When Your Heart is Troubled and Afraid

“Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” (John 14:27)

I love this gentle, comforting Gospel verse, but for a long time, its message mystified me. However hard I tried not to let my heart be troubled or afraid, I couldn’t do it. Fear and worry would take over, and I would lose the battle.

It got even worse after I experienced a long and difficult episode of intense suffering. At last, in His mercy, God lifted the burden and brought healing. I was overwhelmed with gratitude; yet, now I had a new cross to bear. The suffering was over, but I was terrified.

I was terrified that suffering like that was possible in the world, that it could exist, that others were still enduring similar agonies, and that it could possibly happen again. How could I find joy in such a world?

No matter how much I pushed myself to just “get over it,” I was stuck. It felt like quicksand. The memory of that suffering kept returning, and then fear would take hold of my heart and mind, pulling me in. I knew I needed to find a way out, but I couldn’t see it. It was too dark in that hole.

Offer the Fear as a Sacrifice

As I was trying to emerge from this darkness, author Suzie Andres introduced me to the beautiful story of Servant of God Marcel Van, a religious brother who had mystical conversations with Jesus, Mary, and St. Thérèse, and was a “little spiritual brother” of St. Thérèse.

Suzie said that, in one vision (as recorded in the book Conversations), Mary told Marcel, “When you worry, even for the space of a breath, say to Jesus, ‘Little Jesus, I offer this worry as a sacrifice to You,’ and then be at peace.” (Van saw the Child Jesus in his visions.)

I fell in love with this small, sweet prayer. It held so much in so few words. Instead of just telling myself not to fear, I could take the fear that I couldn’t help feeling and put it to good use. I could offer it as a sacrifice.

So, I began to say (when I remembered), “Little Jesus, I offer this worry as a sacrifice to You.” And I began to feel more peace.

Be Patient with Yourself

Another thing that helped me gain perspective was this quote from St. Francis de Sales:

“As we must have patience with others, so we must with ourselves. Those who aspire to the pure love of God have not so much need of patience with others as with themselves. We must suffer our imperfection in order to have perfection. I say suffer, not love or pet; humility feeds on this suffering.”

If I fell into fear and worry, I shouldn’t beat myself up over it, feeling like a failure. That would only make things worse. The Lord knew I was trying, and I needed to be patient with myself.

It’s God’s Work

One evening, I went to confession to a holy priest who knew that I have a tendency to blame myself when I cannot obtain the virtues that I seek. He opened his Bible to a highlighted passage, and asked me to read it aloud:

“May the God of peace himself make you perfectly holy and may you entirely, spirit, soul, and body, be preserved blameless for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful, and he will also accomplish it.” (2 Thess 5:23-24)

When I finished reading it aloud, the priest asked me, “So, who will accomplish it?”

I looked back at the passage. “God will.”

“It’s God’s work,” he said, nodding.

Only God can do it, not I. If I want to be freed from fear, I must hand it over to the One who will set me free. I had been trying to stop being afraid through my own will power. No wonder it wasn’t working.

If I look in the Gospels, I see that I am not the only one who thought that I could live the Gospel on my own steam. In Luke 22, Peter tells Jesus that he is ready to go with Him to prison and to death. Jesus replies that, on that very night, Peter would deny Him three times. But before this exchange happens, Jesus tells Peter something foundational first:

“Behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail; and when you have turned again, strengthen your brethren.” (Luke 22:31-32)

Peter was trusting in himself, in his own power to stay strong, when he made his bold promises to Jesus. Jesus, meanwhile, knew that Peter, in his human weakness, would fall—and that only divine grace would give Peter the strength of unfailing faith.

Like Peter, I had been trusting in myself, in my own power to overcome fear. I learned that this is a power that I do not have. Only God’s grace can make my trust in Him strong again.

If I look back on that Gospel verse from John, the one that mystified me, I see that the truth was there all along. Because, before Jesus tells the Apostles not to be troubled or afraid, He tells them something foundational first, just like he did with Peter:

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” (John 14:27)

The only reason it is possible to not let our hearts be troubled or afraid is that Jesus makes it possible. He makes it possible by giving us His peace in a way the world never can.

In other words, as the priest who heard my confession said, “It’s God’s work.”

I am still inclined to fear more than I should, but understanding what to do with the fear—offering it to God instead of trying to overcome it alone—has made it much easier to bear when it comes. When I give Him my weakness, He gives me His strength.

And there is much joy to be found in such a world.

image: Michael Gaida via Pixabay

Maura Roan McKeegan

By

Maura Roan McKeegan is the author of a series of children's picture books about biblical typology, including: The End of the Fiery Sword: Adam & Eve and Jesus & Mary; Into the Sea, Out of the Tomb: Jonah and Jesus, and, most recently, Building the Way to Heaven: The Tower of Babel and Pentecost (Emmaus Road Publishing; available spring 2018). Her articles have appeared in publications such as Catholic Digest, The Civilized Reader, Franciscan Way, Guideposts, and Lay Witness.

Subscribe to CE
(It's free)

Go to Catholic Exchange homepage

  • Suzie Andres

    Maura, thank you so much for this helpful article! I love Jesus’ words which you have quoted. I love, too, that He meant it so much, this admonition for us not to worry, that He said it twice, for you can also find, “Let not your hearts be troubled,” at the outset of Chapter 14 of St. John’s Gospel, as well as a little later when He says it again and adds, as you have quoted, “neither let them be afraid.”

    Our Jesus is so good! I think too of when He said, “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the Kingdom” (Lk 12:36). Or again, when He said, “Do not be afraid any longer; only believe” (Mk 5:36). But as you say, that is a tall order! We do believe, and yet we persist (some of us anyhow!) in being afraid…

    I have found much consolation in Jesus’ words to Marcel Van in the lovely book “Conversations,” from which you quoted above. One of the themes of their conversations is, in fact, this very difficulty of remembering not to worry, or ceasing to worry even when we do remember that Jesus has told us we can trust Him to take care of everything. I have been reading lately this particular passage in which Jesus, with great love, tells Marcel:

    “How many times have I told you not to get so perturbed: and you still have this defect. Come, little brother, since you do not wish to cause me any pain in anything, what is there to trouble you? I tell you that I am happy with all that you do; why do you not believe what I say? All your actions, all your sighs, all the feelings of your heart, you have offered them to me already. All that is my property and no longer yours, so why trouble yourself?” (Conversations, 385)

    With a morning offering (even if one doesn’t remember to say it until later in the day!) we too, like Marcel, have again given Jesus all our actions, sighs, feelings, etc. It is balm to my troubled heart that I am not alone in my one faithful habit, namely worrying! I really appreciate your article and your good advice. We are not alone in our weakness, and it helps me to imagine that Jesus does not grow impatient. If I don’t succeed yet at banishing all worry, I can remind myself of more of Mary’s words to Marcel, “My dear child, remain in peace, all right? Little Jesus has not scolded you; neither have I. Our sole intention, both of us, is to get rid of your troubles. So not worry, I love you dearly.”

    Let’s pray for each other and all the readers of Catholic Exchange. It may take us a lifetime to stop worrying, but we can be sure Jesus’ peace is there for us nonetheless! You are right, only He can do this work in us, and I’m so grateful to be reminded that when I give Him my weakness, He will give me His strength. Thank you!

  • Jong Ricafort

    ‘Little Jesus, I offer this worry as a sacrifice to You,’ and then be at peace.” Amen..thanks i will start this prayer now….your wonderful article consoled me rnow really!…May God pour in more graces & wisdom in all your undertakings.Godbless!

MENU