Seeking peace on the other side of fear: author Q&A with Hallie Lord

Hallie Lord (photo provided)

Hallie Lord is a lay Catholic writer, speaker, radio host and convert. Co-founder of the Edel Gathering, a conference for Catholic women, she lives with her husband Dan and their seven children in South Carolina.

Mrs. Lord’s latest book, On the Other Side of Fear: How I Found Peace (Our Sunday Visitor, 2016), was published on Aug. 22. On July 31, I interviewed her by email about this book.

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Why did you write this book?

Before this book had even begun to take shape in my mind, I was talking to a brilliant editor at HarperOne named Katy Hamilton. She encouraged me to look for the theme running through my life and my faith, and tell that story. When I looked back at the last decade of my life, what I saw was a young woman who had been utterly paralyzed by anxiety until God took her by the hand and showed her the path to freedom from her fears. I knew right away that this was the story I was meant to share next.

You are a convert to Catholicism, writer, speaker, radio host, mother and wife. What role does your personal background play in this new book?

When I was young, my family had a tradition called “Feats of Bravery.” Whatever the thing was that intimidated you, you would do it and you would do it with panache because doing so cultivated courage. That practice carried me for a long time. I backpacked through Europe after I graduated from high school, took solo road trips all over the country and happily made impulsive decisions because I craved adventure. Then I converted to Catholicism at age 22 and everything changed.

This sounds like a bad thing, my converting to Catholicism and suddenly becoming overwhelmed with anxiety. But in truth, it was simply God revealing a weakness I already possessed. I felt courageous as long as I was in the driver’s seat. But when you give your life over to God, you hand him the keys—which is a very frightening thing to do, seeing as our God is a God who is known to ask wild and crazy (and sometimes seemingly ill-advised) things of his followers. I desperately wanted to get back that feeling of boldness that I’d tasted when I was young, but I wanted to do it without snatching back control of my life from God (which I’d come to learn is an illusion, anyway). In this way, my family’s tradition laid the groundwork for my desire to overcome my fears.

Who are you writing for?

I’m writing for anyone who longs to live a life that is fully alive, complete with highs and lows, joy and grief, tears and laughter, and ultimately, peace. I want people to know that yes, God can (and probably will) ask you to do very scary things and endure much suffering over the course of your life but that you can get to a place of intimacy with God that leaves you feeling unafraid to follow him wherever he might lead. Because at the end of the day, our best lives are going to be the lives we lead when we allow him to guide us.

What is fear to you?

Fear, to me, is the feeling you get when you are looking forward into your future. It’s imagining a turn of events that you don’t think you have the strength to endure, and are left feeling frozen, unable to make a move in any direction as a result of a quiet, insidious belief that God will not catch you when you fall.

What is the “other side of fear” referenced in your title?

I have come to think of the “other side of fear” as the place of peace you find yourself in when you come to truly believe—deep down in your bones—that God has your back and will not abandon you no matter how furiously the storms in your life may rage, how dry the deserts get or how depleted of strength you may feel.

Your subtitle says you “found peace.” What is this peace and how did you find it?

It’s the peace that awaits us when we learn to say yes to God in spite of all the reservations that come with being fallen creatures. I found this sense of peace only after one day being so tired of feeling scared that I looked heavenward and begged God to deliver me from my anxieties. Over the course of the next decade or so, he began to show me how to conquer my fears. Perhaps the most life-changing thing he taught me is that spiritual growth is synonymous with spiritual surrender. The more we lean into his will, the more progress we will make in overcoming our fears. It’s like a muscle we have to exercise. At first it won’t feel like you’re making much progress but one day you’ll look back and see just how far you’ve come.

What is the message of your book?

The message of my book is that terrible, painful things happen all over the world every day and that some of these terrible things may very well happen to you and I. That’s just reality, and anyone who tells you that you can live a life free of suffering is either lying or delusional. What we don’t have to accept is living our lives mired in anxiety. Recognizing that life is hard and being at peace are not mutually exclusive. If you’re not there yet, that’s okay. God can show you how to get there. My hope is that my story will illustrate this for people.

What were your religious beliefs growing up and what made you convert to Catholicism?

