“Easier said than done.” Truer words are rarely spoken. We’ve all had great thoughts of accomplishment. Getting straight A’s. Graduating college. Losing weight. Building muscle. Starting a new business. Landing that dream job. Making music with that dream person. But something stopped us dead in our tracks. Or kept us from ever taking that first step.
In many if not most cases, fear got in the way. “Be not afraid” are probably the most difficult of all words to live. No one can deny the experience of fear. It is part of our emotional makeup. And fear is a good thing when it protects us from harm. There’s something to be said about being afraid to pick up a rattlesnake. But fear can also overwhelm us, as we all have learned to our regret. Fear can be paralyzing. It can be the difference between achieving success and knowing failure. Or the difference between doing right and wrong.
The nature of fear is well understood. Fear results from our anticipation of imagined events or experiences. There are six basic fears. We fear extinction, the fear of no longer being, like when we look down from the edge of a tall building. We fear mutilation, the fear of losing any part of our bodies or having our bodies invaded. Do spiders give you the creeps? That’s the fear. We fear the loss of autonomy, the fear of being overwhelmed, trapped, restricted, or paralyzed. It’s a claustrophobia that applies not only to our sense of space but also to our social situations. We fear separation, the fear of being not wanted, respected, or valued by others. It is like being the victim of the silent treatment. We fear ego-death. It is the fear of humiliation, shame, and profound self-disapproval that shatters our very notion of self-worth. It destroys our sense that we can be loved. And sometimes we suffer the fear of fear. It’s that instant intense reaction to the very memory of a fear. In one way or another, we’ve known them all.
Our uncontrolled fears can lead us into deadly sin. Pride — the root of all sin — is our fear of imperfection; we constantly try to elevate ourselves, even if it means walking all over others. In envy, we fear that we will never have what others possess. Anger is the fear that people who won’t listen to our thoughts or follow our example will take control over us. Sloth is the fear of failure, a fear that keeps us from ever beginning. Greed is the fear of insufficiency that keeps us always wanting more and more; we are rarely satisfied. Gluttony is the fear of starvation that keeps us eating and drinking, even to great excess. Lust is the fear of losing control of power or control over a person, a fear that drives us to dominate. Resentment is the fear of being hurt again by someone we should forgive.
Our fears find their way into the sin of abortion. Polls suggest that over 80% of all abortions are obtained because of fear. Understanding the dynamics of that fear is critical. When a woman learns that she is expecting an unwanted child, her world seemingly closes in on her. She is fearful of telling her partner or parents. She is frightened by the possible reactions of classmates or colleagues. She knows that her social and financial support may be at risk, perhaps immediately and permanently, and that makes her plenty scared. Worst of all, she fears the loss of the life she has known for herself. She sees her hopes and dreams for herself fly out the window, maybe never to return. She is afraid of whether she is up to the task of motherhood, a task she had not planned — at least not for now.
The mother is faced with choosing among the least of three evils: keeping the baby, offering the baby for adoption, or aborting the baby. She dismisses the first. She does not want a baby and certainly does not want nine months of pregnancy, with all its physical and social discomfort. She dismisses the second almost as quickly. She imagines that the baby will be neglected, and she is afraid of meeting the child years down the road. She comes to the third, knowing that it is wrong to take a life. But the fear turns her inward, as it always does. She concludes that it would be far worse to take her own life, the life she knows and imagines. In her fear, she cannot think beyond herself. Buoyed by the rhetoric of “choice” and “control,” she makes her decision, willing to accept consequences that she has no idea she can handle.
When most women walk into an abortion mill, what they present, even more than their pregnancy, is their fear. But instead of helping them overcome their fears, the abortionists kill their babies — and for a tidy profit. Strange, isn’t it? Would we ever tell a student worried about the chemistry final to kill his teacher? Killing does not relieve fear; it creates guilt. We cannot allow frightened women to believe that the greatest of all evils is the least of them.
Yet how does a woman cope with a fear inside her so big that it is pushing out the baby? She copes by turning outward, away from herself and out to the other. That is where love finds its fullest expression. Love drives out fear. In loving she will know the even greater love that God has for her. He did not create life in her only to abandon her to her fears. Knowing she is loved, she can move forward with great expectations. For her baby. For herself.
Impossible? A young virgin was told that she would conceive and bear a son. She embraced her pregnancy as God’s will for her. She understood that God had given her a great gift, a gift that magnified His greatness. She proclaimed aloud that God was always there for her, a humble and lowly servant, just as He is there for anyone who is weak and needy. The young woman found strength in an aging cousin, also unexpectedly expecting, who marveled at the gift. She found support in a humble husband who knew that none of it was his own doing. Mary overcame whatever fears she felt by embracing the angel’s words. Nothing will be impossible for God. It was God’s own assurance to her. It is God’s assurance to every struggling mother. Truer words are never spoken.
Paul V. Esposito is a Catholic lawyer who writes on a variety of pro-life topics. He and his wife Kathy live in Elmhurst, Illinois and have six children.