The kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent are taking it by force. (Matthew 11:12)
My fallen nature is anxious and fearful. Although I’m not certain that this is accurate, I’ve heard the Bible says “Do not be afraid,” in one form or another, 365 times. That’s once for each day of the year. That sounds like a command to me. That doesn’t sound optional to me. If God is asking this of me, then he must be giving me the grace to do it. So why can’t I stop being anxious and afraid? The answer lies in my fallen nature. My fallen nature will not trust God, but seeks to satisfy its needs, concerns, worries and anxieties in all sorts of wrong and even sinful ways. In order to overcome my fallen nature, I must go against that nature, I must do it violence. Fr. Chad Ripperger of the Archdiocese of Denver says that violence is “anything that goes against the nature of a thing.” I must commit violence, that which goes against my fallen nature, to the worrywart in me in order for me to “take” the Kingdom of Heaven. If I do this violence, I will allow my true nature, what God designed me to be, to live and thrive and do His holy will. My fallen nature, that part of me that fears, that wants to control situations and manipulate people in order to quell that fear, needs to suffer violence in order to give way to my true nature.
FEAR: False Evidence Appearing Real
God says, ‘Fear not. I am with you.” In order to “fear not” I need to do violence to my patterns of life, especially my thought life and word life. I should not speak my fears as if they were forgone conclusions. Instead, I should speak words of faith and trust. I should not speak my “evil forebodings,” “what’s-ifs” and “oh, no’s.” These thoughts and words are temptations, some generated by my own faulty thought patterns, some instilled by our enemy. All are temptations to despair, to think that everything is dependent on me, instead of acknowledging that I need only do God’s will because He is ultimately in charge of everything anyway.
God is with me. When these temptations come, I should speak the truth of God’s Word over my life and situations. I should speak what I hope will be such as, “I am not afraid; my God is with me!” Asking the Holy Spirit’s help, I can speak a verse that comes to mind, or one I have memorized to counter such thoughts when they come, or I can simply speak the truth counter to my thoughts.
Perhaps I am seeing a certain pattern in one of my children’s lives. My worrisome-momma-bear mind goes seventeen steps ahead and sees that child, dead in a gutter because of this slight pattern of wrong decisions or venial sins. Instead of tripping down this trail of doom, I remind myself, out loud if possible, that this child is not only my beloved, but even more is God’s beloved child, whom He has a good plan for, a plan for a future full of blessing, not woe. I remind myself that this child is being given the gift of learning the faith, and has been planted with the seeds of the Sacraments that, though they may lie dormant for a time, will ripen and grow in God’s time. I remind myself of my own prodigal days and how God, in His mercy and grace, brought me home to faith and His path for my life before I ended up dead in that gutter myself.
The point is not so much to have the perfect battle plan for each occasion of my fallen nature’s “brain attacks.” The point is simply to acknowledge the need for the battle, the need to do violence, in the first place. If I can train myself to catch my worry cycles as soon as they begin, to pray to the Holy Spirit, and respond with whatever prayer and action He inspires, I can begin to retrain that fallen nature away from fear toward trust in God.
Sanctification Isn’t Pretty
Of whom should I be afraid? Jesus is right here with me to love me, to deliver me, to protect me, and, most of all in this life, to sanctify me. Sometimes when I try to stop the worry cycle, I am more successful than at other times. Sometimes I can spend a whole night, rosary in hand, just saying over and over again, “I trust you, Lord. Mary, help me to trust your Son,” or other such simple prayers. Sometimes this “violence” leaves me feeling bleary and, well, violated. I do not awake feeling like a victorious Christian soldier having taken a fresh battlefield for my Lord. Sometimes, I get up feeling like an old dishrag that the enemy has used to mop the floor. But because I have tried, because I have not run away from the battle and gone into full blown panic mode that leads to foolish actions, bad decisions and poorly chosen words, I know that there is victory hidden on this field. It is an ugly, messy victory that I place at my Lord’s feet, grateful that that is one more night I will not have to live again. It is a victory of trust. It doesn’t feel great, but that’s okay. We are not to navigate the spiritual life based on our feelings. And when in places of discouragement like this, we are not to change course, but keep doing what we’ve already been “assigned” to do according to our vocation, and what we know is the way of trust according to our life as a Christian. It is a suffering, but not without purpose. It is a sanctification. All that I suffer in this life is meant to sanctify me, that is, to bring me closer to Jesus, to bring me Cruciform.
