I got slapped upside the head this morning. Oh, not literally. It was more of a metaphorical wake-up call letting me know I needed to reconsider the way I do some things.
Let me start back a step, though. I’ve talked about fear in this space before. Actually, I’ve spent a lot of time writing about fear and anxiety, mostly trying to deal with my own. This morning it struck me that fear is the root of an awful lot of the evil we experience and participate in every day.
- Religious discrimination
- Political mudslinging
All of these are rooted in a deep fear of people who aren’t like me. None of us are immune. I want to be. I find myself taking pride in thinking, “I’m not like them. You know, the ones who are always . . . . ”
Oh. Wait. That’s me, distancing myself from people who are different from me, who disagree with me, fearing someone might think I have something in common with them. Crap.
Fear is stingy. Fear lies to us that there won’t be enough. We’re in danger of missing out, fear tells us, and we need to hold tight to what we have and not let anyone else get any. It’s the scarcity model on a grand scale.
But, the Kingdom of God doesn’t work like that. The Kingdom of God has a law of love and an economy of grace. Love creates more love. Grace opens up space for more grace. The more we love, the more we show grace, the more there is for all of us. As long as we allow ourselves to receive from God, we can’t ever run out of love and grace, because that is His very being.
So, I prayed this morning, “I don’t know how to combat this fear. It seems as old as time. Wars have long been fought over land and wealth and access. What on earth can I do to make any sort of change to the level of fear that runs the world?”
Here is what followed.
Love more. Love stronger. Love better. Love with My Spirit pouring through you, instead of just trying to muster up love from within yourself. Genuinely love individuals in your specific, real-life community, rather than just feeling loving toward some composite sketch of humanity.
Ouch. But, yes. But, ouch.
We need to love as God loves. We need to get involved. We need to see people the world seems to look right past. To ask people what they need, what they want. To reach out and meet those needs that we can. To work together with other people in our communities to find ways to solve systematic inequities that have fostered a nation where all are created equal, but some are more equal than others.
But before we can do any of that, we need to let God love us.
We need to come to a place where we truly and unreservedly believe that God loves us and He has already given us everything we need in giving us Himself. Until I can say that and mean it with my whole heart, all the hard work I’m trying to do just wears me out. I know, because I keep trying. And I keep realizing that there’s more fear inside. Fear that I’m not good enough. Fear that I can’t do enough. Fear that God doesn’t really love me because I’m somehow not living up to His expectations.
The thing about love and fear, though? They can’t coexist. When we open ourselves up to perfect, complete, full-grown love, Love that is a Being, not merely a feeling, there is no more room for fear (1 John 4:18a).
If I were the one reading this, now is the point I’d be asking, “Great. I’m supposed to let myself be loved. How do I do that?” As the writer, I wish I could offer you a precise step-by-step tutorial. Except it doesn’t really work that way. Love meets each of us right where we are. I don’t know what your insecurities are. I don’t know the problems you face. I can’t offer a strategic game plan to break past your defenses and let Love in.
Here’s what I do have. I can share with you what I’ve been doing and have found helpful.
Gratitude. I have learned to ask myself (and I’m beginning to ask my children) What has brought me joy today? What can I thank God for bringing into my life right now? Sometimes, I can’t bring anything to mind. I may Google “things to be grateful for” or talk to a friend, but usually I just admit I can’t think of anything and pray for help. Once I’ve found at least one thing that prompts a “thank You” to the Giver of all good things, I say so. Usually I write it down.
Honesty. I have learned that the only way to build authentic relationships is to be honest, totally, completely, shamelessly honest. Whether I write it out, speak out loud, draw a picture, whisper in the depths of my heart, whatever way seems best, I present my fears in prayer. God is not offended by the truth of anything we think or feel. He’s big enough to receive every hateful, shameful, angry, grieving, fearful, disbelieving bit of them. We don’t have to dress them up and make them look pretty, just be honest.
Listening. This is the one that continues to give me the most trouble. Too many times, even though I know I want to hear, I also don’t want to hear what Love has to say to me. I also usually write this part out. How does God respond to me? I’m frequently surprised by the words and pictures that come. Words of love and peace and hope and challenge and delight and correction. It can be very helpful to share these words with someone trustworthy who can affirm the truth. One resource I have found to be quite useful as I’ve been learning to listen is Joyful Journey: Listening to Immanuel by E. James Wilder, Anna Kang, John Loppnow & Sungshim Loppnow.
Frankly, this all often seems like a lot of work. And all too often, I let days go by without having any truly meaningful interactions with God or anyone else. But when I do finally stop and rest, when I choose gratitude, when I am honest, and when I allow myself to listen expectantly, I am reminded why it truly is all worth it.