Sunday, July 17, 2016

Insecurity and the Search for Solid Ground

The human being has this terrible insecurity deep down inside of his or her life.

I know I do. Since I was a child, my introspection, obsessiveness, and anxiety have convinced me that I cannot trust in myself. I cannot be confident about my opinions of myself. I cannot be confident that I am seeing reality in the right way.

I don't usually feel very well-grounded. Often I suffer powerful anxiety that seems disproportionate to any immediately perceptible provocation. I try to "keep it to myself," but when it breaks through the surface it reveals to others (and to me) something of the fragility and anguish that remains in me, that I would rather ignore.

Although I have peculiar neuropsychiatric issues here, I don't think that this problem is unusual. We all deal with it on some level. We all search, sometimes desperately, for secure ground upon which to stand in reliable "safety," with a self-sustained confidence that gives us a sense of control over things.

For many years, I attempted to trust in a kind of "Christian ideology." I attempted to impose a conception of what was "necessary to be a good Catholic" on the awful ambiguity of my life. It required a fair amount of rationalizing, interpreting, and good old fashioned fibbing to stuff the mess of my life inside this box so that it would not haunt my sense of self-confidence.

Alongside of this, of course, God was at work, I was praying, seeking Him, and genuinely desiring (in however wobbly a fashion) to do His will and to trust in Him. Yet the ultimate uncertainty of my ideas constantly undermined my confidence.

Illness has forced me to face the need to rely on other people. Yet this reliance cannot become an escape from the responsibility of being a unique human person called to grow in understanding and love, to give of myself.

What a relief it would be to bury my freedom, and simply conform myself to the judgment of others. There is the temptation here to seek an unhealthy "safety" in the personalities of other people, to root myself in other people's coherence, as if the reason why I ought to follow the guidance of my wife, my doctors, my friends, my confessor and spiritual father is because they "have it all together" and I don't.

But this kind of attachment-based security doesn't hold up either, because it becomes clear enough--sooner or later--that the other people I put my trust in are weak human beings too, with flaws and limitations and failures of judgment. A crisis ensues in which my security crashes, or else it holds together only through a further irrational submission of my personality to the psychological and emotional manipulation of the (now increasingly domineering) others who seek from me a level of trust beyond what they deserve.

Nevertheless, I live in communion with these other people. We are called to help one another. How is this possible? Where are the roots of the trust that can enable me with all my fragility to live as a human person in communion with other human persons? How can I be confident and self-possessed in a real human community which is guided by the service of authority, by those who are called to assume responsibility for the common good, for its continuity with the past and readiness for the future?

The foundation of life, the dynamism of its expansion and vitality, is trust. Where are the radical roots of a genuine secure, human trust?

For me, there is only one answer. I have to trust in Jesus. This, for me, is not only a spiritual but also a psychological necessity.

I am grounded in Jesus. I cry out to Him and beg for that certainty, and to keep my life centered on Him. In the Church He lives as a Presence for me now: as a way, as gestures, as a companionship. And other persons are given to me by Him to help me to insert myself into that life. It is He who works through them. It is because of His love for me that I can trust them. Even if we make a mistake, I can trust that He is behind us to catch us.

Look at this great mystery: Christian Marriage. Let's be frank here: I drive my poor wife crazy. There is nothing surprising about that after 20 years. But through all the messiness, through the bond that holds us and makes us "one," Eileen and I do help each other.

And together we carry out the task of shaping an environment (kooky, flawed, but also--we hope--full of faith, hope, love, intelligence, and openness) in which our children are growing and maturing as persons.

It's not because we are coherent. It's because marriage is a sacrament. It's grounded in Him. 

From here, it becomes possible to perceive that my relationships with my other companions are grounded in Him, in the communion of saints; that my relationship with every human person is grounded in Him who is the Savior of the world; that my relationship with reality is grounded in Him who is Lord of all creation.

Beyond any pathological condition, there is that radical anxiety, that radical fear of uncertainty, that afflicts us all. The healing we all need comes from Jesus. This is why He says, "believe in me."