I have been awake all night. Not dozing, not uncomfortable, just wide awake, with my mind so full that even by nap time of the next afternoon, I am not yet tired. My mind is full of thoughts on love and fear.
I am not a naturally fearful person. Well, let's be clear. I'm not a naturally outrageously adventurous person either (that would be Brian and Silas). Still, I tend to be mostly hopeful, mostly trusting, mostly assuming the best in others and myself. Thankfully, most of my life, I have not lived with much fear. And yet, inadvertently, over the past few years I have stumbled into a very fearful religious climate. It happened so gradually and thoroughly that I lived under it without perceiving it for a long time. Now that I'm aware of it, though, I can't help but marvel at just how far I have strayed from the person God has created me to be.
For the past couple of years, fear of being wrong has permeated every aspect of my life. I lost my confidence in parenting. I did what everyone else around me did, and when I saw disastrous results in our home, I (we) very quietly made changes. We tried a couple of different times to talk about our experiences, but there wasn't much encouragement to do something outside of the "norm." Brian and I lost our footing as a couple, which had been secure and positive our entire marriage until that point. We didn't fit a specific mold, and felt certain that our previous decade, as good as it had been, must be inherently wrong as a result. We no longer knew how to trust and support one another. We lost sight of who God had created us to be as individuals and as a couple, and in doing so, nearly toppled completely. Thankfully, by God's grace, we have seen in the past several months that the more we live and function in the strengths and passions God has given us individually, the stronger we are together, and the more we remember all that we loved about one another in the first place. God knew what he was doing when He put us together. We have seen that when we are the people God created us to be, we are also naturally a couple whose relationship honors Him. God has been gracious to restore our marriage first, even as we have continued to see the effects of fear in other areas of life.
And I have seen the effects of fear in my relationships, both to God and to others. Not wanting to be wrong (or be seen as wrong, there is little difference), I left a lot unsaid. In fact, I didn't say it for so long, over time I no longer knew what I believed personally. I became disconnected from a loving God who wants nothing more than a relationship with us, as individuals and as a people. I forgot about a gracious God who is slow to anger, rich in mercy, abounding in love. I no longer believed that God wanted good things for me. Instead I became convinced of a glaring God with his eyes cut across the room, staring me down and waiting for me to sin. I no longer trusted that God loved me in any sort of meaningful way.
I couldn't sleep last night, because my heart was waking up.
It was waking up to the sound of the verse in 1 John: "There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear." It actually began stirring last Tuesday evening, when I heard the words of the Psalmist over and over in my head: "I look to the hills. Where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord. He will not let your foot slip; He who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep." It is from the Psalms of Ascension, written to encourage the Israelites on their pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Relax, Pilgrim, I heard that night. The sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night. Thanks be to God.
I am not a naturally fearful person, but I now know what a trap fear can be. I see the truth of the verse that says love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment, and the one who fears has not been perfected in love. I hope I never fall into that trap again. But I also hope that I never forget it, how stifling and isolating it is to be afraid. I hope it will make me more compassionate towards those who still wear fear like an anvil around their necks, and a little quicker next time to speak up before it pulls me under again.