This post is part of our Easter series on the Seven Joys of Mary. Fear and freedom are in conflict, and God calls us to surrender our fears to Him, to embrace the freedom He has for us. This surrender isn’t easy. Our own fears and the Enemy try to draw us back. But in this meditation, Lisa reflects on the necessity of opening our hearts to God’s plan for our lives.
For much of my life I have had an unhealthy relationship with fear. During the trauma of my childhood, fear was used to control, manipulate, and silence me. Too much for my little brain to handle, my mind repressed memories to protect me and created imaginary places and ways to escape that felt safe. That defense mechanism worked for about fifteen years, until I went away to Franciscan University.
In the Spring semester of my freshman year, I remember going to Mass one night, where the Lord was deeply speaking to my heart. I knew that I needed to go to confession. In the confessional, as I was about to begin, I could barely get out, “bless me Father, for I have sinned,” before I was silenced once again. I was battling demons, literally, to try and bring into the light some of the deep things that had been hidden. The priest was so patient and loving towards me, and we worked through that confession together. Afterwards, for what felt like the first time, I experienced a deep sense of freedom through forgiveness. Not just in receiving the Lord’s forgiveness for my failings, but in realizing that I also needed to forgive myself.
I felt like I had wings to fly! And I experienced a great closeness with the Lord. I wanted to be near Him. I felt so loved.
Back in my dorm, where there was a chapel on my wing, I went to visit the Lord before bedtime. As I sat before Jesus hidden in the tabernacle, a series of flashes came to my mind. I began to remember things from my childhood, things my brain had never connected before. And in those moments, I suddenly knew that I had been traumatized through sexual abuse. Nobody knew it because I was silenced through threats. And the ways that my fear and anxiety manifested as a child were attributed to me being a “worry wart,” or other non-related issues. Without a voice, I wanted to become invisible. Misunderstood, I believed and tried to do what I was told: just ignore the hurtful people, get over it, and don’t worry so much.
Decades later, I’m continuing the deep and purposeful work of my heart. To let the Lord reveal and undo these lies and the effects that they have had on my mind, heart, and relationships with myself, God, and others.
Abuse, in whatever form, uses fear as a weapon. It beats victims of abuse into submission, while telling us that we deserve it, that it is our fault. Then it surrounds us in a fence of shame and guilt to enclose, cut off, and make us powerless. To further complicate it, abuse hides under the guise of love—as abusers draw in their victims to and try to convince us that their actions are acceptable and justifiable, and that it is what we must put up with in order to be “loved.” Over time, that breaks us down further, distorting our identity. In confusion, the lies then become what we perceive as truth: We deserve what we get, even if that is pain, because we are worthless.
Abuse also distorts our views on relationships. While we long for connection, we do not feel safe, so our interactions in relationships can vacillate between extremes without us even realizing it. We either can’t trust others and need to self-protect, keeping everyone at a comfortable distance. Or we allow others in, and since we lack true understanding of our self-worth, we can become like magnets for more abuse. If we perceive being taken advantage of, our fight or flight kicks in, so watch out! We put up with more than we should, since being used and/or mistreated seems to be part of relationships. Because of our buried feelings of worthlessness, we may struggle to create boundaries and stand up for ourselves. In our enduring vulnerability, little things hurt us deeply. That can lead to a victim mentality where we cannot tolerate injustice, we blame others for everything that is wrong, and we demand respect from others even while we may be disrespecting them. In that case, boundaries are created to protect and hide behind. All the while, we can be clueless to our self-sabotaging, because we’ve learned to disassociate from our feelings and pain or project them.
But for the Christian, there is another way. A way that is not rooted in fear, but love.
There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and he who fears is not perfected in love.”1 John 4:18
This perfect love of Christ is hard to comprehend, especially for those of us with distortions, wounds, and trauma associated with love. And then there is the Devil, the deceiver, who wants nothing more than to accuse God and sow seeds of mistrust in our hearts. What kind of love is this? How can love desire to create a safe place for your heart to know and accept you as you are? Surely, you need to prove yourself worthy. But you are not! And I wouldn’t try being vulnerable again because look what happened before. God let that happen to you, so you can’t trust Him, and you must’ve deserved it. Once you let your guard down, and He sees who you really are, then that’s it. He’ll let you down like He and the others you trusted before. You will be hurt again, abandoned, or worst of all, found unlovable.
