Writing Beyond Fear: 3 Lessons from St. Patrick

Therefore, although I thought of writing long ago, I feared the censure of men, because I had not learned as the others who studied the sacred writings in the best way.

St. Patrick

Sinner. Saint. Enigma. National Symbol. Patrick of Ireland is all of those things. But, he is something more. He’s an example of what can happen when you overcome your fear of others’ opinions and allow yourself to create unabashedly.

Patrick was afraid of writing. Yes, you read that correctly. His Confessions almost weren’t written. He was afraid others would make fun of him for being unlearned: he didn’t have the rhetorical style of his peers elsewhere; you see.

His peers had taken shots at him before. He’d escaped six years of captivity in Ireland and returned to his British homeland and had become a churchman when his peers brought up his past and tried to use it against him. They were unsuccessful, of course, but the accusation undoubtedly left an impression on him and more than likely added to his fear of writing.

Despite his fear, he wrote anyway. So can you.

1. Own up to your past. But recognize it’s not who you are now.

We only have Patrick’s word that he was a troubled youth. He isn’t specific in what he did, or in what ways he was a “sinner.” We know one of his past sins was scandalous enough for it to be brought against him later on.

How many of us are the same way? Some of us fear facing our own pasts and our own past mistakes. Whether from embarrassment, fear, or pain, looking at your life is not comfortable.

Especially when there are those in the world who will try to disparage us, claiming that we’ve not really changed, that we are the same as we were before—disappointments, failures, screw-ups.

But sometimes it’s the only way to overcome your own fear. Patrick owned up he wasn’t always a saint (no pun intended!) but he also emphasized that he was no longer that same person. Whether his peers believed him is another matter.

And their belief or unbelief isn’t what matters, anyway. Patrick believed it. Patrick knew it. And he let the knowledge that he was a better person than he was fuel his courage to write about his experience.

2. Stand firm in what you know you’ve gotten right and don’t let anyone take that away from you.

Whatever your personal religious leanings, the fact Patrick sticks to his guns and recounts how he’s ministered to the Irish is an example to all of us. He constantly emphasizes what he’s gotten right.

How often do we allow other people to downplay our accomplishments or make us feel like what we did wasn’t of any importance? All too often, unfortunately. We allow other people to tell us the value of our work, instead of seeing the value for ourselves.

Patrick ministered to more than just the sons of nobles. He ministered to slaves, women, the disadvantaged—people who had been in the same position he’d been in when he was a slave. He brought them hope—which is more than anyone else had ever done. That, he knew, he got right.

3. Expand your purpose beyond yourself.

Patrick always makes the claim he was merely doing as he was called to do. He didn’t seek his own glorification, canonization, or fame. He simply wanted to do what he knew he did. Ireland wasn’t a project, so he could make a name for himself.

It was a sincere desire to serve his god and the people who had captured him as a youth. He ended up succeeding beyond his wildest dreams.

So, when you are out in the world seeking your own purpose, are you just looking inward, or are you reaching for something beyond yourself?

Write through your fear

We often speak of “imposter syndrome” and we allow it to prevent us from doing what we really want. It’s as true for writers as it is for anyone else.

But if you are afraid, then your words and your story will die with you. Can you honestly allow that to happen?

Thankfully for us, Patrick knew he couldn’t. He overcame his fear and wrote even if others made fun of him. We don’t know what those same peers who accused him before made of his Confessions or even if they read them at all. History only tells us that if they wrote—their words are lost to us.

Patrick’s live on.

Will yours do the same?

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