The Desire and the Fear
It is so easy to want to start doing better. You read an inspiring article, come across a motivational image, read a book about an awesome saint, or watch a movie about another person who conquered all his difficulties to achieve an ultimate goal, and that desire to be better, to reach your full potential, becomes stirred up within you.
Yet, all too often these desires flare up and die before they have a chance to become a steady, burning flame. Though laziness can be a cause of this, another strong, painful source behind the inability to take that step towards becoming something more is the fear of failure.
For me, and for many others, the fear of failure can be so strong it becomes crippling; and instead of working as a source of inspiration to conquer that fear and do anything but fail, it overwhelms and suffocates. Because we want so badly to reach that higher level, to be that inspiring figure, we become so aware of what’s at stake, so concerned about all the people who would be disappointed in us if we did not succeed, if we fell short of our goal, that we shut down. We worry about what we should do, because once we have adopted this new ideal, we feel like we’re not enough until we reach it.
But sometimes living with self-dissatisfaction seems much easier than having to live knowing we let those we care about down by trying to do better and failing. Why such a fear of disappointing others? Because disappointing those around you can lead to rejection, exclusion, and the feeling like you’re no longer “good enough” to keep the same company, because those around you know you failed, and how could they view you the same way anymore? To let down those who you know hope and believe in you is one of the worst feelings, and the fear of that has deterred many a hopeful, gentle soul from even trying.
If you’ve ever felt this way, know that I understand. My whole life I’ve been an overachiever, and often that fear has delayed or crippled my desire to try something new, to reach for that “impossible dream”. For those who experience this, not only is the fear of disappointing those around them disabling, but also the fear of disappointing God, the one they ultimately want to do better for.
The Voices of the Saints
This is where the soothing, encouraging voices of the Saints, and our Savior Himself, come to comfort and support the soul’s first shaky steps forward. The wise St. Francis de Sales reminds those seeking to grow in devotion that “One of the best exercises of gentleness is to be patient with ourselves and our imperfections”. Through patience with ourselves we can calmly examine our faults and failings, and make the corrections necessary to improve without allowing emotions to overpower and take control.
As the readings on the eighteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time remind us, nothing can separate us from Christ’s love. He loves nothing more than to see a soul struggling to reach up to Him, and even if we fall, even if we fail, He is there to pick us up, dust us off, and set us back on the road again.
The sweet St. Therese of Lisieux wrote that “When one loves, one does not calculate”. God does not keep a scorecard of the failures of the faithful. If you are trying to do His will with all your heart, He knows the road can be hard, and if you fail, know that He is standing there, a loving Father with His arms open, ready to welcome you back again, with even more love than before.
What may seem like a failure to you is only an opportunity for Him to reach down and turn your efforts into something even more incredible. Even Adam and Eve’s fault has come to be known as “felix culpa” — “Happy fault”, in the Easter Vigil Proclamation: “Oh happy fault, that earned so great, so glorious a Redeemer!” If “the greatest story ever told” grew out of the first failing, imagine what God can make of your efforts, even if they do not seem to succeed the way you expect.
The Expectations of Others
As for others — the family, parish, friends, peers who are looking on — know first of all that they are much less hard on you than you are on yourself. Know secondly that if they truly think that much of you, they will be more than willing to support, help, and pray for you if you simply come to them with humility, expressing your goals and your struggles to reach them.
St. Francis de Sales challenges those who fear to act because of the opinion of others, saying, “To be too afraid of losing our good name indicates a distrust of its foundation which is a truly good life …. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus Christ crucified, serve him with confidence and simplicity yet with wisdom and discretion; he will take care of our good name, and if he allows us to lose it, it will be to give us a better one or advance us in humility, an ounce of which is more precious than a thousand times as much honour.”
God will take care of you; just place yourself in His hands. And if those around hate you as you struggle, Christ would remind you that they hated Him first (John 15:18); but that just as His death on the cross seemed to all those around Him like failure, those who scorned Him upon the cross looked on in awestruck wonder when, three days later, the greatest failure became the most wondrous Resurrection. Unite your struggles and sufferings to Him, lean upon the Sacraments for the grace to advance, and leave it all in His hands, because He will never fail you.
“Do not be afraid any longer, little flock, for your Father is pleased to give you the kingdom .…” (Luke 12:32)