My family embraced an amalgamation of Eastern mysticisms. As I became an adult, I began to notice that for all the good intentions and compelling words that were being said, this spirituality seemed to lack an undercurrent of power. It’s easy to profess a set of beliefs but at the end of the day, have you been given the strength to live those beliefs? Do you have the strength to choose to sacrifice yourself for others, even when you don’t have to; to give up everything to embrace a countercultural life that causes people to be perplexed at best, and contemptuous at worst; and to turn to God and say, “Your will, not mine, be done?” As soon as I stumbled upon Catholicism, and looked around at the lives its followers were living, I knew I had found that power.

How has your faith grown or evolved over the years since your conversion?

For a long time after my conversion, I carried around a lot of guilt for my past sins. I was hugely grateful to God for my newfound faith but somehow that gratitude got twisted and left me feeling despondent. I tried to show God how much his mercy meant to me by attempting to be the perfect Catholic but over and over again, I fell flat on my face. Eventually, I got to the point where I couldn’t help but ask myself: Why try at all if all of my efforts at sanctification are so utterly fruitless? It was only once I started to understand that God is love and that his power is made perfect in my weakness that I began to grow closer to him. These days I am trying to be at peace with wherever I currently find myself in my spiritual life knowing that God is quietly doing his work within me and that that’s not a process that can or should be rushed. In many ways, the journey is just as important as the destination.

Who have been the biggest influences on your faith and writing?

There are so many. Let’s see. St. Francis de Sales, Anne Lamott, Saint John Paul II, Rick Bragg, Thomas Merton and my husband, Dan Lord, are the first people who come to mind.

How does Catholicism influence your approach to being a wife and mother?

As cliché as it may sound, Catholicism has taught me that love conquers all. When my husband or children are feeling frustrated, scared, tired, sick, hungry or any number of other afflictions that affect a family on a day-to-day basis, I’ve learned that the best antidote is to pour in as much love as possible. Christ gave his very life for us, out of love, and as pathetic as my efforts often are, I am trying to imitate him in this way more and more with each passing day.

What are your hopes for the future?

Honestly, simply that all of my loved ones will become evermore convinced that God’s love for them is unconditional and that they will be able to rest in that knowledge.

What regrets do you have about the past?

I regret that I allowed my fears to hurt those I love. Often, when we are afraid, we turn in on ourselves, as a protective measure, and lash out at anyone who comes near. I wish I’d been able to shield others from the negative effects of the battle I was fighting. I spend a lot of time asking God to heal the wounds I may have caused others.

What is your favorite Bible passage and why?

Lately I’ve been meditating a lot on Psalm 46:11. “Be still, and know that I am God.”

Recently a potential career opportunity presented itself. I was incredibly excited about it. I prayed about it on my knees at church and spoke to God about it while scrubbing dishes at my sink. But over and over again, he simply replied, “Breathe, Hallie. Breathe, be still, and know that I am God.”

And so I tried to quiet my mind (and my mouth) and just be still. And remind myself that he is God.

As I did, he began to reveal things to me. He led me to other opportunities and illustrated for me how they might be the better things to hope for, the more lovely dreams to dream. He quietly showed me how the path I was trying to force myself down (machete in hand) was lined with thorns and potholes and frustration. He painted a vision for my future that was so much more beautiful than the one I’d been envisioning.

In my stillness he was able to speak to me.

I can only imagine how many things God has wanted to tell me but that in my franticness, I have missed entirely. How many dreams he’s dreamed for me that I’ve failed to see or embrace because I wasn’t listening.

And so, though I have seven enchanting little ones, and might never be able to be perfectly still, I'm going to continue to remind myself that he is God and that his plans for my life are the only ones I want to run toward with abandon. (When I’m not being still, of course.)

What’s your next project?

I just launched a new radio show on SiriusXM’s The Catholic Channel called Hallie Weekly. It airs on Thursdays from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. Eastern. Right now I’m focused on getting that off the ground, promoting my new book, On the Other Side of Fear: How I Found Peace and working on the next Edel Gathering (a conference for Catholic women).

What do you want people to take away from your life and work?

I would love for people to look at me and my work and think, “You know, she strikes me as a little crazy, but at the same time she seems deeply at peace and full of joy,” and be able to recognize that that’s a result of God teaching me how to follow him wherever he may lead, even if it does look a little crazy to the outside world.

Any final thoughts?

