Gary Zimak is the author of several books, including A Worrier’s Guide To The Bible, From Fear To Faith, Stop Worrying & Start Living and Give Up Worry For Lent. He is a frequent speaker at parishes and conferences across the country and is recognized as the leading Catholic speaker on the topic of overcoming anxiety. In addition, Gary is a regular guest on EWTN TV & Radio, the host of The Gary Zimak Show podcast on Breadbox Media and was the creator and host of Spirit In The Morning which aired on Holy Spirit Radio in Philadelphia from 2016-2018. For more information, visit his website FollowingTheTruth.com.
In a previous article, I made the point that God’s presence in our lives is the main reason we should have no fear. He’s God, loves us unconditionally and can handle any problem that arises. Keeping that in mind will often be enough to calm our nerves even in the midst of turmoil. Sometimes, however, even the most devout Christians still experience fear. Is this normal? Could it point to an underlying spiritual problem?
First, we need to understand that fear is an emotion, also known as a passion or a feeling. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church:
Feelings or passions are emotions or movements of the sensitive appetite that incline us to act or not to act in regard to something felt or imagined to be good or evil. (CCC 1763)
In themselves passions are neither good nor evil. (CCC 1767)
Even though your brain may tell you otherwise, the Church teaches that there is nothing morally wrong with being afraid. That’s good news, isn’t it? In case you’re still not convinced, the Bible contains numerous examples of very holy people who experienced the emotion of fear. In the pages of Sacred Scripture we see that Moses (Exodus 2:14), Elijah (1 Kings 19:3), David (1 Chronicles 13:12), Mary (Luke 1:30), Joseph (Matthew 1:20) and Paul (Acts 27:24) were all afraid at some point in their lives. Take a glance at that list of names again. Moses, St. Joseph, the Blessed Mother? That’s a very impressive list. At one time or another, they were afraid. Therefore, the fact that you are afraid at times doesn’t necessarily mean there is a problem with your faith.
When you are afraid, it means that you are experiencing a normal human emotion. Are there times when we are afraid and we shouldn’t be? Absolutely, but I’ll leave that discussion to the psychologists and therapists. I am not a mental health professional, but I know a thing or two about managing anxiety. I have dealt with the panic attacks, digestive issues and sleepless nights. I know what it’s like to be afraid of the future and feel hopeless. Fortunately, I also know that a personal relationship with Jesus Christ can allow chronic worriers like me to live in peace. And, while it’s okay to be afraid, it’s not okay to let that fear lead you to worry. God desires something better for you. Rather than give you a list of when and when not to be afraid, I will encourage you to let your fear be the door that leads you closer to Christ. Whenever you feel afraid, think of the following message from Jesus:
“Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.” (Revelation 3:20)
When you are afraid, Jesus is knocking on your door. If you open it up and let Him in, He will grant you His peace. How do you open the door for Him? Here are some simple steps that will get you started:
1. Pray – It is not possible to have a close personal relationship with Jesus Christ and experience the peace that He wants to give you without praying every day. Make it a point to start your day by saying “Good Morning” to Jesus and ask for the grace that you need to get through the day. Instead of worrying about your problems, ask Jesus to help you with them. I guarantee that He cares (1 Peter 5:7) and will not turn a deaf ear to you. Also, ask Him to help you make it through the day without worrying. How much time should you spend with the Lord? As much as you can, but I recommend that you start with five minutes. If you can’t find the time for prayer, use some of your “worrying” time!
2. Read the Bible – This is something that I avoided for years. Even when I realized that it might be helpful to read the Bible, I was intimidated by its size and confusing language. I now understand that the Lord speaks to me whenever I read Scripture. Reading the Bible daily will put you in direct contact with the Lord and bring you peace. If you are not familiar with the Bible and don’t know where to start, I recommend that you either start with the daily Mass readings (available online or in numerous Catholic magazines) or the Gospel of Mark. He gets right to the point and you’ll read about Jesus performing several healings in the first chapter alone. As a worrier, you need to know that Jesus loves you and can perform miracles in your life. It becomes more difficult to worry when you begin to understand His power and His love.
3. Receive the Sacraments – The Sacraments give grace and allow you to grow closer to Christ. That will result in increased peace. Once I started going to daily Mass and confessing my sins at least monthly, my anxiety level decreased dramatically. What a great gift! Christ instituted the Sacraments to draw us close to Him and help us reach heaven. The closer you are to Jesus, the less you will worry. Don’t make the mistake of trying to conquer worry on your own. Instead, let Jesus help you. It will not only be more effective, but it will make Him happy. He wants to help you so why not let Him?
While it’s probably true that you’re sometimes afraid because you don’t trust God, it’s more important to look at how you respond to that feeling. If your fear leads you to the Lord then look at it as a blessing. Who knows where you would be without it? Jesus loves you and wants to draw you close to Him. For many of us, He does it through our anxiety. Ultimately, the end result is the same. The closer you get to Jesus, the more peace you will feel. Being with Him and experiencing His peace is what counts. How you get there doesn’t really matter.
“We must not fear fear.” —St. Francis de Sales