Here is a letter I recently wrote to a struggling friend concerning handling my fear:
Lately I’ve thought more about fear (I’m talking about sinful fear – anxiety – worry, not the healthy fear of God we are commanded to have) and the solution to that sin in my life. It’s not been a pretty aspect of my life to contemplate, but I think it has been productive and helpful. Fear has generally governed my life to some degree always. It has effected my parenting, my health, my thought processes, what I’ve allowed my kids to do, how I viewed God, caused some anger and more. It has never, not even once, had a positive affect on my life or any relationship, but rather, it has damaged me and others and my relationship with God-sometimes seriously and perhaps, but in God’s mercy I hope not, irrevocably. It is a destructive force I learned to live with and actually, if I’m being completely honest, came to be comfortable with.
I think I have been at ease with anxiety, even while despising it, because it felt like I had some measure of control over things if I felt fear over them. In a twisted way, it felt like the dread and apprehension were giving me a “handle” on things in life. For example: When one of my children has a serious health issue, I think I’m doing something productive to feel fear and worry over him. The fear “feels” like I’m coping with the situation and helping it out in some way. It seems like that’s what I must do to “help” or “cope.” It’s me “doing something” in the face of an event I can do nothing about. But all that’s a lie. And it’s a lie I’ve chosen to believe for many years. My fear doesn’t help any situation in any way. It doesn’t help my child heal or overcome disease. It doesn’t grow my faith in God or give me peace about the situation. It destroys. Only. But it’s what I’ve trained myself to do. And it has to stop.
When I look back at the most fearful incidents in my life, especially the prolonged ones, I can clearly see how darkly the dread effected me and how it only brought misery and damage. But, when I look at how the Lord overcame it in my life, I see victory and joy and peace. I see fear erased and replaced with joy and peace and comfort. But how it was replaced was not what I expected to see. At first glance, it seems that what would conquer fear is peace or safety or joy, and while I have experienced those things once the fear is gone, they aren’t the things we should be seeking to get rid of the fear. That won’t work. Believe me, I’ve tried it. What has crushed my fear so that it is completely decimated in my life has been nothing but love.
I hope I can clearly explain this so it makes sense.
“There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.” 1 John 4:18a
This verse never made sense to me. I couldn’t see how love could cast out fear. Maybe if God gave my child his health back or repaired all my damaged relationships, then fear would leave, but how can love get rid of the anxiety?
And whose love? God’s love to me? Or mine to Him? Or some other kind of relational love? It seems that the context of this verse indicates all of those types of love but how exactly does it get rid of fear? I didn’t know this or practice this in the midst of my fearful circumstances. I just feared and fretted, lost sleep and weight and friends and direction and purpose.
Then, God brought love. He showed me through His word in dozens of places His love to me. Real love to real me. Right then. He spoke to my heart. Not audibly but more powerfully – to my soul through His word. He showed me that it didn’t matter what my fear was, but that His love was there cascading into my life overwhelming that circumstance. I already KNEW this but I wasn’t embracing this. I wasn’t focusing on this. I was focusing on my anxiety and the situation, not God. Knowing He loved me was nice but my heart was still fearful. Worry consumed me, not love, even though the God of the universe had just shown me His love to me! But that wasn’t quite enough to completely still my heart. Something else was needed. I needed to love Him in return for His love and I needed that love to join with His love to cast out fear. I did love Him. I just didn’t love Him more than I loved my solution to my fears. I thought if God would just change this horrible thing in my life, I wouldn’t be afraid any more. I wanted the thing to go away! And that was my focus. But, when God mercifully showed me His love to me AND then my heart was willing to respond to His love in love back to Him, something changed in my heart. The fear left. Peace flooded my darkened soul and light entered and calm was restored.
When I really deep down believed God perfectly loved me, and then my heart responded in love back to Him, then, and only then, did my fear leave. I think it left because the love drowned it out. How could I fear for my health if this all-powerful, good, loving God was in control and working all things for my good? How could I still fear if love to God was the dominant factor in my heart? If I believed my name was inscribed by love on the palms of His hands, and it is, then I could relax and trust Love to only do the best thing for me. When my heart began to sing in love back to Him, that’s when anxiety fled. And the ONLY way I could love Him more than myself or my kids or any of the things I was afraid to lose was through looking at His love to me first. Over and over and over and over again. Every day. For days on end. I’m pretty stubborn, so it took a while. But oh the peace and joy that flooded my soul when I loved Him more than I feared things! It was so sweet and all-consuming, I wanted nothing in life but to love Him and please Him and even submit to His will in the fearful situation.
In reality, the fearful circumstances didn’t change. No instant change in all the negative things in my life happened. But my heart was changed. It loved God supremely and counted Him as my joy in everything. Not health, perfect relationships or anything else. Just Him. And that love to Him and trust in Him brought all the peace I could ever want or imagine. And I know it was His work. I could never summon up that kind of love from this divided heart. I can’t just make myself love Him, even though I know I should and am commanded to by Jesus. But His perfect love to me, meditated on persistently, and my heart desperately begging for Him to make me love Him, brought love to my soul for Him. And that love cast out fear.
I can’t say I’ve never feared again once I discovered this path. But I can say He is at work in me changing me so that when a sinful fear does spring up, I am much quicker, by His mercy, to run to Him, focus on His love to me and beg for my heart to love Him more. In fact, I’ve found that all of life is sweeter when my focus is always on Him and I am desperate to love Him all the time. I fail, but His love restores me and never fails. I praise the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ for loving such a wretch as me and I plead with Him to keep my heart where it should be. And if fears arise, I beg Him to lead me to the place where His love is most clearly demonstrated: at the cross. That’s where my sin and His mercy meet and where my love is kindled anew and my heart rests in sweet repose.
love to you on this lovely day,
Your Sister in Christ