Love Casts Out Fear
~ The Fearful Hoarders ~
"Once there was a group of people who surveyed the resources of the world and said to each other: “How can we be sure that we have enough in hard times? We want to survive whatever happens. Let us start collecting food and knowledge so that we are safe and secure when a crisis occurs.” So they started hoarding, so much and so eagerly that other people protested and said: “You have much more than you need, while we don’t have enough to survive. Give us part of your wealth!” But the fearful hoarders said: “No, no, we need to keep this in case of an emergency, in case things go bad for us too, in case our lives are threatened.” But the others said: “We are dying now; please give us food and materials and knowledge to survive. We can’t wait, we need it now!” Then the fearful hoarders became even more fearful, since they became afraid that the poor and hungry would attack them. So they said to one another: “Let us build walls around our wealth so that no stranger can take it from us.” They started erecting walls so high that they could not even see anymore whether there were enemies outside the walls or not! As their fear increased they told each other: “Our enemies have become so numerous that they may be able to tear down our walls. Our walls are not strong enough to keep them away. We need to put explosives and barbed wire on top of the walls so that nobody will dare to even come close to us.” But instead of feeling safe and secure behind their armed walls they found themselves trapped in the prison they had built with their own fear."
—Henri Nouwen, Presbyterian Peace Fellowship Breakfast address
The more I know about myself and the more I know about people, the more I am aware about the power of fear. It often seems that fear invades so much of our lives that we don’t know what a life without fear is anymore. Fear affects us as individuals and as a community. So many people allow their thinking, speaking, and acting to be motivated by fear. We fear ourselves and we fear each other. Fear can be such a central part of our lives that we never address it properly or have the self-awareness and strength to address it. Unaddressed and out-of-control fear can become a cruel and heavy burden carried by us in the journey of life.
The control that fear has over our lives may be subtle. We may not believe or agree, for example, that people different than us are our enemies but we behave as if that were the case.
One of the ways to overcome/manage/cope with fear is with prayer/meditation. Henry Nouwen writes that prayer helps us to overcome the barrier of building our life on just the interpersonal – “what does he or she think of me? Who is my friend? Who is my enemy? Whom do I like? Dislike?” We are often concerned about distinction from others. As long as our sense of self depends on what others think or say about us, and how they respond to us, we become prisoners of the interpersonal and no longer free but fearful.
Nouwen suggests that one of the ways to pray in a world full of fear is to choose love over anxiety/fear. I offer to you an encouragement from the Bible: love is stronger than fear and “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4:18).
Once we free ourselves from the grip of fear, I think our responsibility is to help others break from its dominion. That might mean standing up for the oppressed, marginalized, outcasts, and those experiencing systemic and institutional evil - those that might not be in a position of power to make their voice or circumstance heard.
I believe the injustice suffered by George Floyd, and the many others marginalized in our society, whether it is by means of systemic racism, inequality, and oppression, is a good reminder of the necessity for us to choose love over fear. The Bible asks us to care for the oppressed, to be peacemakers, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. As Americans, as Christians, as human beings, one of the ways in which we can honor the sanctity of life, inside and outside the womb, is to use our voice and speak out against injustice, racism, and institutional/systemic evil.
1) How does fear affect your life?
2) What are some of the steps you can take to overcome/manage/cope with fear?
3) How can you help others overcome their fear?
Nouwen, Henri J. M.. Spiritual Formation (pp. 78-80). HarperOne. Kindle Edition