The Voice of Fear and Agere Contra

figure walking opposite direction than others - image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Recently, I’ve reached a new stage of discernment: the time right after the decision has been made but no action has been taken yet. I have already completed all the usual discernment steps. I’ve prayed, researched, made all my pros and cons lists, reached a decision, and brought it to God for confirmation. Now, I am supposed to act on it.

This, it appears, is the hardest part of discernment for me yet. My feet feel like they are stuck rooted to the ground, and my stomach feels a bit queasy. This is the part of discernment where I imagined that God would lay down the red carpet and indicate exactly where my feet were supposed to tread.

But there is no red carpet, unfortunately.

This also seems to be the part where I keep hearing conflicting advice shouted at me—loudly and constantly. The voice I hear is saying, “You remember that confirmation God gave you? What if you imagined it? After all, you aren’t good enough to walk that new path. You aren’t wise enough to make a decision such as this one. You aren’t really made for more.” Ugh, this voice is so annoying!

Sometimes the voice is so loud I look around to see who is shouting at me.

But most of the time the voice shouting bad advice at me turns out to be my own. Or more precisely, it turns out to be the voice of fear inside of me.

Near the start of this year, I began reading What Matters Most and Why by Jim Manney, and I came across a reflection a few days ago that involved the Latin phrase agere contra, which means “do the opposite.” Emboldened by the idea, I decided to test it out as I combat the voice of fear and keep moving forward with my decision.

When the voice shouted its bad advice, I did the opposite. Instead of backtracking and wondering if I made a good decision, I took a small step forward each day towards the goal. I sent the text. I wrote the e-mail. I had the next necessary conversation. I spoke my belief aloud over and over again that what I want to happen is possible. Even when internally I’m still freaking out and my mind is putting up walls to what I can accomplish, I have kept going, one step at a time.

I like how one line in Jim Manney’s reflection says, “‘Do the opposite’ means doing something.” One thing that can be confusing in this stage of discernment is assessing what is mine to do and what is God’s to do instead. I’ve tried reminding myself that God and I are partners in this work. God isn’t going to do all the work for me, and yet, I am not going to have to do all the work alone either.

When that voice of fear shouts, let’s take some good advice on how to proceed from the practice of Ignatian spirituality. Practice a little agere contra today, and let’s together choose grace over fear.

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay.


  1. Thank you Gretchen for your post. It described me perfectly. Been there several times but I have a tendency to get anxious & fear the outcomes not being good enough that I have committed to. I frequently discern before putting myself forward & take large responsibilities I hear from God’s voice, then go into panic mode. Thank you for confirming that I am not the only one & reminder that “I CAN DO ALL THINGS THROUGH CHRIST WHO STRENGTHENS ME” – Philippians 4:13.

  2. Thanks. Gretchen has got it right. There is immense grace waiting for the one who dares to turn to Agere Contra.

  3. Love this! You hit the nail on the head, that voice of fear isn’t necessarily trying to get you to do something wrong but basically to do nothing at all. You have inspired me!. Thank you for this.

  4. Just what I need today! I wake up an hour too early most days, analyzing, overthinking, and dreading tasks ahead. Thanks, Gretchen, and God bless.

  5. Fear is so powerful. Left alone to my own devices I am a heavy-duty underdog. I’ve done the list. I’ve prayed for guidance. Still, I’m not sure. Fear rules and I praY for Liberation. Freedom from fear. Enter Thomas Merton. The Thomas Merton prayer. He had been at this spot of uncertainty where fear can creep in and devastate our ability to move forward. “I’m not sure, dear Lord.” His wisdom helps me move forward without certainty but with faith. That, for me, is the best I can do. Thank you for this entry.


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