SHE’s my horse. She’s adorable. She tries so hard to please, to do the right thing… but Belle is scared of just about everything. Well, that makes two of us.
You see, almost thirty years ago, my only sister was killed in a car accident. From that day on, I began to be afraid of just about everything: afraid to lose those I love, afraid to fail, afraid that I wasn’t pleasing God, and the list goes on. Over the years, that underlying fear has continued to unfold in so many ways… afraid that I might lose my spouse, afraid my kids might be hurt, afraid that those close to me don’t love me, afraid of debt, afraid that I’m always making the wrong decisions… In my ministry, I’ve been afraid to lead others astray, afraid to fail the Lord, and yes, afraid too at times of the billowing black clouds quickly gathering over the world.
In fact, I didn’t realize how afraid I was until Belle and I went to a horse clinic this past weekend. The course was called “Training for Courage.” Out of all the horses, Belle was one of the most apprehensive. Whether it was the wave of a hand, the rustle of a jacket, or the flinch of a crop (stick), Belle was on pins and needles. It was my task to teach her that, with me, she didn’t need to be afraid. That I would be her leader and take care of her in every situation.
There was a tarp lying on the ground to teach horses to be less sensitive to foreign objects around them. I led Belle to it, but she raised her head and wouldn’t take another step forward. She was paralyzed by fear. I said to the clinician, “Okay, so what do I do now? She’s being stubborn and won’t move.” He looked at Belle and then back at me and said, “She ain’t stubborn, she’s scared. There’s nothin’ stubborn about that horse.” Everyone in the arena stopped their horses and turned around and watched. He then took her lead rope, and carefully, patiently helped Belle take one step at a time across the tarp. It was a beautiful thing to see her relax, trust, and do the seemingly impossible.
No one knew it, but I was fighting tears at that moment. Because the Lord was showing me that I was exactly like Belle. That I am needlessly afraid of so many things, and yet, He is my leader; He is right there taking care of me in every situation. No, the clinician didn’t walk Belle around the tarp—he took her right through it. So too, the Lord isn’t going to take away my trials, but He wants to walk with me right through them. He isn’t going to take away the Storm that is here and coming—but He is going to walk you and I right through it.
But we have to trust.
TRUST WITHOUT FEAR
Trust is a funny word because one can still go through the motions that give the appearance of trust, and yet still be afraid. But Jesus wants us to trust and not be afraid.
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. (John 14:27)
So how do I not be afraid? The answer is to take one step at a time. As I watched Belle take a step onto that tarp, she’d take a deep breath, lick her lips, and relax. Then she’d take another step and do the same. This went on for five minutes until she finally took her last step over the tarp. She learned with each step that she was not alone, that the tarp was not going to overwhelm her, that she could do it.
God is faithful and will not let you be tried beyond your strength; but with the trial he will also provide a way out, so that you may be able to bear it. (1 Cor 10:13)
But you see, so many of us look at our trials or the Great Storm that is here, and we start to become very afraid because we begin to calculate how we’re going to get through it all—on our own steam. If the economy collapses, what will happen? Will I starve? Will a plague get me? Will I be martyred? Will they pull my fingernails out? Is Pope Francis leading the Church astray? What about my sick family members? My paycheck? My savings?… and on and on until one is worked up into a frenzy of fear and anxiety. And of course, we think Jesus is asleep in the boat once again. We say to ourselves, “He has abandoned me because I sin too much” or whatever other lie the enemy uses that is a trigger to move us backwards, to pull on the reins of where Christ is leading us.
There are two things Jesus taught that cannot be separated. One is to live one day at a time.
“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life… Do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself. Sufficient for a day is its own evil… And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? (Matt 6:25, 34; Luke 12:25)
This is all Jesus asks of you: one step at a time over this trial because to try and solve it all at once is too much for you to bear. In a letter to Luigi Bozzutto, St. Pio wrote:
Do not fear the dangers you see far ahead… Have a firm overall intention, my son, to want to serve and love God with all your heart, and beyond that do not take thought for the future. Just think about doing good today, and when tomorrow comes, it will be called today, and then you can think about it. —November 25th, 1917, Padre Pio’s Spiritual Direction for Every Day, Gianluigi Pasquale, p. 109
And this applies to those small daily trials that suddenly derail your current direction. Again, one step at a time. Take a deep breath, and take one more step. But as I said, Jesus doesn’t want you to be afraid, taking steps in anxiety. And so He also says:
Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest.
