faith vs. fear

With what I’ve been through in life, you’d think I’d have learned by now.

But no, I’m just as susceptible to fear and anxiety as anyone. Probably not as much as some of you–for whom it appears peace is an illusion with fear constantly raining down–but rest assured, I can turn it up pretty good sometimes.

And every time I find myself in a rut when worry and anxiety ride my tinnitus like a highway to my brain, I beat myself up for not being true enough to the things that got me this far. For not remembering.

You see, the most faith and peace I’ve ever known was when I had nothing. 

I was living in the basement of a guy’s house I’d only known a few days. I had no money, no friends, two pairs of underwear and socks, a pair of shoes, and the clothes on my back. I was freshly sober from a divine intervention at a point in my life when I was convinced I had no reason to live.

And yet, somehow, in the bowels of an old house in north Jersey, I found the kind of peace that people dream of. 

I don’t know how long this lasted, a few months I suppose. But during that time it was like one miracle after another. I was walking on clouds.

For example, one night after a day when all I had eaten was a bagel at an AA meeting that morning, someone came by to take the owner of the house out for dinner. But that guy wasn’t home, and so he took me instead. And paid for it. I slept hard that night.

The faith I had during those early days of recovery was beyond anything I’ve felt since. I had nothing, but absolutely trusted that God was going to somehow come through if I did the things necessary to get my house in order. The thinking was that my will had gotten me to death’s door, what did I have to lose by turning it over to this benevolent (they said), omnipotent force? But that’s what I did. As crazy as that sounds. So I worked hard, I listened and shared at AA meetings, and I got down on my knees every day and asked for His will to be done.

And I was constantly rewarded for it.

The rewards started small and appeared at a steady, just not fast pace. In God’s time, people would tell me. I bought it.

In the first couple of months of asking for God’s will to guide me, I earned my driver’s license after having it revoked years before for a DUI. I started driving a taxi in Newark and busted my ass doing it, nearly getting shot a couple times in the process. I bought new clothes. I began paying rent to the guy who let me live in his house. And most importantly, I started to understand that a life without alcohol was not some death sentence.

I had nothing. I feared nothing. I expected miracles. And miracles came. 

I graduated from driving a cab to working in the mailroom of a big law firm, where I met my future wife on the first day. I got an apartment on my own. I bought a car and paid for insurance. I started going to night school toward a degree that I was certain I’d never reach, but I was doing the work and believed that hard work and faith was all I needed.

Twenty six years later not only am I still alive, I’ve exceeded my expectations in terms of a full life. I have a wife. A house. A college degree. A career as a writer. Two beautiful daughters. The best friends of my life. I even wrote a fucking novel, are you kidding me?

But over time, my relationship with God has changed as much as my life. And not in a good way.

It’s strange and ironic. Yes, I still get on my knees, and I still believe that everything works out in God’s time as long as I am honest to myself and people around me—and I continue to “do the work.” But man, in spite the miracle that is my life, there are times when faith is hard to remember. Days when fear sneaks up and bips me in the balls. It’s hard to be grateful for that, you know? But that’s exactly what I have to do—continue to show gratitude. I mean, I used to be homeless and suicidal. This is better.

***

The night that Hurricane Maria ravaged Puerto Rico, I laid in bed thinking about all of my problems. About how things aren’t moving as fast as I’d like with my business, my side projects, and my writing. About how money has never really been plentiful for us despite all this hard work. About I need to lose ten pounds to feel comfortable. About how my teenage daughters don’t need me around much anymore. Fear was playing tennis in my mind.

But then I thought about the hurricane, and the fact I was laying in a warm bed, in a safe and dry house, next to a beautiful woman who loved me.

And I felt ashamed for my wavering faith. Who the fuck am I to worry?

I have a reference point to a much different life. But the farther away that life gets, the farther I’ve strayed from the kind of faith that has worked miracles in my life. That said, to have any faith in this age of fear should be worth something, ammirite? 

Years after my epiphany, during a time when I was jamming 3 years of credits into 10 months in order to graduate, I was a Literature major in college. That’s when I discovered Walt Whitman. Whitman talked a lot about God. And faith. One such passage from Leaves of Grass came to me the night of the hurricane as I laid in bed worrying about my life:

I do not doubt that whatever can possibly happen,

any where, at any time, is provided for, in

the inherences of things.

Before going away to write my novel Minor King, which is essentially a book about faith, I took to the bible to better understand teachings on the idea of faith. That’s when I stumbled across the book of Matthew. Chapter six was particularly resonant because of my life story:

31 So do not worry, saying, What shall we eat? or What shall we drink? or What shall we wear? 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

To this day, whenever I read this I get chills–and I’m immediately taken back to those early days of sobriety when I had nothing and yet was somehow filled with peace.

Everybody goes through rough patches. We’re all susceptible to fear.

Not everybody has a reference point to faith the way I do, however. I mean, I’m like the living, breathing poster child for faith. Who the hell am I to fear? And yet, all these years later, there are times when fear has its way with me and chaos fills my mind. And that’s pretty disappointing. But it is a good reminder that I’m human. And that I have to keep doing the work.

Something they told me early on in AA was that God wasn’t going to keep rewarding me for my faith only to lure me into a dark alley and beat the crap out of me. I believed it. I continue to believe it. I just wish I remembered it more often.

Today I have everything I ever dreamed of. It’s funny.

faith vs. fear

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Jim

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Jim Mitchem

Writer. Father to daughters. Husband. Ad man. Raised by wolves. @jmitchem on twitter. First novel, Minor King, out now.

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