“There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment, and so one who fears is not yet perfect in love.” – First reading at Mass, from 1 John 4:17-18
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As Popeye would say, “well, blow me down.”
I fail at love all the time — grievously — and when I consider how often that failure is connected to fear, I have to say, this is pretty spot-on.
There is a great deal I do not fear; usually for me fear is connected to a breach of trust, and thankfully that doesn’t happen every day. But giving this passage a good read, I can see the connection. Where I have difficulty loving people it is almost always because fear has entered in, usually through a sense of something or someone being “unsafe” — unsafe in the sense that they’ve shown a propensity to betray, to gossip, to foment discord, etc. Then my all-too-ready instincts to self-preservation help me to fail in love. It’s almost predictable.
The flip side to that, the other way I fail to love because of fear or lack of trust, is evidenced when I get busy telling God and all the angels precisely how they must bless and protect my kids. It’s a bossy failure of love that is rooted in fear. And I suppose that’s normal to a point. We trust God and love God but don’t always understand why certain things have been permitted to happen, and because we are puny beings — and even the greatest lovers among us are puny in love, compared to God — we don’t quite get Him, don’t quite trust Him. And so we make careful prayers of supplication: “please do what’s best for my kids, but don’t be all smart-assy about it and let that mean they get their limbs broken, or their hearts…”
That is an imperfect prayer, of course, rooted in imperfect love; love distorted by fear, and our learned ability to distrust.
But if we can learn to distrust, we can learn to trust, too, and so — along with a thousand other faults and weaknesses I carry with me, I must work on this, too.
I do not want my instincts to self-protection to get in the way of love, as it too frequently does. To allow fear to do so flies in the face of “Do Not Be Afraid,” which are four words I completely accept somewhere down, deep, and then forget on the surface of day-to-day living. It does not jibe with “fear is useless; what is needed is trust.” It is too far away from “perfect love casts out fear.”A few weeks ago, I wrote, “I want to love again…” — a column that was a kind of continuation of earlier musings — but truly, it was born of an almost nonstop stirring within me, one that, since before Christmas, has left me restless, confused; so tired and unfocused that I was beginning to wonder if I was falling into depression or acedia. It’s had me feeling like I need a retreat as no one has ever needed a retreat, before, ever.
These few lines from today’s readings at Mass gave me my answer — washed over me like clean, fresh air after a terrible storm. I can breathe, again.
I definitely do need a retreat, though, because I have said something huge, and now I need room to take it in. Because in saying “I want to love again,” and meaning it, God seems to be showing me how terrifying that can be in its totality; it’s going to mean a constant surrendering. A constant turning-to. A constant letting-go, in trust.
That we must always learn, and learn again; surrender and surrender again, is a lesson I’ve encountered before, of course, but on a freshman level. This one feels deeper, and somehow I am more afraid of the deep waters at 54 than I ever was at 24. Perhaps because I have learned that no matter the depths we plumb, there will always be a further drawing down; there is never an end; the lesson comes, you live with it a while, and then you get drawn down again.
As I said from another season of tough plunging:
Be careful what you ask for in prayer. God takes you at your word, and He is an abidingly patient but thorough teacher, with unsoundable depths.
There is no hurt so deep, though, that Jesus is not deeper, still. The trembling mystery of love that I cling to.
But now I understand, a little, why some prefer not to believe, at all.
Dwight Longenecker: Revolution and Revelation
Lisa Hendey Why change is possible
In Pat Gohn’s book, Blessed, Beautiful and Bodacious which comes out during Lent, she shares some brilliant and poignant lessons on this letting go, stuff — especially on letting go of fear and trusting that God’s plans for us are perfect even when that seems unimaginable. I’ll be writing more about that as her release date nears.