective thing I can do is to commit to nothing more than making today — this day, right now — a day without fear.
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