The perfect love that casts out fear
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This morning Aleteia is very pleased to introduce as a regular contributor, Mary Beth Baker, who will be writing a bi-weekly feature entitled Life in the Gap. Mary Beth’s outstanding personal blog, also entitled Life in the Gap, is about a young woman’s daily journey “in between.” In between what? Between the single life and–whatever marvelous things God has in store. But far from being about a time of anxious waiting, Mary Beth’s reflections underscore the richness of living in the present moment. We know not only Generation Y’ers will enjoy following Mary Beth Baker’s Life in the Gap.
It’s amazing how a simple perspective shift can change everything.
Several years ago, I met for the first time with a new spiritual director. Over the course of our conversation, I admitted that I have a big problem with fear.
“What are you afraid of?” he asked me.
“Everything,” I said.
It wasn’t an exaggeration. I’ve always been an anxious person, and as I’ve grown older, my catalogue of scary things to be avoided at all costs has expanded. As a little girl, I feared large machines that made loud noises, life-size mechanical dinosaurs (a long story for another post), dogs, boys, sports, new people, snakes, worms, and angry voices.
I’m an adult now, but I’m still afraid. Afraid of snakes and worms and angry voices, afraid of boys, afraid of new situations and new people, afraid of the unknown, afraid of pain, afraid of hospitals, afraid of people I’ve hurt, afraid of hurting any more people, afraid of loneliness, afraid of being seen, afraid of remaining invisible, afraid of being afraid.
“Perfect love casts out fear,” the priest told me with a smile.
So over the years, I’ve tried to live that kind of love – the perfect kind that will cast out my fear. Whenever I caught myself giving into the usual tremors over something, I’d recite the verse to myself. “Love better,” I’d scold, “and you won’t have to deal with this.”
I started to think I must be single because I was too afraid to love well. “If I could just get closer to perfect love,” I’d think, “I’d be more attractive and more open to dating.”
Then about a year and a half ago, I ended up in a job situation that played to some of my deepest fears – failure; being judged by people around me; isolation; and many more, deep-seated terrors I can’t even begin to describe because I’d never been forced to experience them before, though they had probably always been there. I was pretty broken by the end of it all, badly shaken, and convinced that the reason I’d been so afraid throughout the situation was because despite all my efforts, I’d failed at the most important thing of all: I had failed to love.
At one point, I remember kneeling in church and just throwing up my hands. “I can’t cast this out, Lord,” I said. “Clearly, I don’t love enough.”
Then, over New Year’s, I heard a sister give a talk about the human heart and its tendency to fear. She said, “Perfect love casts out fear.”
I sighed and crossed my arms over my chest. “Been there, tried that.”
Then she smiled and said, “We have to let God’s perfect love cast out our fear.”
Now most people are probably pretty quick. Most people probably would have understood five years ago that the “perfect love” the priest referred to must automatically mean “not mine.” But I’m a little slow on the uptake, and a decided perfectionist-who-wants-to-do-it-all-herself, so that hadn’t occurred to me. Instead, I thought my fear must be my problem to deal with as best I can, and if I can’t get rid of it, it’s clear I’m too weak.
Funny how a few little words can change everything. Left with my own little love, of course I will always be afraid. But if I can let Him love me…and love in me…then fear won’t have any space left.
Perfect love casts out fear. So let Him love you – and do not be afraid.