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Story

By Eric A. Clayton

Last week, I received a phishing email from myself. It was unnerving.

This says the sender is “eclayton.” But that…that’s ME. Cue the music.

I didn’t recall sending myself a secure document that needed my own signature. I also didn’t remember signing up for an “allbayhomes” email address, from which the mirrorverse version of Eric had sent the scam email.

Also, who was Flavio?

All this to say, I quickly saw through the smoke and mirrors. It was clearly a phishing email, and no amount of “sent with High importance” urgency was going to get me to click on anything.

And yet, I did take action quickly. The thing just showing up in my inbox caused me alarm. I couldn’t let it sit there. Who else had gotten it? Were there more? How had it gotten through my spam filters?

Phishing emails are meant to cause alarm. They’re meant to evoke in the recipient this sense of urgency. To make you question yourself. To spark curiosity. To convince you to set aside your otherwise good judgment.

Did I sign up for this offer? Do they need my signature? What if I don’t respond quickly enough?

Buried amidst the humor of receiving a phishing email from yourself is a kernel of truth: What messages originate from within me that distract from my own goodness, my own worth and my own purpose by seizing upon my anxiety and fear?

Perhaps receiving a phishing email with my name as both sender and recipient isn’t so far-fetched. There are so many things that we insist to ourselves are worthy of our worry.

Do we have enough money? Are we in good enough shape? Is our job as prestigious as we want it to be? Are our kids in the best schools? Many of these things are good — or, at least good things to wonder about and work towards.

But when we allow these worries to cause us panic, when we allow ourselves to be led around by our anxiety rather than see it clearly for what it is, we are liable to trip up, to miss things, to get stuck in a moment that is not of the present.

We lose ourselves without even realizing it, like a flesh and blood phishing scam. Remember: phishing emails should be reported. We call out the lies.

St. Ignatius reminds us that the evil spirit works in the shadows. The enemy abhors transparency, truth and light. As soon as the lies are named, they begin to unravel. (SE 326)

Jesus tells us not to worry about what we’ll eat and drink and wear. “Seek first the kingdom of God…and all these things will be given you.” (Mt 6:33) Where is the kingdom of God to be found? Right here, right now — and not in a potential future that our anxiety insists upon. “Do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself.” (Mt 6:34)

These insights are helpful when those inner phishing emails appear in our spiritual lives. Call out the lies. Seek God’s peace in the present. Resist the urge to click in panic.

Then, aware of God’s abiding love, take a step forward.

This reflection is part of the award-winning weekly email series, “Now Discern This.” If you’d like to get reflections like this one directly in your inbox every Wednesday, sign up here.

a person smiling for the cameraEric A. Clayton is the award-winning author of Cannonball Moments: Telling Your Story, Deepening Your Faith (Loyola Press) and the deputy director of communications at the Jesuit Conference of Canada and the United States. His essays on spirituality, parenting and pop culture have appeared in America MagazineNational Catholic ReporterU.S. Catholic, Busted Halo and more, and he is a regular contributor to Give Us This Day, IgnatianSpirituality.com and Dork Side of the Force, where he blogs about Star Wars. His fiction has been published by Black Hare Press, the World of Myth Magazine and more. He lives in Baltimore, MD with his wife, two young daughters and their cat, Sebastian. Sign up for his Substack “Story Scraps” here.