Fear

Fear is the mindkiller. I’ve always loved the prayer of the Bene Gesserit sisterhood from Frank Herbert’s Dune. It’s useful in many situations, but it is also a wonderful reminder that making decisions from fear is a bad idea, pure and simple. Nonetheless we make a lot of decisions based on fear. The fear of failing. The fear of rejection. The fear of being alone. The fear of dying. The fear of losing someone or something that we love. Rational fears, like a man standing in front of me holding a gun, and irrational fears, like toe-snipping crabs that fill the sand just under the incoming tide. We allow fear to rule our lives, and generally that fear is based on one thing: pain. Even the fear of loss (like the fear of a family member dying) is based on fear of the pain that loss will bring.

We fear known dangers such as drug-dealers, crazy snipers (I’m sure I’m not the only one who remembers the DC sniper), terrorist attacks, rising living costs, and lower wages. We fear the unknown. Will the girl I want to ask out say yes or no? Will I get the job I want? Will anyone ever love me? Will I ever be able to pay off my student loans? We fear things that we have no real reason to fear like spiders (very few of which can actually do significant harm to an adult human), roaches, or rain. And we fear things that we have very real reason to fear. Nonetheless, it still comes back to fear. Will I allow myself to be ruled by fear, or will I exercise a little trust?

Admittedly, there is a valid argument that wisdom must at least listen to fear (the beginning of wisdom is the fear of the Lord afterall). To live entirely without fear, without caution, and without reserve generally leads to an early grave. However, there is a difference between listening to fear and being ruled by fear. We are to display trust, and trusting God means following him even when I am afraid. This is not an easy thing to do in the best of times, it is certainly not easy when much of our culture (both left and right) is based on fear-mongering. If you want something new to be afraid of simply turn on the news. I promise some new threat is looming right around the corner. If that’s not enough, then start asking hard questions of yourself and find the very real fear that lies in challenging your beliefs. There is always an argument that can make you question even the most deeply held beliefs, and these are the arguments that we should face head on and explore until we have found understanding.

We can always find something to be afraid of and, if we allow it, that fear will rule our hearts like a tyrannical despot rules his nation. It will crush us, drive us to rash action, to foolish choices, and eventually either to destruction, to madness, or to both. There is a famous saying that the only thing we have to fear is this very fear that threatens to overwhelm us. I would wager that few of us know who to attribute this saying to (before I did a little research I would have mistakenly attributed it to John F. Kennedy), and I would wager much more that even fewer could tell where the quote come from or recite the entire quote itself.

In his first inaugural address in 1933 Franklin Delano Roosevelt (still one of my favorite presidents) said, “So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.” Roosevelt uttered these words in the midst of the greatest economic crisis that this nation has ever faced, and a humane crisis that one could argue rivaled the Civil War. Roosevelt called to a people, many of whom were jobless, homeless, and starving. In a time when people had many very real fears, Roosevelt called them to cast those fears aside and march together into the future.

He also said this, “Yet our distress comes from no failure of substance. We are stricken by no plague of locusts. Compared with the perils which our forefathers conquered because they believed and were not afraid, we have still much to be thankful for.” During a time in which many people had nothing, Roosevelt reminded them what they did have. He did not berate them for their fear, nor did he encourage them to believe that everything was alright, or even that it would be alright. In fact, he even called out the ‘foolish optimists’ who did. Instead, he reminded them of what they still had, and encouraged them to endure, and not only to endure, but to fight for a better world. Roosevelt was far from a perfect man, and he certainly was not a perfect president, but his words hold within them a truth that applies to all people in all times.

The key to overcoming fear is not to foolishly assume that the reasons for our fears aren’t valid. It is to see what we still have, and what we will still have even if the worst should come to pass. Christ commanded us to lay our burdens on him, to rely on God for our very sustenance, to put our eyes on him, instead of on the things of this world, and it’s something that I’m getting better at as I practice. My hope and my life lie in the hands of the father, and even if none of the things that I desire come to pass, even if all of the things that I fear come to pass, this will still be true. Thus, I have nothing to fear but to be driven by fear. Fear is the mindkiller.

Where Do I Want to Be in Five Years?

I’ve been avoiding this question for a long time. Not because I don’t know the answer (honestly the answer hasn’t changed much over the past decade), but because I didn’t believe it was possible. This question has been a source of pain to me, and so I ran away from it. Now, however, I find that the answer is changing. Not entirely, there are some aspects that are still the same, but others have been added, and some have been removed, and the priorities have shifted some I think. So, where do I want to be in five years?

