Dear Pope Francis,
Meredith’s very first letter was about fear and how it’s keeping young people away from the Church. While my struggle with fear doesn’t necessarily keep me away from Church, it can keep me from living my life.
When I get scared I make excuses; I call them “yes, but…” statements. For instance: “Yes, I could just tell a guy that I like him, but that could involve getting hurt”, or “yes I want to write regularly on a blog, but what if no one reads it?” Getting hurt is a legitimate fear, and so is people not appreciating your work. However, over the last few months, I have realized that at the root of my fear and excuses is my deepest fear: failure. I’m not exactly sure where this fear started; I’ve had it unconsciously for a long time.
Failure is not something I can completely eradicate. It will always be there, lurking in the corner, ready to pop out. It can cause overwhelming paralysis when I need to take a risk. But, as a friend pointed out recently, failure means that you’re living your life. Since I can’t get rid of failure, I need to redefine it. Instead of looking at failure in specific, limited instances, like a test or experimenting with a new recipe, I realized what the ultimate failure would be: to spend my life hiding and not really living it to the fullest. Put another way, I realized that ‘yes, but…’ statements rob me of the ability to live life to the fullest, and to not live life to the fullest is to fail.
Redefining failure as not living my life to the fullest has helped me to open up to a few more risks, like starting this blog with Meredith and working on some personal writing projects. It has also helped me to dream big about where life might take me after I finish my M.Div.
I also wonder if this is what you meant when you wrote about being fearless in Evangelii Gaudium (EG). You encouraged us to “embark on a new chapter of evangelization marked by … joy” (EG 1) and to be a Church that isn’t concerned with being at the centre, and instead focus on being in the streets, even if we might get “bruised, [hurt] or dirty” (EG 49). Your hope for the faithful is that we will be motivate not by a fear of going astray, but by a fear of being trapped “…within structures which give us a false sense of security…” (EG 49).
My ‘yes, but…’ statements are the structures that keep me trapped in my own head. They give me a false sense of security because they let me off the hook so I don’t have to do something that scares me. In reality, they are just keeping me trapped in my head, and unable to really engage with the world around me. I’m not getting bruised or hurt, but am I really living?
Instead of focusing on the possibility of getting hurt, I need to shift my thinking (which is easier said than done). I need to remember Peter walking on the water with Jesus. When he saw the stormy waves and began to doubt he began to sink, but Jesus caught him (Mat 14:22-33). When Jesus calls me out of the boat, out of my self, to get over my ‘yes, but…’ statements, I need to remember that he won’t let me sink. I think you put it best: “The Lord does not disappoint those who take this risk; whenever we take a step towards Jesus, we come to realize that he is already there, waiting for us with open arms” (EG 3). I don’t know exactly where Jesus is calling me, but I know that my ‘yes, but…’ statements get in the way of finding out.
Climbing awkwardly out of the boat,