Love is what we are born with. Fear is what we learn. The spiritual journey is the unlearning of fear and prejudices and the acceptance of love back in our hearts. Love is the essential reality and our purpose on earth. To be consciously aware of it, to experience love in ourselves and others, is the meaning of life. Meaning does not lie in things. Meaning lies in us.
When I was seven years old, my parents went away for the evening and left me in the care of my 16 year old brother. Most of the time we got along, and he generally treated me well. I thought it was awesome to have an older brother!
On this particular night, I walked out of the family room to go upstairs to bed. I confidently walked into my bedroom and before I could even turn on the light, my brother jumped out from a closet and yelled, “Surprise!”
He thought it was funny; I was terrified! Even as I write this, I can still remember the overwhelming fear I felt at that moment. Ironically, he really didn’t intend to do anything hurtful. He was 16. I was seven. To him it was a harmless prank; to me it was a distressing experience that planted a seed of fear inside of me.
Even though my brother apologized immediately after he saw my distress, it took years for me to feel safe in my room. My brother loved me, he didn’t intend to hurt me, but that experience had a deep effect on me.
For many of us, woundedness, even unintentionally, from a person we loved and trusted can have a devastating effect on our ability to love. We were created by God with a capacity to receive and give love, but our experiences can cause us to feel unsafe and vulnerable. We build self-protective walls so we won’t get hurt again. The result is that our interactions and relationships are tainted by fear and we live closed off from God and from those around us.
It took some time for me to feel safe with my brother again. Even as I struggled with my feelings toward him, I could sense my desire to trust him, but I was cautious and unsure. It took time and a conscious effort on my part to believe that my brother had my best interest at heart. Even as a child, I realized that my ability to trust my brother again was rooted in my choice to believe that God would be with me and that he would help me love even when I didn’t feel safe.
Obviously I’ve never forgotten that experience, but I’m so grateful for what God taught me through it. I don’t need to let fear get in the way of love. Perfect love casts out fear. God’s love for me tears down the walls that I build and helps me honestly and authentically love others.
What experiences have caused you to build walls that keep you from receiving and giving love? How is God redeeming those experiences to help you exchange fear with love?
Deb Hinkel is the Director of Spiritual Formation and Family Ministry at Hershey Free Church. She joined the church’s staff in 2015 after spending fourteen years as an assistant professor in the Church and Ministry Leadership department at Lancaster Bible College.
Deb holds a Master of Arts degree in Ministry from Lancaster Bible College; and prior to her work there, she spent fifteen years in church ministry, developing programs in Christian education, children’s ministry, and women’s ministry.
Also by Deb: Identity Matters