All fear is a paper tiger, my dear friends. All of it. If something you fear is drawing near you, some suffering, pain, or torment- if it’s coming to you like a ghost across the water- know it is our perfect, All-Knowing and All- Loving Lord that can lead us to a higher path.
– Father Stephen Mathewes, “Do Not Be Afraid” Homily, Aug 21, 2016
We’ve had a stretch of weeks that have been difficult, to say the least. They just are what they are. The circumstances underlying why they’ve been hard won’t change any time soon. We all face seasons like this, some of us longer than others, some deeper than others. All you can do, essentially, is to continue to live. To put one foot in front of the other, to take one breath after another, to string one prayer after another. Fear tends to stop us in our tracks. I think I’ve gotten stuck more times than not in the last two years, holding my breath.
My dear friend, mentor, and chrismating priest, Father Stephen Mathewes, gave a homily on fear this past Sunday. Tuning in with my children on Monday morning as we began our school day on a very rough morning, we all sat quietly and listened to the broadcast as part of our morning’s school work in religious studies. We tend to draw or color quietly (all of us, even me!) as we listen to his homilies. As Fr. Steve joked with the congregation at the opening, we all laughed along, noting with glee the laughter of a dear friend in the background, as this church family was our own for nearly two years before we moved. Father Steve began into his homily and the children kept scribbling furiously at their drawings. I, however, found my hand dropping from my sketch as I leaned in to catch every word. Eventually my pencil rolled on the floor.
I’ve been having a lot of arguments with myself about fear over the last month or so, and I was rather shocked to hear that Fr. Steve had apparently been listening in on my inner dialogue. His answers were pretty bang on the money, my friends. Funny how that works. (It’s a good quick listen if you have ten minutes or so!)
Given what I’ve gone through in the last two years, I realize that so often fear has overtaken me quicker than I can recognize it coming, and it’s not till I’m in over my head that I sort of gasp for air and let go of the breath I’ve been holding. I wondered about this as I listened to Father speak. What sort of radar might I have, what sort of an early warning system could I put in place? A “you need to pray NOW” blazing sign, if one could be had? It puzzled me.
Picking up my pencil off the floor as Father finished his remarks, the answer was quite literally staring me in the face. Little delicate flowers stared up at me from the page.
There’s reams and reams of commentary in the world about creating and fear- about how fear and perfectionism block us from getting to the page. I absolutely agree with them. But also ask any creator, and they’ll tell you that they create because they can’t not create. It’s like ants in their pants.
I know the feeling well.
I also know how destitute my life has been of creating in the last two years.
It’s no mistake that within the last month and a half I’ve sketched, painted, collaged, and scrapbooked more pages than nearly the last five years combined. While our life is still quite difficult, the children’s health has finally stabilized, giving us all more time to think, to sleep, to dream, to just be. Fear has a much harder foothold to find now.
It’s my giant neon sign: if I’m not creating for days, weeks on end, I’m holding my breath. If I’m holding my breath, I am not abiding in Christ, and fear has stopped me in my tracks. Creating helps me push back the darkness and take a deep breath. I won’t ever starve myself of it again, if I can help it.
Dear friend, you may not be wired as I am, but I’d bet you’ve got a early warning system you might not have considered yet. Maybe you love to read but there just hasn’t been time. Maybe your brain fog clears when you’ve taken a long hike, but it’s been months since you’ve strapped on your boots. I’m not sure what it might be, but I think you’ll be able to identify it by how starved you feel when you don’t have it. If it’s missing, if you’re starving, your PRAY NOW sign is blinking a bright, startling red. It’s your sign to remember Who is holding you, to take a deep breath, and to shred that paper tiger that’s got you all wrapped up. Ask me how I know.