Fear and Inaction

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The Scriptures are full of these earthy, country wisdoms. They are pithy statements that reveal so much more than we often expect. I love this one in particular, because it helps me to understand something that is all too common in our shared human experience. If all I do is navel gaze, I will never accomplish anything in this life. But, the fact of the matter is that over-thinking things, or assigning too much importance to things outside of our control, in other words, wind-heeding, and cloud watching, gives us ʺconvenientʺ excuses for not having accomplished what we should have. We can, without any sense of irony, blame such external things for our failures: ʺIt was too windy to sow.ʺ Or, ʺIt looked like rain, that’s why I didn’t go out to reap.ʺ It is very hard to admit to ourselves that our inaction due to our fear, or our laziness, is the real cause of our lack of accomplishment.

I remember an acquaintance of mine back in the 70’s who belonged to what was then called the Jesus Movement. She was a very sweet and devout young woman. She had been out of work for several months and would complain in pitiable tones about not being able to get a job. On asking her what she was doing to get a job she responded with great innocence, ʺI am praying.ʺ I responded that that was great, but what are you doing? She had not sent out a single resume, she had made no phone calls, or knocked on any doors. She simply prayed. She was, I guess, waiting for a miracle, for someone to call her out of the blue and offer her a job.

Now, I believe in the power of prayer, but this seemed like wind-heeding and cloud watching to me. The reality was that she was almost paralyzed by the fear of rejection. She could not summon the courage to go out and risk the possibility of either rejection or acceptance. Rejection would prove to her that doing such things would only be painful. Or, if she did get a job, she would then have to take on its responsibilities. Fear is a terrible thing. All of us know its power over us. But it is a false power. If we face our fears, even though they may prove painful, and if we name them and take control of them, we will begin to free ourselves from their control. One of the things Jesus says often to the disciples is, ʺBe not afraid.ʺ He also repeats the phrase, ʺPeace be with you,ʺ many times. What prevents us from hearing those words and believing them in our hearts and minds?

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The world is a ʺwindyʺ and ʺcloudyʺ place. We can feel overwhelmed at times by fears of the known, or of the unknown dangers that our decisions can bring. Though we say we believe in God’s love and grace, many times our actions show us that we still struggle with believing that he is with us, and that he is always willing to give us the graces we need to courageously confront all of our fears. But the kicker is that we have to act. Both inaction and action have their consequences. But inaction guarantees failure. Action, though scary, offers us the possibility of success, of making a difference, or at least of learning a valuable lesson for the next time.

Prayer is a necessary element of all of this, of course. Prayer before, prayer during, and prayer afterwards. Prayer before: for guidance and insight, indeed, for the courage to act in the world for the good, no matter the consequences. Prayer during: for the grace, the strength, and the continued commitment to the task. And prayer afterwards: prayers of thanksgiving for our successes, or for forgiveness and for the grace and the desire to not make the same mistakes the next time. As Christians we know that there is the prayer that we do in solitude and silence, on our knees, but if those prayers never become prayers prayed on our feet out in the world, they are all for naught. You see, prayer has its consequences too.

Let us pray that God give us the grace and the courage to sow the seeds of our faith in the world daily, even in the face of troubles, so that we can reap the harvest, even when it is stormy all around us. Amen.

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Dan Doyle is a husband, father, grandfather, Vietnam veteran, and retired professor of Humanities at Seattle University. He taught 13 years at the high school level and 22 years at the university level. He spends his time now babysitting his granddaughter. He is a poet and a blogger as well. Dan holds an AA degree in English Literature, a BA in Comparative Literature, and an MA in Theology, and writes regularly for The Veterans Site blog.