Sunday, August 31, 2014

Letting Go of Fear

So in the last post (this one) I briefly talked about how another aspect of God asking us “Do you want to build a snowman?” is Him asking us “Do you want to do what I’m calling you to do?” When we hear this question, often we’re like Elsa and we freeze in fear behind the door. We’re reluctant to accept His calling and to come out saying yes. We either tell Him to go away or we ignore Him and that calling. This fear usually stems from reluctance or uncertainty that we’ve properly discerned. It can actually be a healthy type of fear when it comes to not being sure if we’ve discerned the right calling because discernment is a slow process and can be thrown off by many factors in our life, such as times of chaos or doubt. But just like Anna is persistent at knocking on Elsa’s door, God is persistent in asking us if we want to do what He is calling us to do. That is often the way you can tell if you’ve properly discerned whether or not something is God’s will: if it has lasting consistency of consolations, particularly during times of peace when your heart and mind are clear to listen to Him. If you keep getting solid consolations about what you feel God is calling you to do, then that fear needs to be overcome by trust in God and you need to say yes to Him.

But often when we overcome that first fear and say yes, we get overwhelmed by a second fear that freezes us. It’s the “you know this is what you’re supposed to do and you freak out about messing it up so it’s like there’s a big rock on you preventing you from moving” kind of fear. It’s that little voice inside of you saying “you’re not going to make it, everyone will laugh at you, it’s a stupid idea, you’re going to fail.” It’s a paralyzing type of fear, one that causes us to never try or give up too early.

And this fear can be for anything that God calls us to do: our main vocation of getting married or entering the religious life or committing to the single/community life, our career, our talents, applying to things like college or grad school, moving to a new place, or even just little things like reaching out to others and doing service activities. We just get stuck and would rather hide ourselves away. But this isn’t healthy because we become ourselves when we’re doing what God wants. Elsa was just a shell of herself when she hid her powers, but when she let them go, she transformed—figuratively and literally—and became who she was meant to be. 

This past Pentecost, the priest at the church I go to in the summer told us that at our Confirmation the Holy Spirit gives each of us gifts that are unique to the purpose God has for us. He said we come alive when we use these gifts in the service of others to do the purpose God sent us here for. Thus if we feel spiritually dead or stagnant, it likely means that we have a gift we haven’t shared with the world yet in the way God intends.

Building a snowman meant Elsa was using her powers, the gifts she’d been given, and better yet, she was sharing them with others. When Elsa started to use her powers during “Let It Go,” that’s when she felt free and alive. She transformed when she just let her powers go and did her best. She sings, “It’s time to see what I can do, to test the limits and break through.” We need to do that, and we can when we ask for God’s help. It’s true that Elsa didn’t have her true metanoia moment until later in the movie. But those things take time and a spark, and letting go of fear so we can be open and receptive to God’s love and will is the first step.
If it’s God’s will, we can do anything, so if we feel called to it, we need to try it and ask Him for help. There’s an Irish Jesuit prayer guidance website called Sacred Space (it’s a really great resource if you’re having trouble figuring out how to pray so here’s the link for anyone curious) and I particularly love two of their reflection prayers on this subject. One is by St. Ignatius Loyola: “There are very few people who realize what God would make of them if they abandoned themselves into His hands and let themselves be formed by His grace.” The other is from their authors, “Saint Ignatius thought that a thick and shapeless tree-trunk would never believe that it could become a statue, admired as a miracle of sculpture, and would never submit itself to the chisel of the sculptor, who sees by her genius what she can make of it. I ask for the grace to let myself by shaped by my loving Creator.”

Now neither of these are saying we should just stop trying and let God do all the work because He’ll magically and instantaneously transform us into what He wants. But they are saying that if we just open up our hearts and minds to what God wants us to be and that if we stop thinking we can’t be anything or that we’re a failure and instead trust that God will make us into what He wants, we’ll be a greater person and more skilled than we ever imagined. We need to be open to God’s calling, to trust Him, and to keep working hard at whatever we feel called to do. We need to ignore that little voice of doubt and to look to Him to help us melt away all the ice that has paralyzed us. “I never knew what I was capable of.” That’s what Elsa says after she’s built her amazing ice palace. When we let go of our fears and ask for God’s strength to do what He is calling us to do, we end up discovering the same thing.

When it comes to the specific calling of developing our talents and we encounter this fear, we need to just take a deep breath and let go of all that’s holding us back. Whether it be people who told us we can’t do it, that it’s not worth the time to do it, whether it’s our own selves saying we’ll be terrible—whatever it is, just let it go. Elsa took the approach of saying, “no right no wrongs no rules for me, I’m free!” which for the most part is a good approach. However, taking it too literally and throwing out your ethical and moral codes is a bad idea, as is getting rid of all fear. Some fear is good because it helps keep us safe. Just about everyone has a fear of jumping off buildings because we know that the likelihood of being injured or killed is extremely great. So don’t go too crazy in the experiment stage that you ignore all fears and end up doing things that could harm yourself or others.

Elsa’s approach means that you need to imagine it’s like that when you’re practicing at whatever you’re doing—there isn’t a right or wrong or good or bad. There’s no critical judgment. You’re free to explore, try new approaches, be creative, and to make mistakes. I feel like sometimes we’re so caught up in what others will think about what we do, that we don’t even start. We’re so worried about it being perfect, that we don’t practice. Like that guy in Camus’s novel the Plague, who is so worried about making every sentence in his novel perfect that he’s still working on the first sentence several years later. We have to start somewhere and we can learn from our mistakes. And the more we try, then the more we succeed and increase our skill, or the more we fail but learn how we can do better to get to that point of success.