In other words, come to me all you who are under the yoke of anxiety, fear, doubt and worry.
Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for your selves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light. (Matt 11:28-30)
Jesus has already told us what the easy yoke is: to live one day at a time, to “seek first the kingdom”, the duty of the moment, and leave the rest to Him. But what He wants us to have is a “meek and humble” heart. A heart that doesn’t keep pulling back on the reins, rearing and bucking as it cries out “Why? Why? Why?!”… but rather a heart that takes one step at a time, a heart that says, “Okay Lord. Here I am at the foot of this tarp. I wasn’t expecting this nor do I want it. But I will do this because your Holy Will has allowed it to be here.” And then take the next-right-step. Just one. And when you feel at peace, His peace, take the next step.
You see, Jesus isn’t necessarily going to take away your trial, just as the Storm that is now upon our world is not going away. However, the storm that Jesus wants to calm foremost is not the external suffering, but the storm of fear and waves of anxiety that are truly the most crippling. Because that little storm in your heart is what robs you of peace and steals away joy. And then your life becomes a storm around others, sometimes a great storm, and Satan gains another victory because you become another Christian who is as anxious, uptight, compulsive and divisive as everyone else.
YOU ARE NOT ALONE
Never believe that you are alone. This is a terrible lie that is absolutely baseless. Jesus promised that He would be with us until the end of time. And even if He hadn’t made that promise, we would still believe it to be true since the Scriptures tell us that God is love.
Love could never abandon you.
Can a mother forget her infant, be without tenderness for the child of her womb? Even should she forget, I will never forget you. (Isaiah 49:15)
He who is Love will never leave you. Just because He has led you to the foot of a tarp does not mean that He has left you. In fact, it is often a sign precisely that He is with you.
Endure your trials as “discipline”; God treats you as sons. For what “son” is there whom his father does not discipline? (Heb 12:7)
This does not mean, however, that Jesus is going to appear to you or that you are going to sensibly feel His presence. The Lord often manifests His providence through another. For example, I have received so many letters this past month that it has become almost impossible to reply to them all. There have been so many words of encouragement, words of knowledge, words of comfort. The Lord has been preparing me to take the next step over the tarp, and He has done so through your love. Also, my spiritual director asked me to pray a Novena to Our Lady Undoer of Knots this week, to undo the knot of fear that has frequently paralyzed me the past few weeks. I cannot tell you now powerful this devotion has been. So many tears of healing as Our Lady is undoing decades of knots right before my eyes. (If you feel tied up in knots, whatever they are, I strongly urge you to turn to one of the Lord’s greatest consolations: His Mother and ours, most especially through this devotion.) cf. www.theholyrosary.org/maryundoerknots
Last, and I mean truly last, I too am here with you. I have often felt that my life is meant to be a little stony path for others to walk on. I have failed God so many times, but just as many times He has shown me how to keep going, and these things I share with you. In fact, I hold little back. If you are looking for a holy and noble saint, this is the wrong place. If you are looking for someone who is willing to walk with you, who is scarred and bruised too, then you have found a willing companion. Because despite everything, I am going to keep following Jesus, by His grace, over and through this Great Storm. We are not going to compromise truth here, brothers and sisters. We are not going to water down our doctrines here. We are not going to concede our Catholic Faith when He gave everything upon the Cross to secure it. By His grace, this little flock will follow the Good Shepherd where He leads us… up and over this tarp, this Great Storm. How are we going to get through it?
But first, we must let Him calm the storms of our hearts…
He hushed the storm to silence, the waves of the sea were stilled. They rejoiced that the sea grew calm, that God brought them to the harbor they longed for. Let them thank the Lord for his mercy… (Psalm 107:29-31)
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