In order of importance:

1) I want to be stronger in my relationship with God. To put a more specific goal on this, I would like to be entering St. Teresa’s sixth mansion. St. Teresa of Avila wrote a book called Interior Castle or The Mansions in which she delineates the spiritual experience of the Christian into seven ‘mansions’ that she describes in depth. At a guess I think that I am somewhere in her third or fourth mansion right now (not sure about that though, it’s a very subjective judgment and I don’t entirely trust myself). In five years I would like to be at least at the doorway to her sixth mansion, if not inside it.

2) I want to be content with wherever God has brought me. This could wind up precluding all of the goals that follow it, honestly. God has taken me many places that I didn’t want to go over the past thirteen years, and I don’t really expect that to stop. However, wherever God has me in fives years, whatever he has me doing, I want to be happy about it. I’ve written before about the fact that happiness has never really been a goal in my life. Well, now I’m making it one. However, as I said then, happiness doesn’t come simply from getting the things I want. I want to have eudaimonia, wherever I am.

3) I want to be married. I’ve said several times that I’m finally happy being single, and that’s true. God has me in a time of romantic solitude at the moment, and I’m finally learning to be okay with that. This is a wonderful thing. However, the desire to have a mate hasn’t left me. I am content to be single, but I still believe that God has someone for me, and that I will find that person someday. I hope that in five years this time of solitude will be over and God will have brought me that person. Maybe not, and if not then see goal number 2, but I hope that he will.

4) I want to be teaching. I’m already teaching, and I love teaching. This is a goal that I’ve already achieved and I don’t want that to change. However, as a sub-goal, I would like to be consistently making $30,000 a year teaching. Given my degrees that’s a little bit harder :P. We’ll see if that’s what God has planned for me. If not, then I think I’m already okay with that. Eudaimonia is not based on income. As another sub-goal, I would like to be out of debt on my credit card (this is actually a short-term goal), and have a significant portion of my student loans paid off.

5) I want to be in the middle of a doctoral program. Given my current academic standing I think five years is a realistic goal for this. I am sure that I’ll need to do a second master’s program before I can even be considered for any of the doctoral programs that I want to pursue. However, a two year masters starting say, fall of 2014, would land me in my second year of a doctoral program five years from now, if things go well. Again, I’m not entirely sure if this is where God is taking me. I want it to be, and there are a few people pushing me in this direction, but I’m not sure if it is. If not… well, I guess see goal two above.

So, this is where I want to be in five years. As I said, goals 1 and 2 trump everything else, and I am fully aware that achieving goal 2 might mean giving up goals 3, 4, and 5, but I have peace with that (right now at least). Making long-term plans is, in all honesty, difficult for me. I’ve seen too many plans and goals turn to dust, and I can’t explain how painful that is. Honestly, I’m not even going to try. Still, God has used that pain to make me a better person, a better man, and a better Christian.

Have you ever read the book Dune? It’s a phenomenal novel. Honestly, I’d argue that it’s the best science fiction novel ever written. Anyway, in Dune there is a prayer… well, they call it a prayer, really it’s more of a mantra… that the Bene Gesserit sisters use:

“I will not fear. Fear is the mindkiller. It is the little death that proceeds complete oblivion. I will let my fear pass over me and through me, and I will turn my inner eye to follow its path. When my fear has gone, there will be nothing. Only I will remain.”

I use this mantra on a regular basis, and with a little adaptation it can be equally applied to either physical or spiritual pain:

“I will not hurt. Pain is the mindkiller. It is the little death that leads me to oblivion. I will let my pain pass over me and through me, and I will turn my inner eye to follow its path. When my pain has gone, there will be nothing. Only God will remain.”

God leads us through times of pain and fear in order to stretch us, to grow us, and to draw us to himself. This is, after all, the primary goal of the Christian life, and so I will rely on God to scare me, to hurt me, and to take care of me when he does. I want to achieve the goals that I’ve listed above. They represent my hearts deepest desires. I often think of them as roses that I’ve sheltered and cared for through many terrible storms. Honestly, there have been times when they withered to the point that I thought they would die, but slowly, and with a lot of help, they’ve always been nurtured back to health. However, I have yet to see them bloom, and I truly, deeply want to.