My tendency in stressful times, fearful times is to go “fetal,” to curl up in a little ball and wish the world would just go away. But going fetal is turning my back on what God is doing here and now, on what He is asking me to do and asking me to become. I am not in the womb anymore, but in the world. I am in the world, but I am made for heaven. So, I must not turn back to “fetal” but move forward to Cruciform – wide open, arms akimbo, feet firmly planted in the present moment, willing to receive and, yes, to suffer what God allows now. I am being made for heaven, so I must be wide open to life. Fear does not allow this. Fear moves me back to fetal. I must do violence to the fallen Suellen who wants to go back to fetal. There is no going back, only forward. I am “born again” by the waters of Baptism to put to death all that is not of God in me. I have long ago moved from the womb where fetal made sense. It is time to go Cruciform in readiness for receiving all of this life and the next.
God is in control of everything. He is all powerful. He is my Savior. He is my friend. What else do I need? All I need do is use the grace He gives for this moment, to mentally stay in it, bind all of those “what-ifs” and “oh no’s” in my mind, and let Him control the things to come. All of my adult life has been about letting go. I’ve been holding so tight that I am in the fetal position when I’m meant to be Cruciform, wide open to grace and mercy, and yes, even wounding and death. But God is with me. I am not to fear. I’m a pilgrim here. Why not go through in a pilgrim blaze of His glory, Cruciform, right into His arms?
Solitude Versus Isolation
A new tactic the enemy has been using against me, with a ridiculous amount of success, is to tempt me to isolate myself from my friends, from fellowship. In a state of discouragement recently, I started to feel spiritually contagious, leprous. I didn’t want to be around people because I didn’t want to infect them with what ails me. I ran into a dear friend and my instinct was to back away slowly from her cheerful, warm smile. I wasn’t cheerful. I didn’t want to bring her down. I didn’t want her to take this back to her own family. I felt I needed to stay away until I was “in a better place.” But this was a trick of the enemy. Catholic author, Mark Mallett, writes about it. Recently, he believed he was going into solitude to clear his mind and heart, to reconnect with Jesus. While this was true, simultaneously the enemy was pulling him away from the herd, circling like a wolf, ready to pounce. Mark writes:
It’s only in hindsight that I understand now the difference between solitude and isolation. Solitude is a place in the soul, alone with God, where we can hear His voice, dwell in His presence, and let Him heal us. One can be in solitude in the middle of the market place. But isolation is a place of loneliness and despair. It is the place of self-deception where our egos keep us company, stoked by the one who comes as a Wolf in sheep’s clothing.
In isolating myself I had become an injured, leprous, lone wolf, who didn’t want to infect anyone. I fell right into the enemy’s plans. I believed I was protecting my friends, but the truth was, I didn’t want anyone to see how unable to trust Jesus I was, and I am. I didn’t want to cry in the presence of my hope-filled friends. The truth is pride was at the heart of my fallen nature, yet again.
By doing this ugly, messy battle, and constantly asking for Jesus’ mercy and Mary’s help, God was gracious to reveal to me my own wounds, yes, but more, my pride. I wanted to struggle through it alone. I didn’t want to bother anyone, or more truthfully, I didn’t want to be seen as a bother. But I am a bother. I am a clamoring, needing, struggling ball of humanity, and sometimes that means I have to “bother” my friends.
Through prayer, the Sacraments (especially Confession), I realized what I was doing and how my violence against my fallen, fearful nature was doomed, unless I was willing to fight at the side of my God-given allies, my friends in Christ.
A Friend in Need
Yes, I need to do violence to gain the Kingdom, but this Kingdom is never gained alone! It is gained in the company of angels and saints and brothers and sisters in Christ! When we, God willing, go to heaven, we will not be living some “God and me” euphoria, but fully alive in the Communion of Saints. For those of us who tend towards isolation that goes beyond healthy solitude, this means we must strive to let go of our fetal aloneness and go Cruciform in opening ourselves up to our holy striving friends.
They are a gift from God. We are here to help each other along this rocky pathway. It’s not always easy or pretty. Sometimes it’s downright gritty and rude. But it’s honest and its end is total union with Jesus our love and our Lord.
I think God is giving me a bit of a breather right now. But in this spiritual training called life, those breathers never last long. I’m thankful for the chance to relax into this Cruciform and see how good God was to me through this mini dark night he has just brought me through. Through it all I see how His peace grows slowly in my heart, and never really leaves, contrary to my vacillating feelings. It is a peace in the storm, a peace amidst uncertainty, a peace that knows His love is enduring no matter what the circumstances of my life are. And that is a peace worth doing violence for.