Climbing Out of Fear
By Scott Weeman | Men’s Staff Writer
“What I do, I do not understand. For I do not do what I want, but I do what I hate.” – Romans 7:15
Have you ever been caught in a life cycle of actions that feeds the negative thoughts and feelings you have for yourself or the world around you? In that same cycle, do those negative thoughts and feelings you have for yourself and the world around you feed the delusion that the only way to feel better is by re-committing those same actions in the first place?
If so, you have experienced addiction in some degree.
While you can probably rationalize it somehow, it still leaves you sinking further into a pit that seems harder and harder to get out of. It’s as if you’re digging the pit yourself, although all you want is to get back onto solid ground. It makes no sense. Yet, that’s what is so painstaking about the process.
DROP THE SHOVEL!!!
I get it, the solution is simple but nowhere close to easy. The addictions that leave us further and further underground are sometimes the only comforts in life we may know. Those comforts may be very short-lived, but they seem more viable and accessible than the light that shines above.
Do not be deceived! There is a way out, and each day – perhaps each moment – we have opportunities to change the direction our life is going in. It can seem daunting.
I recall when I started reaching for the Light above me as I climbed out of the great pit that all of my addictions had me swallowed up in. I kept the shovel out of my hand, but I was still carrying the weight of all the shame, disgust, and unworthiness that accompanied my downward journey. “Am I even deserving of a better life after all I had done? Maybe I’m okay right here. As long as I don’t get any further down, I can still operate at this level and be alright. I see others who are living life at this level and they seem to be okay. The Light above is going to expose a lot of stuff that I don’t think I want other people (or myself) to see anyways.”
Then I was struck with this gem from a mentor of mine: “The best way to gain esteem is by doing esteemable things.”
It hit me that I was looking for personal satisfaction and self-esteem in all the wrong places. Even while not caving into the temptations of drugs and alcohol, I was still not allowing the love and grace of God to spill over into every part of my life. I was digging in other directions with other shovels. I was playing the victim in every situation. I was feeling held down by the fact that my level of achievement in life was not adequate in comparison to others or by the standards of society. I was measuring my insides by everyone else’s outsides.
It has been my experience that small, esteemable actions taken with regularity can add up and create an environment where virtue can nestle. A way of life where getting out of bed on time, doing one extra thing for another person, not being so controlling over my time, choosing to pray rather than chase a lustful thought, and many other examples where evading short-term “pleasure” for long-term esteem started adding up. With great imperfection, life started trending in a direction I could rest comfortably with. The cloud of unworthiness and hopelessness started to lift and confidence in what God was able to do with me was starting to be realized.
I am sometimes reminded of how dependent I am of certain lifestyle choices and commitments when I travel for vacation and get away from my routine. When put in different environments I have found struggle in making those dedicated choices to think less of myself and more of others. I justify sleeping until whenever I want to, eating whatever I want to, doing whatever feels good, and asking God to direct my life for that day less and less. What happens when I return? I find myself lacking esteem, which makes prayer harder, getting out of bed harder, and I tend to be thinking of myself more and more.
The ultimate result is fear. It’s the same fear we find ourselves in when we look up from the depths of the hole we’ve dug and see that the Light seems farther away. It is what keeps us reaching for the comfortable, for the short-term pleasure, for a relief we know we can find – if only momentarily. However, peace is offered to us and it is an offering that we can find in the company of others and with the courage of understanding that our Lord does not leave us as orphans.
In my first few days of recovery I had the opportunity of getting to know a man by the name of John, a fellow recovering alcoholic with decades of sobriety. I will surely re-tell more about him in the future as John has been a great source of inspiration for me to continually pursue esteemable things, even in the face of great suffering. Since knowing him, John has suffered a great deal as the strength of his body, including his voice, has been taken from him by ALS. Giving humble witness to his courage, he shared with me a little bit around this idea a few months ago. Typing slowly on his iPad and with a half-cocked smile on his face, he wrote out:
“Since I got sober, especially now, looking back, it seems like my life was laid out perfectly, and every experience built on what lay before it. I realize how much time I wasted on fear. It seems God had my hand leading me the whole time. And it seems the longer I’m alive, the more true it is. I have several prayers I like, but my favorite was written by Thomas Merton. It seems perfect for me:
My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, And the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so.
But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it.
Therefore I will trust you always Though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me. And you will never leave me to face my perils alone.”
Esteemable things, regardless of how small, are steps we can take towards a positive future and allow ourselves to bask in the Light and Glory of our Creator. You are deserving of a better way of life. You are worthy of esteem. You are capable of esteem. You can realize the confidence in what God is able to do with you.
P.S. You are enough.