The Compass of Fear
I Remember as a child coming home from Sunday school, flustered and confused. Still a little cranky that I missed cartoons for mass and was dragged out of bed at such an unruly hour of the day. Annoyed, I would stomp behind my mom.
"It doesn't make sense!" I would say
"What doesn't make sense?" She'd ask, equally bothered by my persistence.
"God's Kid is Jesus, and Jesus' mom is Mary...so who's this Joseph guy?"
"Mary's Husband." My mom answered shortly.
"I thought Mary was with God?" I remember at this point my mother looked at me to see my bewildered expression and couldn't help but laugh.
"Mary was blessed with God's child to have and raise... he kind of magically bestowed Jesus upon her and made her pregnant with his child." My mother replied thinking this explanation would be the final one.
"He can do that?" I asked shocked, putting both hands on my belly, "I hope he doesn't choose me next."
My mom laughed, "I don't think you have to worry about that."
I was still wide-eyed with fear when I told my mother that they told us in Sunday school that Jesus will return some day.
I think I went to bed that night fearing the magical impregnation of Mary with Jesus. My prayer that night went a little something like this:
You seem kind of scary. Please don't make me magically pregnant, or send me to hell for knocking my sister off her bike accidentally and breaking her two front teeth. It was an accident, I swear. Please make mom get us a dog, and please help me figure out who your parents are.
Love Jess. Amen."
Then I laid in bed, starring at the ceiling wondering if God could hear my every thought. I would tell my brain to shut up and be quiet, he can hear us. Maybe I would be condemned for stealing my sister's stretchy bracelet, that clearly spelled her name in white round shiny beads. In fact I can be seen wearing this bracelet in photo from a school picture day, framed in my parents house. I'm pretty sure that until this very day that secret has been between me and God.
There is something precious about the fear and innocence of me as a child worried about the repercussion of my actions in God's eyes. He held my moral compass and always made sure it pointed north.
There was a separate fear that came with this though, a fear of his displeasure, a fear of his abandonment from his grace when I made humanly errors. With a hurtful fear that resonated inside me, am I not enough? This fear is a nasty fear and a consuming one. This fear leads to coldness and despair. So for this brand of fear I shall refer to it as the south direction of my moral compass.
A lot of us make northern facing fear decisions in our everyday life. We brush our teeth, rinse and floss because we fear cavities. We pay our bills on time because we fear debt. We dust, and clean because we fear dirt. Eventually fear has nothing to do with it and it becomes something we just do. At that point you are already so far north because these things are part of your daily practice.
Southern facing fear is so different. It is dark and forceful, sometimes paralyzing. Southern facing fear can be not going to the gym because you are out of shape and you fear other people will look at you funny. Southern facing fear is not handling something because you are embarrassed and you let it get so bad. Even worse this fear can lead you to lie and hide the things you don't want to face so other people can't see how bad it is either. Just like northern facing fear, you do this enough, it becomes something you just do, accumulating slow at first, then fast. Pushing you further and further south.
As I aged I did things that were smaller human errors and I got tired of asking God for forgiveness. I keep doing it...Why can't I be perfect? So why even bother asking for forgiveness. Well, the truth is I will be asking forgiveness till the day I die. But i'm not asking God to magically wash me away of my sins or pass judgement on me. I'm asking him to point me north again. And when I go to confession and they tell me pray on it and say x amount of hail Mary's, they are not asking me to simply chant and pray. They are asking me to dwell and reflect, so I can acknowledge that I did wrong and feel the intensity of that, the weight of it. They are asking me to carry that weight on my shoulders as I proceed north so that I can be stronger when I get there and so maybe, just maybe, I don't slip down the path again.
Perfection is not achievable and if you are looking for that you will always end up south. Progress is what truly lies in the north. And guess what? the sky isn't even the limit.