Those lies from the Devil always drive us away from love to fear, because fear is his most powerful weapon. When we are afraid, we’re not rooted in God’s love. So, instead of operating out of trust and the belief that all things will work for our good, we grapple for control because that is what we’ve been taught gives us security. But that is a false sense of security because we can’t be in control always and everywhere. Trying to maintain control is exhausting, and ultimately hurts us because it doesn’t provide what our hearts truly need—love—but instead sustains an illusion that we chase until we are so empty, isolated, and broken that we feel beyond Christ’s reach. The truth is that we can never outrun the arms of mercy. God’s love is always ready to receive us. His love comes when we say yes, and open our hearts to Him, regardless of how we feel or what we believe.
The love of God illuminates—it brings things to the light. But it also is a place of refuge, where we can hide ourselves and abide with Him. This isn’t a general, one-size-fits-all kind of love. No, He loves each one of us as the unique individuals He created us to be. As our Creator and Father, God’s knows exactly the kind of love that each child needs, and when and how we need it. And that love always seeks to restore us back to our true identity, which is wholeness in Christ.
As I continue my journey, God reveals more parts of my heart to me that need His perfect love. And as I do, I’m trying to learn from the fearful parts of myself. To look at them and not berate and bemoan them, but to try and befriend them. To acknowledge that they came as a result of not being loved the way that God intended. And to forgive myself for the times that I have fallen short or not loved as I ought. It hurts, and it’s hard work, as God expands my heart in those hardened or hurt places. But I don’t do it alone. I have my husband, therapist, spiritual director, our LWGL community, and some dear friends and family on whom I can lean, confide in, and who pray with and for me.
God is not surprised or angered by our fear, because He knows that is human. If you read the Bible, you’ll get daily reminders to be not afraid because it is written 365 times throughout the Scripture. Why? Because He knows us. He knows everything that we’ve been through and where He’s leading us. But our fears and free will can thwart His love and plans for us if we let them. The irony is that often the things that terrify us cause us to grow and thrive. But our flesh wants comfort, so, it is up to us to decide what we ultimately want. Do we want control and comfort, or do we want to give God our yes and step out in faith with Him? It’s okay to be scared. My friend used to tell me, “Do it scared!”
Greater freedom and deeper love lie on the other side of fear. But it is scary to die to ourselves. We fear going into the dark places because of the unknown. A whole other set of fears come up when we can’t see where we are going or know what we are doing. What if we push past the fear, and then our worst fears are realized? What then? Will we be able to survive it? Will we come out of it, or will we get sucked into fear’s black hole?
Our fearful selves spiral when they do not have control and are not rooted in the truth is of who God is and who He created us to be. The truth is God is trustworthy and knows where He is leading, and He knows what He is doing. He will be as gentle as He can be, as He always does things for our good. The truth is that we are His beloved. He delights in us, and He has a specific purpose and plan for each of our lives.
There are many ways to work through fear, and lots of self-help books and practices available. But remember, nothing can replace the power of prayer and the Sacraments. If in your pain or trauma, you’ve been unable to pray, or you’ve been away from the Church or the Sacraments, that’s ok. God always waits with outstretched arms, ready to welcome you back any time. Don’t confuse the Devil’s lies, and nagging feelings of doubt, fear, and shame with the relentless, merciful, everlasting love of God.
At my pace, and in my own way, I am continuing along my path with the Lord. I want to stand in freedom and love. I desire to give my yes more readily to God, as I know that each yes paves the way to casting out a bit more fear and allowing myself to live more in His perfect love. I’ve been learning that don’t need to be perfect, but His love perfects me over time by grace. And seeking to ask God, “What do you want of me, Lord? What is your plan for this? What does Your Heart want for me?” When He reveals it, and with each yes, my heart opens a bit more, as I take the next best step. And He affirms along the way what I need—that I am safe, known, and loved. When I stand in Christ’s love and truth, it helps me surrender to His will and trust Him, regardless of the circumstances. And that brings me the true peace and comfort that the world cannot give.
Let’s end with a prayer that God pressed on my heart for us those of us battling fear.
Lord, draw me deeper into Your perfect love and freedom.
As You do, help me open my heart and hands to give my fiat to You, despite my fears.
When the fear rises, as it will, calm my tendency to run, fight, or hide.
Give me the grace to sit with You in my fear.
Help me embrace stillness and allow you to probe my heart.
Reveal and heal the roots of my fearful self.
When I am afraid, give me courage. Let Your strength rise up in me.
Help me to trust You and surrender my desire for control.
Lead me, in Your time and way, onward in love.