The Fear of Reentry

These weeks easily have to be some of the most difficult, anxiety-ridden weeks of the year. For most of the people I know, the last two weeks of December involve taking substantial time off from work, reuniting with friends and family, traveling back home or perhaps to some exotic locale, enjoying fun holiday parties, and eating good food. But once the New Year ball drops, all these winter wonderland activities cease, and it’s time to reenter the real world of work and ordinary responsibility. Add to this the fact that many of us make wildly idealistic New Year’s Resolutions that we probably won’t be able to keep (mine involve self-taught French and banjo lessons), and it’s hard not to feel like the helpless Sisyphus perpetually pushing the boulder up the hill, only to watch it fall again at the end of 2017.

One of my friends who goes to The Wharton School in Philadelphia calls this dreadful feeling “The Fear” and says that It usually grips him on Sunday nights when a fun weekend is sadly over and a large pile of work looms in the distance. Of course, The Fear is nothing new and applies to more than just graduate students. The jarring transition between rest and work, or what Walker Percy calls “the reentry process,”[1] often causes sadness, despair, and frustration. In fact, it’s probable that Jesus experienced The Fear too. When he left a wedding at Cana in Galilee, he traveled a few days later to Jerusalem where he cleansed the temple courts.[2] One day Jesus is enjoying a festive wedding celebration with friends and family; the next he’s witnessing morally corrupt money-changers exploit others’ finances in the holiest of all Jewish settings. Such an abrupt transition must have brought about a fear of reentry and contributed to Jesus’ righteous desire to chase out the money-changers.

office-supplies

But where does this leave us? How can we face the invisible yet still monstrous Fear as the year starts and Monday arrives? I, for one, tend to create diversions for myself; procrastination sounds delightful when I’m on the brink of responsibility. The French mathematician and philosopher Blaise Pascal explained this human tendency more eloquently:

All our life passes in this way: we seek rest by struggling against certain obstacles, and once they are overcome, rest proves intolerable because of the boredom it produces. We must get away from it and crave excitement.[3]

Battling The Fear this time of year is difficult. Finding myself under its sway, occasionally I will use Augustine’s advice for help. Having spent almost his whole life experimenting with one attraction or idea after another—across several cities, relationships and worldviews—Augustine finally came to the conclusion that “our hearts are restless until they rest in God.”[4] This time of year we hear self-help gurus, weight-loss magicians, and modern-day money-changers promise to save us from what we fear and make our lives richer. But I would rather stick to Augustine. I would rather rest in God, knowing that with Him, even though piles of work loom large, all is well, and I can tackle one thing at a time.

Paul McClure


[1] Percy, Walker. Lost in the Cosmos: The Last Self-Help Book. (New York: Farrar, Straus, & Giroux), 1983. 141-159.

[2] John 2

[3] Pascal, Blaise. Pensées. #136.

[4] St. Augustine. Confessions. Book I. Chapter 1.

 

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