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.

New here? Take a moment to introduce yourself, or say hi on Twitter at @conversiondiary.



Enter the Conversation...

31 Responses to “A day without fear”
  1. agapeflower117 says:

    Jen, thank you so much for this post. I am going through the exact same thing, and this is EXACTLY what I needed to hear. Thank you for your courage – you are such an inspiration to me and a great example.

  2. Jen says:

    I understand so much where you are coming from. We have so many similarities in our life. Our fourth child came two months before our eldest turned six. Fear is a huge motivator for me in all things, and I tend to take on big things, instead of focusing one day at a time. I heard in a talk once that St. Teresa of Avila says “Fear is the chief activator of our faults.” If you think about it, it’s so true.

    Oh, and I’m a convert too…you see why I love your blog so much. :-)

    Keep up the good work. God has big plans for you.

  3. cheryl says:

    Wow. Fear is something that plagues everyone to some degree I think, and it’s very debilitating –emotionally and spiritual. Imagine if everyone could practice giving up fear for Lent/Advent, as you mentioned, it’s effects would be so far reaching-imagine how our love for God and one another would grow and sin decrease (I think fear feeds sin). For perfect love casts out all fear.

    A beautiful post Jen!

  4. Monnie says:

    I’m bookmarking this post! Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts on this. I’ve got a particular devotion to St. Therese and her Little Way, which uses this concept… But you’ve helped me see it from a slightly new, refreshed angle.

    God bless!

  5. brick says:

    That is SO awesome.

    That is SO hard.

    Fear really runs my life.

    Thank you so much for this post…

  6. Emily says:

    Wow. Once again, you have hit the nail on the head with EXACTLY what I needed to hear. I’m going through a bit of sleep stuff with my 4-month old as well as lots of adjustment to motherhood now that I have two kids…. reading your posts over the past few months (I recently discovered your blog) have helped me tremendously as I try to seek after what God wants from me in this. Thank you. Thank you.

  7. Agnes Regina says:

    Wow. I know exactly what you mean about the sleepless nights spent worrying about not getting enough rest… vicious circle… they’re horrible. Thanks for another wonderful post Jen — God bless!

  8. veniteadoremus says:

    Your timing is uncanny.

  9. Nili says:

    great post, as a new mom I need to be reminded to live free of fear. Your blog also reminded me of a saying,
    Fear knocked on the door, Faith answered, No one was there.

  10. Sara says:

    Fear is definitely something I have a problem with (and the negative attitude it engenders). The food addictions are also something I struggle with and I”m not succeeding with the saint diet.

    I wish I could just sit down with you over a cup of coffee and pick your brain!

  11. amy says:

    I can’t think of a better thing to give up!

  12. Anne says:

    I’m confused. I don’t see what a rant about sleeplessness has to do with fear. Anger, frustration, selfishness and perfectionism–sure. But fear?

    What were you afraid of? That your baby would die? That you would shake her? That she wasn’t thriving? That your older babies would be emotionally scarred from neglect?

    I’m really curious because my little one still doesn’t sleep well at ten months, and it’s taking a toll on me, our marriage and even our son. I’m mad about it. I selfishly want someone else to do the chores, cook and even play with my son so I can get more sleep. I am not properly grateful for all the blessings God has given me. I’m a perfectionist, so I take an “all or nothing” approach, which is just a form of insidious pride. I’ve shared your rant about not being able to make it through the week because of sleep deprivation, but I’ve never associated it with fear. What precisely were you afraid of in the middle of the night when your sleep was interrupted by a crying baby?

  13. Lisa v. says:

    This has given me such incredible strength today. I think it’s easy for me to say I’m not a fearful person but when I dig a little deeper I see I have fears and worries that I just push down and cover up and ignore but they’re still there. Instead I need to throw it on the throne of Grace. Thank you for giving me fresh eyes. You’re a doll.

  14. Jennifer @ Conversion Diary says:

    Anne -

    First of all, I can really relate to where you are, and not just because I have a newborn. My oldest was a *terrible* sleeper — I mean, I was (and kind of still am) convinced that there’s never been a baby who slept so poorly. And it was around the 10 month mark that I started to get seriously depressed about it and see just how much it was impacting our lives (feel free to email me if you want to know more of that saga).

