Fear, for me, starts out like a well-meaning roommate. “Are you sure you really want sit there? That really doesn’t seem sturdy?” or “Are you sure you really want to turn on that light? It might be too bright for your eyes.” My inner fear wants to know if I can handle something, and lets me know the possibilities of failure with each choice.
As I start making decisions based on fear (because sometimes fear seems like it makes good, rational points), I notice that my friendly roommate offers increasing suggestions about all aspects of my life. Soon my “friendly” roommate Fear has taken over the whole house, while I’m cowered in a dark corner of myself with barely any mental room to breathe. The helpful suggestions led to a hostile takeover of my entire life. And now, I have to take back my home.
Perfect love drives out fear. At least, this is what 1 John tells me. John argues that love drives out fear because fear is about punishment. Love doesn’t punish; love disciplines, but it doesn’t punish. Discipline is about training for relationship; punishment is about retribution.
As I’ve learned this year in my own battle against anxiety, I’ve not been made perfect in love yet. I fear. I am anxious. I fear people not finding me cool enough, or “holy” enough (whatever that means) for ministry. Am I really a leader? Am I a good one? Does what I do actually make a difference somewhere? Or are all these words and actions poured out into a vacuum? I feared sitting down to write today – feared not making sense, not having wisdom, not having something to say that might matter for anyone other than me. (Note: I know these are not ultimately helpful questions because they continue to focus me inward. There’s never enough human affirmation to fill that gap; I know it has to come from someplace else. But, they are still significant questions that pop up for me.)
As we look toward adoption, I fear that people will think less of me because of choices my child(ren) might make. I’m now afraid of what my child(ren) may do to lash out at themselves, peers, my husband, or me; more than that, I’m afraid because I don’t know yet what my responses to those situations will be. I’m afraid of not being a perfect parent (though intellectually, I know no one is). I’m afraid that while I’m longing for connection in community that this whole adoption process will set us outside the circle of our friends. I’m afraid that all these roads are the ones that God is actually calling us toward. Beyond all these things, I’m afraid that at some point on this year’s journey I’m going to fail God’s calling on me, and that somehow God will be disappointed in me.
In each of the scenarios I mentioned, I’m waiting on punishment. I wonder if I’ll be judged, found lacking, and condemned. And that’s where fear creeps in.
The point isn’t that I become perfect to avoid punishment. The point is that I learn to rest in the love which drives out fear of punishment. God always welcomes me. Always. I, in my own stubbornness and stupidity, may not always welcome God. God’s welcome may not always be gushy and obvious; sometimes God is silent. But God, in spite of my failings, has never ousted me. About this experience of God’s affirmation Henri Nouwen writes,
This experience of God’s acceptance frees us from our needy self and thus creates new space where we can pay selfless attention to others. This new freedom in Christ allows us to move in the world uninhibited by our compulsions and to act creatively even when we are laughed at and rejected, even when our words and actions lead us to death (The Selfless Way of Christ, p. 58).
And to this end, I was struck by Philippians 4 this summer as I translated it from Greek for my summer class. Paul tells the Philippians not to be anxious. To which I think, “easier said, than done,” Paul. And he goes on that instead of being anxious, in everything the Philippians should present their requests to God. He tells them to pray about what makes them anxious. In their praying, the peace of God will rest on them. Paul does not make God a wish-granting genie. Paul doesn’t say anything about God even answering their prayers as they asked (Note: I’m not saying God doesn’t answer prayer; I’m saying that in this instance, Paul is focused on the peace that God will bring). Instead of mere wish fulfillment, God brings peace — peace that transcends all understanding.
By praying, I place myself in God’s hands. And being there, I experience the warmth of God’s affection for me. From that place, fear has no room to sprout. If I can find ways of staying in intentional communion with God, then Nouwen’s words begin to ring true. I no longer need to fear the judgment of others because I am in the Father’s hands. The laughter and rejection (while they sting) need not hold me hostage because no one and no thing can separate me from God’s love. I need not prove myself useful, spectacular and competent to others because I’ve already found identity and security in Jesus. It is entirely possible for me to live out a space of rested calm – even when it makes no sense. What J and I are about to embark on this year seems absolutely crazy to me! And while I’ve feared things going wrong on the journey, I also have a concrete sense of peace that we’re walking on a trail that God has paved for us.
Peace tends to be so much easier for me in the summer when I’ve got more time to be a hermit – to curl up with books, journal and Bible just for me and because I want to do it. The challenge for me will be in maintaining this during the year. Seeking out solitude (and not feeling guilty for it) needs to be a bigger priority for me this year. Otherwise, the fear and anxiety always wins. And it’s past time for fear to get out of my house.