February 22 | comments icon 1 COMMENT     print icon print

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Let love cure your anxieties

Fr Ronald Rolheiser

We are forever fearful that we have no substance, nothing of lasting value, no immortality. We fear that we might ultimately disappear.

Jesus called this anxiety and frequently cautions us against giving into this fear. It is interesting to note that, for Jesus, the opposite of faith is not doubt or atheism, but anxiety, a certain fear, a certain insecurity. What, more precisely, is this fear

At one level, Jesus makes it clear: We are too anxious, He tells us, about our physical needs. We are also too anxious about how we are perceived, about having a good name and about being respected in the community. We see this in His warning about how we are to imitate the lilies of the field in their trust in God and his multiple warnings about not doing things to be seen by others as being good. But we are always anxious about these things, all of us, and our fear here is not necessarily unhealthy. Nature and God have programmed us to have these instincts, though Jesus invites us to move beyond them.

More deeply, beyond our anxiety for our physical needs and our good name, we nurse a much deeper fear. We are fearful about our very substance. We are fearful that, in the end, we are really only, as the author of Ecclesiastes puts it, vanity, vapour, something insubstantial blown away in the wind. That is the ultimate anxiety. We have an irrevocable drive for immortality, to get into the gene pool. For us, that takes on multiple forms: Plant a tree. Have a child. Write a book. In essence, leave some indelible mark on this planet. Guarantee your own immortality. Make sure you

cannot be forgotten. But, as Jesus, often and gently, points out, we cannot do this for ourselves. No success, no monument, no fame, no tree, no child, and no book, will give ultimately still the anxiety for substance and immortality inside us. Only God can do that.

We see one of Jesus’ gentle reminders of this in the Gospels when the disciples come back to Him buoyed-up by the success of a mission and share with Him the wonderful things they have done. He shares their joy, but then, in essence, gently reminds them: Real consolation does not lie in success, even if it is for the Kingdom. Real consolation lies in knowing that our ‘names are written in Heaven,’ that God has each of us individually, lovingly, and irrevocably, locked into His radar screen. Real consolation lies in recognising that we do not have to create our own substance and immortality. God has already done this for us.

But because we are anxious and fearful we try, as St Paul puts it, ‘to boast,’ that is, to create for ourselves some immortal mark. Classical Protestant spirituality, following St Paul, would say that we are forever attempting to ‘justify ourselves,’ to write our own names in Heaven, through our attempts to immortalise ourselves.

How do we move beyond this? Where can we find the trust to give up on fear and anxiety, especially to move beyond the ceaseless pressure inside us to create some kind of immortality for ourselves?

Only love casts out fear and our deepest fear can only be cast out by the deepest love of all. To give up on anxiety and on our need to create substance and immortality for ourselves we need to know unconditional love. Unconditional love gives us substance and immortality. Gabriel Marcel once said that to love another person is to say to him or her: You, at least, will never die.

But unconditional love, this side of eternity, is not easily found. God loves us unconditionally, but, most times, we are too wounded—emotionally, psychologically, and morally—to be able to existentially appropriate that. Simply put, it is hard to believe that God loves us when it seems no one else does and we struggle to love ourselves. No wonder we are habitually anxious and forever trying to in some way earn love through some kind of measuring-up or standing-out.

So what is the cure? What will cure our fear and anxiety is a deeper surrender to love, both in terms of our intimacy with those we love in this world and in terms of our intimacy with God. But that surrender requires taking a deep risk. What is the risk? To be continued.

 

— www.ronrolheiser.com

 

 

Comments - One Response

  1. Searcher says:

    Dear Fr. Ron,
    Please continue this article as many people like me who are struggling with this kind of anxiety for many years are looking for an answer from God. I am willing to take the deep risk if it’s for my healing, deepening faith and spiritual growth. If God wills it.
    Thank you.

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