    Anyhoo…

    I think that the fear that is behind those middle-of-the-night rants comes from a few things:

    One is fear of future suffering, a dread of just how hard and terrible I imagine that tomorrow is going to be. Another is a some kind of vague fear that if this continues for much longer, I will get pushed past some kind of limit. I don’t even usually clarify what would be involved with getting pushed too far by my circumstances — it’s just a vague feeling that I can’t take much more. There’s also a fear of all the “what if?!”s that come to mind, fears relating to worry about things not unfolding according to my plans. There’s even a sort of irrational fear that God won’t be there — I think I know how it’s all going to play out, and I perceive that my circumstances are going to be too challenging for even God to help me get through it (I know that doesn’t make sense; this is all just stuff that’s in the back of my mind).

    Anyway, those are just some thoughts off the top of my head. Hope that helps clarify it. I also went into it a bit in that first post I linked to at the top of this one.

  15. Jennifer @ Conversion Diary says:

    Oh, and thank you all for your kind comments!

  16. Christine says:

    My idea for lent was the same. My goal: A Christ-centered life. Not fear-centered.

    Easter came around and I was like: I don’t want to stop this. :o)

  17. Allison J. says:

    Thank you so much for this post! It is amazing how God will bring the same message to you over and over from different sources, as if to insist on His love and care for us…my priest just gave me a lesson on not being afraid of God’s plans for me at my last confession.

    I see loving trust as the opposite of fear, and when I am trying to overcome my fears of the future and of abandoning myself to God’s will, I say to myself over and over, at my priest’s recommendation (and St. Faustina’s!), “Jesus, I trust in You.”

  18. Anonymous says:

    Every single syllable of your
    explanation of fear mirrors my thought patterns to a tee.
    Intellectually, which is where I spend most of my time unfortunately,
    I appreciate the concept of
    a ” fearless” existence. And yet, it has never occurred to me to fast from fear. I am going to try a 40 day experiment ( one hour at a time)
    of asking God to take the fear and
    make me at the same time more loving and approachable and less perfectionist. I thank you for this post.

  19. Maggie Dee says:

    I couldn’t begin to tell you how much I needed to hear this today. I’ve been embracing fear this whole last term of school. That’s what is making it sooo difficult. Who would have thunk it! The fear of not passing this last class is truly stressing me out. I’m going to try the 30 day fast from fear too!

    P.S. To all you young Moms out there. It does get easier. I promise! You will sleep again and someday around the corner you’ll be listening to your kids clean the kitchen while you sit with your hubby on the couch. Hang in there! :-)

  20. Elizabeth says:

    I have a friend who needs to read this today. I’m forwarding this to her.

  21. Anonymous says:

    I think a fast from fear is a wonderful idea. I don’t know if I would have thought of it for purposes of Lent. However, I have found in my life that I have been forced to give up fear, because it was almost crippling me in my ability to enjoy anything in life. It’s insidious and feeds on itself and keeps you from feeling joy. I’ve learned to give over each day to God and trust that He won’t throw anything at me that I can’t handle (with His help!). I’ve felt a great sense of peace ever since I came to that decision. I also think that praying the rosary every day has been very important in that process.

    Jen G

  22. Micky says:

    Dear Jennifer,
    “Make a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God, as we understood Him. (Step #11. – Alcoholics Anonymous)”

    The last part of this statement – “as we understood Him” – is enough to damn your soul! God says, Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. (Proverbs 3:5).

    This is the exact opposite of “God as we understood Him.” All men, according to Romans 1:18-32, are condemned before God, because they rely upon their own understanding (Romans 1:21; Ephesians 4:18), “having their understanding darkened” – and they create – in their own darkened minds – a god of their own making (Romans 1:23).

    To encourage people to turn their “lives over to the care of God as we understood Him” is to encourage people to “turn their lives over to a god of their own making” – i.e. according to their own understanding.

    This promotes nothing more than spiritual death (Revelation 22:15).

    In addition, these twelve steps are a deceitful attack against the saving work of the Lord Jesus Christ – i.e. they are against Christ, ANTI – CHRIST, (2 John 7; Colossians 2:8-10).

