Monday, April 08, 2013

Frustration Anxiety

I was invited yesterday to share my vocation story with a group of undergraduates currently discerning vocations to religious life. It's an honor and great treat to meet obviously talented young people who are willing to make their hearts vulnerable to discernment; when we risk being open to the Spirit, when we dare to consider what it might be to make our lives a more radical response of 'yes' to God's invitation to friendship, we are threatened with the insight from the Letter to the Hebrews, "It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of a living God" (Heb 10:31).

As I looked out at such talented young people, each with so many options and possible paths in life,
I felt compared to share with them something I took from Karl Rahner, an insight into what Rahner called "frustration anxiety." Of Frustration Anxiety, he writes of people who
...think they might miss something, that something might escape them before they have to go; and at the same time they know that very soon they must go and there is not much time left in which anything can bring happiness. 
To put it otherwise, Frustration Anxiety is being anxious about being frustrated, an anxiety arising with the realization that one is finite and unable to avail oneself of all of life's options. One wishes so much to keep options open, to have the freedom to take any of a number of paths in life, that one never chooses anything.

We're "pro-options" yet "anti-commitment."

Yet, as Rahner points out, "this fear of not having consumed everything spread out on the table of life means that nothing is enjoyed: everything is merely 'crammed' in, the digestion is spoilt." Nothing is experienced, savored, or relished on account of one's desperation to experience everything.

I suspect there are very many of us with friends and family members afflicted with Frustration Anxiety. Rather than closing off some avenues of life and committing oneself to a life's project, a vocation, they remain in the stable, too afraid to set out lest they miss something. Fear of missing something means they never gain anything.

Frustration Anxiety terminates in only one of two ways. Either, after a life driven by anxiety, a life of ulcers and fretting over options one wishes to hold open, a life animated by not ever really committing oneself to anything, death will overtake the person who will find rest finally in eternal sleep. Or a life that commits oneself to the deep longing of the heart, an acceptance that in choosing one path many others have been closed off, but a life marked by a journey.

Our lives are either the pristine white page upon which we fear to write anything or the dingy paper on which we have inscribed the story of our life, replete with erasure marks, cross-outs,  yet an entire narrative telling forth the adventures our lives have recorded. To put the pen to the paper, to begin to write, necessitates a certain sacrifice, a closing of options, an experience of accepting the cross of living a life of commitment that forecloses some choices, that opens up as-yet-unseen options in the future.

One is having a life that is not lived. The other is living a life not had by anyone else, a life written by those we have loved, the mistakes we have made, the adventures we have risked taking.


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