“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me.” Psalm 23:4
God forced me to face one of my biggest fears today. Against all my arguments, I attended the funeral of the 28 year old son of a dear friend. I wanted to go for the family’s sake. But I didn’t want to go because I knew I would have to stare my fear right in the face. And I think that was the point God was making, because He is determined to break me out of my prison. My prison of fear.
Fear has been my constant companion. For as long as I can recall, I have lived with fear. There are the usual ones: fear of rejection (which has happened), fear of failure (which has also happened), fear of the unknown, fear of heights and snakes and fire. Since the attacks on 9/11 the world has become a fearful place – enemies are all over the world, hiding in plain sight – why my next door neighbor could be plotting some heinous act.
But many of the fears that have imprisoned me are not so common, often irrational, and hard to break free of. They are fears that have affected relationships, have kept me from following my dreams, fears that keep me awake at night, and drag me into the pit of despair. I don’t know exactly when I became so fearful. As I was growing up, fear kept me from playing in the marching band or on a sports team or trying out for a part in the school play or the solo in the youth choir. Fear kept me from making friends with people I admired, and kept me bound in relationships that I should have walked away from. It caused emotional and physical health issues and straining even good, healthy relationships. Afraid of making (another) mistake, the running joke is “I don’t have to always be right, as long as I am never wrong.” It sounds funny, but the truth is, fear has often paralyzed me from making any decision at all. I am so afraid of looking foolish, I don’t even try. Fear has eaten away at any peace and joy in my life.
But it was when I became a Mom that fear kicked into overdrive and took control. After seven years of waiting and praying and hoping, through a difficult pregnancy and delivery; after my newborn son spent a week in the NICU at a medical university, by the time we came home I was determined to protect him at all costs. I became an expert “smother-mother.” I parented largely out of fear. Yes, and out of love too. Certainly I love my son with all my heart. But it is a fear-filled heart, and so often what began as caring and love morphed in actions motivated by fear. It was fear that caused me to pull him out of public school and start home-schooling. If was fear that questioned his friendships and relationships, fear that had to know where he was all the time and who he was with. And when the inevitable battles came as he got older, I pulled the reigns in even tighter. Out of fear. Mind you, like every teen/young adult he has given me reasons to be anxious, and times it was necessary and reasonable to pull those reigns a little tighter. In love, I want to keep him safe, but I often go into hyper-vigilant mode, and reasonable goes right out the window. I am just beginning to realize how much of my parenting has been influenced by fear.
God revealed something important – life changing – to me this morning through a passage that is, ironically, my son’s favorite Bible verse: 1 John 4:18 – “Perfect love casts out fear.” In those five words, God showed me what my life has been all about, and what I have been missing. Because I live in such fear, I cannot receive the love that God is offering to me. And because I can’t grab hold of His love, I live in fear. And because I I don’t claim His love for myself, I am trying to love others out of an anxious heart. The truth is, my fear-filled heart can’t really even love God-who is the fullness of all love. You see, the opposite of love isn’t hate, as we might think. It’s fear. The Word didn’t say “perfect love casts out hate,” because the root of hate is fear. Just as pride is the root of all sin, fear is the root of everything that is counter to love. Fear makes me judgmental. Fear keeps me from reaching out to others. Fear keeps me from accepting another’s hand reaching out to me. Fear keeps me isolated and lonely, even in a crowd. And as strange as it sounds, fear keeps at arm’s length the people I love the most. It’s a paradox really. I draw them so close I smother them, yet keep them just far enough away that they can’t hurt me; because in the end, that’s what my heart fears the most. Pain.
I don’t want to let fear rule my life anymore. I am praying that God will somehow break through all the fear that has built up around my heart and let me receive His love – His perfect love – so that I can love Him, myself, my family, and others out of a healthy heart. I am asking God to do for me what I can’t do for myself. I am praying that He will “give me a new heart and put a new spirit in me and remove from me this heart of [fear] and give me a heart of flesh” (Ezekiel 36:26, personalized). I am asking Him to set me free from my prison of fear so that I can experience fully His amazing love. I’m sure He is more than willing. You know, I think He’s been waiting for me all along.
God, I need you. Lord Jesus, lead me out of this prison. Holy Spirit, be my counselor and comfort. Father, take this fear-filled heart of mine and give me a heart to receive Your love, and then enable me to give it away. Amen.