    Love
    Micky

  23. Anne says:

    Jennifer,
    Thank you so much for explaining. That makes perfect sense. I can definitely relate to fear about being pushed past my limit and fear about God having abandoned me. There have been times when I think about the verse from Paul saying that God will never give us more than we can handle, and I just laugh and think, “Yeah right! I’m clearly not able to handle this, so why would God let this happen?” The big difference is that in my temperament, these anxieties manifest themselves as anger and frustration, so even though I am afraid, I feel angry. Perhaps fight or flight triggers fight in me, but my perfectionism holds me back and I end up paralyzed.

    Your line, “God doesn’t call the equipped, he equips the called,” has been a great comfort to me. There are times when your words are so apropos that it seems like we have the same life. Thank you so much for your reflections. It is a blessing to be able to learn from your experiences and to know that I am not alone.

    God bless you!

  24. ELC says:

    To save time, I’ll just say “ditto” to the first comment @ May 11, 2009 8:54 PM.

  25. Micky says:

    Anne said…
    "I can definitely relate to fear about being pushed past my limit and fear about God having abandoned me."

    Dear Anne,
    My mother put me in a convent when I was two – I never knew my father. I spent the next 14 years in orphanages in England & Australia.

    I discovered alcohol at 16 & pursued it for the next 13 years. I got to AA in 1974, but drank after nearly 11 years sober – marriage break up.

    I had my last drink May 1985 by attending AA, but AA wasn’t dealing with my “core issues” – childhood trauma.

    I started seeing a counsellor in 1994 – Inner Child & E.M.D.R (Eye Movement Desensitisation Reprocessing) – to help me process my fear & pain.

    The next ten years were a journey of discovery – group therapy, anger management & E. M. D. R.

    I started to feel my fear, pain, shame & grief – suppressed from my childhood.

    I had plenty of support from others who were on a similar path. I was given permission – especially from my counsellor – to process my TERROR! Four years ago I was wandering around – mental hospital — completely shattered physically, emotionally and spiritually.

    The mental torment I was experiencing was absolutely terrifying.

    Every waking second, I was having horrifying images from my past. I thought I was being punished for my past sins.

    My whole life flashed before my eyes and I felt I had failed miserably in my journey through life.

    God was slowly penetrating the shield I had put up all those desperate years.

    I had no “I” – that is what God wanted for me, to become Christ cantered, not “I” cantered.

    There is nothing in this world, but the SAVING GRACE of our Lord & Saviour Jesus Christ. He eventually delivered me from my HELL ; when I got down on my knees and asked Him for mercy and forgiveness for my sins.

    Praise the Lord!!

  26. Andrea says:

    I did the same thing for Lent: I gave up Fear. Loved reading your thoughts.

  27. Michelle says:

    I know what you’re saying and I only have two. My oldest was just 16 months old when the new little one came. Now that we’re at nearly 3 months old for the little one it’s getting better. This is exactly what I need to hear right now.

  28. Micky says:

    Dear Jennifer,
    Another fallacy of the atheists is that science cannot explain everything.

    For example, why is there such great love between parents and babies, why is there an attraction between a dog and its owner,

    why do people cry and laugh, why are some people born with the talent to paint beautiful pictures and others are not, etc.

    The list is endless, and only religion, not science, can answer these questions. Why? The answer is because religion is not so much a matter of the mind, but of the heart.

    And since God exists outside of time and space, you can’t prove or disprove the existence of God by putting Him under a microscope.

    Love
    Micky

  29. Carrie says:

    I’m so glad I found this today. I am expecting my 2nd child in December, and I’m very excited, but also nervous, and fearful. I had a very hard emotional adjustment to parenting my first, and a very difficult first few weeks with him – all based on FEAR, like you mentioned in your post. I am going to start trying this experiment, to let go of fear each day, and choose to JUST be excited about the baby and about parenting two children, because I really need to. Thank you for this post.

  30. angela michelle says:

    I’ve been feeling a lot of fear lately about a couple big issues, so I’ve been thinking about this, and how the scriptures say that faith and love are inconsistent with fear. I’m going to try your approach to work each day on trusting God and not fearing regarding the little stuff–in the hopes that this will teach me to trust God and not fear over the big stuff as well.

Trackbacks

Check out what others are saying about this post...
  1. […] usual, it almost always comes down to fear. I have this personality quirk where I’m always worried about doing the wrong thing and […]