Sunday, October 4, 2015

On the Coexistence of Faith & Fear

"Faith and Fear cannot coexist."

The quote's been given a variety of ways (and in a variety of memes on Pinterest), but that's the general gist. Faith and fear = oil and water. Never fear! Never doubt! Be of good cheer! That's the path to true happiness! Have confidence and buck up, kiddo!

I've seen it many times over my life -- clearly well intentioned to encourage and buoy people who find themselves grappling with a common human paradox. I believe the idea is even printed in a few scriptural canons, actually. But to be honest, even back in the most religious phases of my life, it has never not puzzled me.

Because I have felt both emotions. Many times. At the same time. is the quote wrong? Am I wrong? If scriptures and church leaders were always right, like I was always told, then I must have been wrong. Right? I'm feeling fear, so I must not have enough faith, right? I'm feeling doubt, so I'm not so good at believing and I'm probably making wrong choices.....right?

I'm going to go with wrong, on this one. For me, dead, bullseye wrong. And maybe it's not true for you. If you can slice your emotions that cleanly and precisely, I'm a) not going to get in your way, and b) in awe of your ability to do this. I think you've achieved magical unicorn human emotional status.

But every big decision I've made in my life came with a mix of these two emotional entities. A swirly, twirly cocktail of courage, doubt, strength, hesitation and confusion about all of the above. (I wrote more about that mixed cocktail of joy, here.) And I think it was considerably unhelpful to constantly tell myself that I was wrong for feeling those opposing emotions together. Not just unhelpful, but harmful, in truth.

Thanks to a stint of therapy a few years ago, I am a firm believer in a really important, crucial truth that is the anchor to my own mental health: no emotion is inherently wrong. No emotion is inherently bad. You feel what you feel. It's a chemical, biological, etc. reaction. It seems to me that the business of living is learning to cope with the inevitable reality of that. But it seems to me that the business of joy and peace is accepting that reality and not condemning yourself for it.

When I applied to college (and most recently, grad school!), I had faith that I'd get in. But, I also had fear that I wouldn't. When I applied to every job I've ever had in my life, I had faith and hope that they'd choose me. But, I also had doubts that things would ever work out. When I've began or ended every romantic relationship I've had, it was the same story -- faith that I was making the right choice, and fear that I'd regret it one way or the other down the line.

This is life. This is reality. This is truth.

I don't buy into or believe that the presence of fear or doubt always mean that a path is wrong. Quite the opposite, actually, since most big things seem to inherently bring those feelings along for the ride. But equally important, I also don't think hope or faith that something should or could be right always means that it is. I actually think there is extremely positive use to be found in fear and doubt -- because they are red flags. They are your brain's way of cautioning you. And yeah, the frustrating part is that mortality means sorting out the red flags and the hopes and adding a dollop of logic and deciding how best to proceed. And on top of that, having the confidence that the direction you choose for yourself is right, regardless of fear.

But the mix of emotions is inevitable. And it is not bad. It is life. It is reality. It is truth.

And coming from someone who formerly struggled much more than I currently do with having confidence in my own gut feelings, trusting myself and being stymied by fear and faith both in their own ways, let me tell you that life is so (SO!) (SO!) much better when you allow yourself to just feel what you feel and go from there.

Because for me, there is zero emotional or spiritual power to be found in condemning the contrary tides of my own heart.

^^not a real tattoo, but don't we wish it was?? just the one for now.


Mariah Grace said...

Preach, sister. You speak the words of my heart and soul.

Jonathan said...

Well said. Sometimes for the really tough questions I go to my other spiritual leader, The Duke: "Courage is being scared to death, but saddling up anyway."

Maybe faith and fear can't coexist in our actions - no matter all of the things we think and feel, eventually one emotion edges out a win and we act in a certain way. I'm just thinking out loud, and I'm already thinking of a hundred counter examples in my mind, but hey, your post has made me think, so there's that. As always, wonderful writing.