I love Elsa’s line, “It’s time to see what I can do, to test the limits and break through,” because it really captures the “dare to be bad” notion that my favorite college writing professor instilled in us. Just try it, experiment, push yourself to discover what you can do. Ignore all the voices—whether outside or within—that tell you that you can’t and just try. If you try you at least have a chance of succeeding and even if you do fail, each failure is a learning experience and one step closer to success. There’s a saying in the writing and animation communities that we all have a certain number of bad stories and bad drawings in ourselves and that the only way to get to the good ones is to just keep churning out the bad ones through practice. Each bad version of whatever you do is one version closer to the good versions. If it’s really what God is calling us to do, we won’t fail forever. We will succeed.

Sometimes, though, it’s hard to even start experimenting because we’re so solidly frozen in that fear or so stuck under the weight of that rock that it’s suffocated us to the point that we can’t move even a little bit. This often comes from being told at some point in our lives by someone we trust that we shouldn’t be doing what we feel called to do. Or it comes from failing so many times while we see others on our path not only succeed at a faster rate but excel in ways we can’t ever imagine ourselves doing. Or it comes from some form of “creative block” regardless of if your talent is officially classified as a creative field or not.

The world likes to shape us into the way it thinks we should be, but this isn’t always the way that God wants us to be. If you have a talent that you love and feel called to develop but were told to do something else, then this is a case where you need to ignore the world and listen to that voice God placed within you. Don’t lose out on that core aspect of yourself just because someone told you to stop and to hide it. It’ll keep coming back to the surface no matter how hard you try to “conceal and don’t feel” your love of it. And just like Elsa’s ice powers, the desire to use those talents will become stronger over time and the more you fight it the more miserable you’ll become. Listen to that voice. Be who you’re meant to be. Share the gifts you have with the world and don’t be afraid to try and to fail and to learn because that’s the only way you’re ever going to reach success.

It’s really frustrating when someone does get to that success quicker and seemingly easier than you do. It’s also incredibly intimidating to see the people who excel in that field because it’s easy to see where they are and where you are and think that it’s an impossible distance to cover. It’s okay to feel frustrated and intimidated, but it’s important to remember that all people have their own paths and our talents don’t peak at the same rates. But if it’s what God is calling you to do, that distance isn’t impossible, it just takes lots of practice and working up to that point. Elsa didn’t build the giant ice castle first—she slowly built up to it by making small puffs, an Olaf like from when she was a kid, bigger puffs, and a bridge before getting to the castle. Start small like Elsa did with whatever the equivalent of the little puffs of snow would be in your field. Then build up bigger and bigger as you learn and succeed at the little things and gain more confidence for the bigger ones.

As for creative blocks, every person has times in their talents where they get like this, no matter how amazing, skilled, or experienced they are. The blocks can be caused by a myriad of reasons, so sometimes you have to experiment with ways of overcoming them in order to get back to that stage of experimenting to improve your talents. Elsa’s line, “It’s funny how some distance makes everything seem small. And the fears that once controlled me can’t get to me at all,” contains one of the possible options for breaking the creative block. Sometimes you just need that distance, get away from it for a little bit—whether it’s mentally or physically. When I need that mental distance I’ll often take what I call “wander walks,” where I just wander about the safe neighborhood near me and go down paths I don’t usually go down so that I can explore and see new things that can inspire me. Or I’ll play a video game like Animal Crossing where you get to world build, be creative, and explore new places without risk. Just do something that jumpstarts your creativity and gets you out of your head and your usual routine. Sometimes the distance can be taken by watching others do whatever it is you want to do since seeing them do it can re-spark your desire or teach you new things that you could try. Other times researching different fields can be a good distance because you can gain new insights about your field by applying what you learned about the other fields or it can help you remember why you love your field so much.

Another way to help get over the fear is to remember what inspired you in the first place to try that talent. If it was a TV show or movie, then re-watch it. If it was a book, re-read it. If it was a conversation, try to remember everything surrounding that time and your memories of first learning about that talent and trying it out. Whatever it was, somehow try to put yourself back in that moment where you had that initial seed of desire for that calling. Sometimes that powerful initial inspiration can thaw away all the fear because we remember how much we love it. For talents that we’ve had since we were kids, sometimes it helps to go back into that mindset of when we were kids and just had fun with our talents. Notice how the first real thing Elsa built was Olaf—the same Olaf she built as a kid when she used her powers for fun and to make her sister smile. Typically when we were kids, we didn’t worry about what others thought or cared how well things turned out—we just tried our best, had fun, and did things because we loved them.

That’s the real thing that always thaws out fear of any kind—love. It’s why it can be so important when developing your talents to have a support system of people who love you and can encourage you to keep working hard even when that fear starts to creep back up on you. It’s best to have at least one person in your life who really understand your talent so you can talk with them and you can help each other grow, but I think as long as there’s someone who will listen and encourage you (and you do the same for them) even if they have a different talent, that’s enough. While not everyone has that with the people in their immediate lives, we’re lucky enough to live in an age where it’s easy to find people on the internet who share the same passions for whatever talent we have through various forums or community websites. Similarly, there are often groups in the area where we live for people who share our passions and with a bit of research we can find, make sure they’re legit and safe, and then join them to gain that support system. And for those of us who are religious, we also know that we have that love and support from God and the Saints. There’s a patron Saint for pretty much everything, so figure out which ones relate to your talent, then ask them for help, talk with them, read about them and see if they have advice for your talent’s area if they did the same thing.

Listen to that voice inside of you that is telling you to respond to God’s calling. Let the love for whatever that calling is take over you and thaw that icy boulder that keeps you from moving. If we overcome all the fear that stops us from answering God’s calling for us, we will be like Elsa at the end of Let it Go: transformed, fully ourselves, and standing in the light of day.

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