A Four-Letter Word || Patreeya

There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.

1 John 4:18

I was a child raised by fear. I am the daughter of calculated risk and safety. Ever since I can remember, I have been cautious, reserved, fearful.

Maybe I inherited it from my parents or maybe my story has rewired my brain to more easily see the dangers in life–or maybe it’s both. Either way, fear dominated the way I made decisions growing up. The people I hung out with. The hobbies I took up. The sports I played (or rather, didn’t play). The things I said. The person I wanted people to think I was.

When an opportunity presented itself, I always searched for the dangers, the pitfalls, the worst-case scenarios. When people showed up in my life, I treated them with suspicion and examined their motives–waiting for them to either hurt me or leave. I always asked, “What might I lose?” rather than, “What could I gain?” Even when I took risks, it was out of fear that I would miss out or that an opportunity would pass me by.

Fear became a safe space to me, drawing boundaries to keep the bad things out. But what I couldn’t see most of the time was that my fear grew into a cage–it kept the bad things out, but it also locked me in.

I don’t think I always knew when fear was taking the reins. When the movie Inside Out premiered, some friends and I had a lively discussion about which emotion ran our “command center.” When my turn rolled around, one friend said nonchalantly, “Oh, that’s easy; you’re fear.” And I felt so exposed.

Now, I’m not talking about the healthy fear that warns you when something isn’t right… like the fear of a burning building or the fear that eating a package of bacon by yourself every morning might result in some complicated health issues. In some ways, we might even call that brand of fear “wisdom.”

I’m talking about the fears that are always there, regardless of the circumstance–fears about who you are or about others or about God. Those fears that you sometimes don’t even register because their voices are so familiar you mistake them for your own.

I am afraid of living my life out of that sort of fear. Ironic, isn’t it? But the more I examine my life (and something about January 1st makes you examine life a little more than usual), the more I can see the veins of fear running through it.

The fear of missing out.

The fear of what others think.

The fear of getting hurt.

The fear of letting people down.

The fear of failure.

The fear of being unlovable.

The fear of the future or the unknown.

These fears have been my loyal companions throughout the years. They have dictated what I say yes to, who I date, what I wear, what I say, who I hang out with. They are intimate voices in my head, telling me when I have screwed up or missed out, telling me the worst will always happen and people always leave, telling me control and comfort are the safest places to land.

But the more I look my fears in the face, the more my loyal companions begin to look like prison guards and my “safety” and “comfort” start to resemble bars of a cage. A self-imposed prison.

I am learning love and fear cannot coexist. I used to think they could at least be mild acquaintances, sitting on opposite sides of the room at an awkward party, sipping punch and yelling across people about the weather. But now I see fear cannot tolerate love. And love will cast out fear.

Because fear is about me.

That’s what makes it so seductive. We love when things are about us. And fear loves to talk about me. She talks about what I need to do to stay safe. She tells me what other people will think. She helps me do a thorough analysis–always grounded in the most objective research, of course–of all the things that could possibly hurt me or go wrong in each situation. She warns me to stay safe, because the world is a scary place and people are unpredictable and only looking out for themselves. And I listen, and I thank her, and I keep coming back.

But love. Love is not about me. “And this is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters” (1 John 3:16). Love is laid out for us on the cross. Love is costly to the giver. Love values the good of the other above personal comfort, safety, or preference. When we love, there is always a high possibility of getting hurt. Which is why fear seems like the better option. If it weren’t for the cage and bars and all.

Because the only thing that will free us from fear is to experience love. The only thing that will emancipate us from a life of looking out for ourselves and our best interest is to know that someone else already is doing those very things–with no strings attached.

Jesus says, “This is what love is. That I gave up my comfort and my safety and my rights so you might experience the comfort and safety of knowing that you are loved more than you could ever imagine. Now go, and do likewise.”

Love is what will set us free–cliche as that sounds. It is the long-awaited tap on the shoulder in a game of freeze tag. We stand there, frozen, locked in our own little worlds, unable to live lives of unshackled generosity and grace because of what we need from people or what they might think of us or what it will cost us.

And then love crashes into us and yells, “You are free! You are free to go and live and see and fail and get hurt. You don’t have to stand frozen any longer. You don’t have to be afraid. If you get frozen again, I’ll come back for you.” Love frees us to go and liberate others, to tap on the shoulder those who have been standing frozen in fear. And if enough of us are running around unfreezing others, then fear will never win.

So this is me, hoping to live more of my life unfrozen. And I know the fears will come, I know the voices will continue to whisper to me. But here I am, giving you permission to tap me on the shoulder if you see me standing still.

But for now–tag, you’re it.

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.

He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners…

Isaiah 61:1