When deciding on whether or not to travel to India and Asia, I was directed on an intuitive level towards the feeling that life was going extremely well for me in San Francisco. And I didn’t want to give it up. In some ways, I was absolutely opposed to traveling because I had finally gotten things in life the way I like them. But, feeling led by the spirit, I realized it might be best to take the opportunity to travel since I would be forced to let go of my tailor-made life.
I wrestled with whether or not this was unwise. Was I committing self-sabotage for falsely altruistic/self-righteous delusions? I spent several weeks trying to find an answer to that question. Meanwhile, God spoke to me through the words of a Jesuit priest in a dead language: agere contra. To act against. To face into the very things that I do not want to face into.
I had very little desire to go to India and my small desire was far outweighed by my hesitancies. But the idea of agere contra would not leave me alone; it gave definition to the spirit-led intuitions of my heart: “lose my life for Christ.” I am being given an opportunity to face into my fears. It is an opportunity to step into new challenges and be stretched. It is an opportunity to leave my comfort zone.
Well, the last two weeks I have certainly been outside my comfort zone. I’ve been sick with everything from a fever and cough to the worst kind of digestive problems imaginable. Things only get more uncomfortable when you live on the road and there isn’t toilet paper to be found in a thousand miles. Amid the traveling, I’ve felt incapable of getting healthy. In fact, the last two weeks have been, almost entirely, miserable. A lot of it is just cultural differences but it is still a challenge for me to step into an uncomfortable life- like so many other people I’ve encountered in their daily lives on this trip.
Over the last 18 months, there has been a growing concern within me that I too easily give into comfort and security; that I perpetually gravitate towards it without knowing when to stop. It is not that comfort and security are bad in-and-of-themselves, but I was making them into idols when I would rather be broken of them in order to experience true freedom. And that is the purpose of agere contra: to be broken and free of our embodied fears and idols. We do that by facing into them directly by the power of faith.
In other words, the purpose of agere contra is to be free from the self-imposed limitations that stem from our fears but the purpose is not to experience freedom for selfish reasons but so as to better follow Christ. Therefore, with agere contra, Christ calls us into our fears in order to remind us to trust in Him and, in turn, break us of our selfish fears/idols that attempt to make us into slaves.
Perhaps then, the best way to fight our fears is to put ourselves in our worst case scenarios. For instance, if I am deeply afraid of hospitals and germs, perhaps I should intentionally volunteer (or work) in a hospital so that I can “act against” (agere contra) my fears. There is a well-known story of St. Francis of Assisi, who kissed the sores on the hands of a leper. Not only that but he pressed his face against the leper’s face in order to lay down his fear of sickness and leprosy (and lack of trust in God that he will be protected from sickness) before God. * Such an action is foolishness by the world’s standards but in doing so, a person faces their fears while trusting in God. Slowly, that person comes to a place of freedom, whereas beforehand, they were not freely able to go about certain situations/places of life without anxiety or fear.
The foundation and motivation of agere contra and, consequently, the foundation and motivation for this trip, is a chance trust God, to step out into the unknown and act against the relentless gravitation towards comfort. I take heart when there are moments (glimpses, perhaps?) when I am completely washed over- when I am baptized- with the assurance of His guiding which continues to enable this agere contra. It is not always so easy. I may not know where my life is going but I can rest in the assurance that He is guiding me through the difficulties.