In my book I write: “Overcoming your fears won’t happen overnight and will require a good deal of discipline, fortitude, and faith, but you will never regret having taken the journey. I wasted far too many years in the grip of fear and I can tell you that no matter what it takes to overcome your fears, no matter how hard you have to work or how much you have to sacrifice, it’s worth it. For here, on the other side of fear, lies freedom. Here lies the ability to love, savor, and create with abandon. And here lies the vibrant, adventurous, full life that God has created just for you.”

It is my hope that everyone who is trapped in the place that I once was, will take the journey and find the peace that is waiting for them on the other side of fear.

Sean Salai, S.J., is a contributing writer at America.

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
Crystal Watson
1 year 11 months ago
When I think of all the bad things happening in my own life and to to my moved ones and of the bad things happening all around the world, I feel scared, depressed, and angry. I pray that God will make things better, but things usually don't get better. Many people say that an intimate relationship with God makes all the bad stuff bearable, but the question of why God lets all this bad stuff happen in the first place is never answered (at least not to my satisfaction). So I'm slowly getting to the place where I think either God doesn't care about us or that he just doesn't exist. Somehow accepting the bad stuff because there's no way to avoid it seems wrong, no matter how comforting it might be.
Bruce Snowden
1 year 11 months ago
Hi Crystal, I’m really sorry that so much “bad stuff” is cramping your life. Along with everybody else I’ve also experienced “bad stuff” and at times wonder, “God, where are You?” There’s no “magic wand” so to speak, able to make some sense out of what seems so senseless, only belief in God, however emotionally unrewarding. Paul said an interesting thing about Faith in God – he actually said a lot, but one insight strikes me as particularly meaningful. He said, “Faith is ‘evidence’ of things not seen.” When one speaks of evidence one is speaking of something tangible, something that you can see, feel, touch , taste and even smell. That’s the kind of Faith that makes it possible to be smacked around by the “bad stuff” without being broken. And if even broken, mendable. Not easy! I think a good recent example is the life of Saint Mother Teresa of Kowalta. How she managed through her “bad stuff” is inspiring to say the least. In talking about Faith in God I’m not talking about a “nice feeling.” Authentic Faith in God involves a lot more than warm, cuddly stuff – it’s all about “decision” “commitment” like in marriage, in good times also through the vertigoes of life, wife and husband sustain one another, like Orchids grafted to a tree sipping borrowed sustenance from the Tree of Life, from Faith in God. I call my wife, “My Everything” and to her I am the same. Not easy, but Faith in God makes it doable! I don’t mean to be preachy, but also look at what happened to Jesus. Here was a perfectly righteous person doing right all the time, a person with unwavering trust in God and what did that get him? It got him arrested, beaten, spit upon, condemned to death, executed in a most awful way. He begged God to take away the “bad stuff” that he could see was coming and rather than things getting better, they got worse! They killed him. He did say to God courageously, “O.K., do it Your way.” In Gethsemane He was so spiritually, physically, and psychologically stressed that capillaries in his skin burst causing what’s devotionally called, the “Bloody Sweat.” Not a miraculous thing, but a natural consequence rooted in horrendous stress of spirit, body, mind. Could anything be “badder”stuff than that? Think about it, some of the “bad stuff” that can happen naturally isn’t all bad after all, even though it can be BAD! Like flooding rains that send water rushing down a mountainside washing away people and property wrathfully, using the same natural law (gravity) to kill, that allows water to flow quenching thirst, sustaining life. Just think how terrible it would be if water couldn’t flow. And so on. It helps to find the silver lining even in the darkest cloud. I can only hope that a word or two of this outreach is at least a little helpful . I can imagine your pain as just reading you is painful! So, if I may, I’d like to conclude by offering these words of Thomas Merton, a prayer really, asking that we remember all in prayer as the “bad stuff” piles in. Merton says, “My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road before me. I cannot know for sure where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I am following Your Will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please You does in fact pleas You and I hope that I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope I will never do anything apart from that desire. I know if I do this, You will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust in You always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear for You are ever with me and You will never leave me to face my perils alone. Amen.” God bless you, Crystal!
Sean Salai, S.J.
1 year 11 months ago

Crystal, thank you for sharing. I will pray for you during this difficult time.

Crystal Watson
1 year 11 months ago
Thank you.

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