The Carmelite nun, St Thérèse of Lisieux (1873 – 1897), lived a life that was externally unremarkable, but she knew more inner storms than most.
“I was alone in a desert waste, or rather, my soul was like a fragile skiff tossing without a pilot in a stormy sea. I knew that Jesus was there, asleep in my little boat, but the night was too black for me to see him.
“All was darkness.
“Not even a flash of lightning pierced the clouds. There’s nothing reassuring about lightning, but, at least if the storm had burst, I should have been able to glimpse Jesus. But it was night, the dark night of the soul.”
(Story of a Soul: The Autobiography of St. Therese of Lisieux).
People passing her monastery would probably have said, “What a peaceful life they have there!”
But as St Thérèse said, Jesus was there, though apparently asleep.
He slept a lot in her company, she noticed!
But she made excuses for him: other people rarely let him sleep, and so he would come to her for a break.
Anyway, she was often asleep herself at meditation!
Behind the gentle appearance and the frequently unctuous style of writing with its repeated use of the word ‘little’, Therese had extraordinary fortitude.
By God’s grace, not from her own resources, she was able to run what she described as a giant’s course, “une course de géant!”
Because she had experienced the worst, she was no longer afraid of anything.
Fear, or rather a certain kind of fear, is the great enemy of faith.
Fear, in itself, is a natural instinct, and we owe our survival to it, but like all our instincts it is capable of turning neurotic and undermining us.
It is then that it becomes the opposite of faith.
“Why are you fearful, O men of little faith?” Jesus said to them when he woke up.
There are numerous examples of this in the gospels.
The man who had only one talent buried it in the ground because he was afraid (Matthew 25:25).
After the death of Jesus his disciples locked themselves in a room “for fear of the Jews” (John 20:19). Jesus constantly told people not to be afraid (Matthew 17:7; 28:10; Mark 6:50; Luke 5:10; 12:7, 32; John 6:20, etc.).
There is great pressure on us to pretend to be unafraid.
Attempting to be rid of our fears usually only drives them into hiding, and then they emerge in other twisted forms.
Instead of trying to get rid of them (how?), the invitation/challenge is to learn to live with them, as a friend, rather than the enemy or opposition.
Against the opposition I either draw my sword or run and hide!
With a friend, I open my door and put the kettle on for a shared cuppa.
When we spend time with them, they begin to loosen their paralysing grip; and occasionally we find to our upmost surprise “they” are as afraid of me as I of them!