This post follows on from last week’s, so if you haven’t, you might want to read it first.
Choosing Love over Fear sounds so simple and easy, tied up with a pretty bow, finished, decision made. But it’s not a decision made once, it’s a decision made again and again, over and over, sometimes multiple times in a single minute. Often multiple times in a single minute.
Changing automatic thoughts is not easy, changing fear habits of a lifetime is not simple. Even when it seems logical, straight-forward, my brain has wired for self-protection now, not in the long-term.
And that is why it is so hard to shift out of fear. It promises comfort now. It promises safety in the moment. God doesn’t promise easy. In fact, the Bible virtually promises suffering (see 1 Peter 4:12-16, 2 Timothy 1:8, Philippians 1:29, among others). God’s yoke may be easy and the burden light (see Matthew 11:30), but we are still burdened, we are still yoked.
Our culture tells us to seek our own ease, our own well-being and comfort. And God asks us to do the opposite. God asks us to lay down our own desires, our own comfort, even our own lives, that others might be shown God’s love and goodness. God asks us to welcome in the Other, to make room for them even when it discomforts us.
Yes, our own needs are important and valuable, but not at the expense of others. We are asked to balance our needs with the needs of the people around us.
One of the two commandments Jesus leaves us is to love our neighbour as ourselves (see Mark 12:31). I struggled with this for a long time. Not because I did not want to love my neighbours, but because I did not love myself. I knew that if I loved others in the same way I loved myself, if I was as critical of others as I was of myself, if I valued others as little as I valued myself, if I hated others just like I hated myself, I was not loving as God loved.
I have spent years trying to learn to love myself as I love my neighbours, learning to be compassionate and gentle with myself as I would with someone else. I have learnt how important self-care is. Sometimes it is okay to sacrifice part of it for others, but not all the time, not all of it. If we do, we risk learning to despise others for what is seems they are taking from us. It risks turning away from love and towards fearful self-protection.
And Fear does not leave us alone to make these choices. Fear tells us if we give we might not get. And it’s true, we might not get, but that is not reason to not give, to clasp tight instead of living open-handed. God is with us, Emmanuel always, and if our satisfaction, our measure of success, our desire, all we need is in God, then Fear’s arguments are less persuasive. If we can answer Fear’s arguments with the word of God, just like Jesus answered The Enticer in his temptations (see Matthew 4:1-11), if we can remind ourselves again and again why we should choose to risk, choose to love, choose to step into the fear anyway, then we can keep moving towards Love, towards unity, towards wholeness, not retreating in Fear, not separating myself from others, from God.
Walking in Love is not the easy path, walking in Love and towards wholeness is something we must choose over and over again, especially when we are used to being guided by Fear. But when we can see with God’s eyes, understand with God’s mind, then we can see that it is worth it, we can see that long-term it will bring more security, more comfort, than living in Fear could ever hope to. Day by day, moment by moment, we can choose to move towards Life, towards El Shaddai – the All-Sufficient One. That is the promise we are given, that is the hope we can chase. It is not comfortable, but our faithful God promises the chase is worth it.