Thursday, July 19, 2012

Fear vs. Love

Much of what I do as Pastoral Counselor is help people manage their fear.  It is really amazing how much fear creeps into our lives (and I use “our” because I am not immune).  People can be paralyzed by their fears of being wrong or being “bad”.  We can live in fear that others will not like us.  We fear other’s judgment and we fear being hurt.  We fear being abandoned in relationships (or never being loved at all).  We can live in fear of losing our jobs and we can live in fear of another’s anger.  There are specific fears about closed spaces (been there, done that), spiders, other people and even the number 13.  We live with fears of flying and driving, which are mostly fears of crashing.  We all live with the knowledge that we will die some day and somehow must deal with at least some anxiety about when and how that will come to us. Some people fear death so much that they don’t ever let themselves live and others act as if they have no respect for death and continually challenge it. 

Some of these fears seem healthy.  Fear is a way of letting us know when we are in danger.  The difficulty is that too often, we are conditioned to feel fear that is out of proportion to the stimulus or feel fear when there is no real threat to us.  Trying to discern the real threats from the imagined threats is not an easy task.  The difficulty lies in the fact that there are some real threats in the world.  There are dangerous activities and dangerous places.  There are dangerous people and potentials for pain.  For example, there are some dangerous dogs, but not all dogs are dangerous.  Under the right circumstances all dogs might be dangerous sometime.  Just because we may have been bitten once by one dog does not mean that we must avoid all dogs forever, but that is exactly what some people do with dogs, situations, and people.  Sometimes just knowing that a “dogs have the capacity to bite” is sufficient for some to fear them.  There are others who know that dogs can bite, but assume their dog never would.

In a similar way, many people seem to try to avoid fears by doing anything, but facing their fears.  People try to medicate their fears with prescription and non-prescription drugs (I am not talking about those who are treated for anxiety as part of comprehensive plan to overcome the fears).  There are those that withdraw from the world or from other people because they don’t want to risk anything.  People have a tendency to draw the circles of safety farther and farther out from the potentially hurtful thing.  Using the analogy of the dogs, some people are not content to avoid some dogs, but they feel they must avoid all dogs and can even come to avoid any place where there might be a dog.  With each avoidance the person is trying to create the feeling of safety. 

I John 4:18 says that there is no fear in love and that perfect love casts out fear.  It makes sense to understand this in terms of our friendships and other relationships.  When we are loved unconditionally and when another loves us so much that they seek what is best for us, there is no room for fear.  People often confuse many other things for love, but there is NO fear in love.  However, there is another way to think about this as well.  When we approach ourselves with love and we allow the love of God to fill us, then fear is also cast out.  When we interact with the world around us, we do not fear what the other may do or what may happen because we are driven by the love that is in us.  We can better deal with our lives and difficulties, because we are not afraid to deal with difficult things; we can approach the world with confidence.  When love is present, fear cannot take hold.  A good process of pastoral psychotherapy seeks to help people develop this kind of approach to God, themselves, life, and the world.  I praythat you not just have life, but have it abundantly!