Fear to Freedom: Remembering—a return to the beginning

<Previous: Expecto Patronum—Perfect Love casts out all fear

A new friend told me yesterday that she just discovered my blog and, as is her practice, she started from the very beginning and is working her way toward my newest posts. My first response was horror and terror (you know, the very topic I’ve spent the last five posts discussing how to overcome). I quickly scanned my memory to recall what in the ever-loving-world I wrote about when I started, and even more quickly offered a disclaimer of “I’m not who I was!”

But who is? And why did I react with fear? If we are the same people we were five, seven, ten years ago, we’re doing it all wrong.

We have explored the ideas of fear and Love through the last five posts—that we begin life knowing we are fully loved, then fear enters, and we forget. From that fear, we act unlovingly and unwisely, attempting to prove to the world and to ourselves that we are, in fact, worthy of Love. We discovered that Love is a force, filling all the spaces of creation, including our very souls. Merciful and mighty, uncontained and tender, this Love frees us from our fear and leads us to a life of peace and abundance. Love is the key that unlocks the door to our wholeness.

We need only to remember we are loved. Season by season, day by day, minute by minute—it is a resting and a listening and paying attention. It is consciously making our hearts and minds tender to the voice of God, who is Love.

How do we remember? I suspect it is different for every person. Just as there are “love languages,” I believe we also have “worship languages”—that is, ways in which we individually best connect with the Spirit of God, which could explain our diversity of music styles and liturgy within the Church and in life. In my process of self-knowing, I have discovered I most powerfully and transformationally encounter Love in the woods.

As I revealed in the introduction to this series, the serenity of trees and grass, sun and sky, earth and color quiets my mind and tunes my thoughts to the incredible art and metaphor and truth of Love. For example: winter, with its bitter wind and dying landscape, reminds me that we are all existing in a continual process of tiny deaths and resurrections, that the stuff of earth dies and fertilizes that which is to come. Hope exists underneath.

In each season, there among the trees, God reminds me of the fulness of His presence in creation and in me. I know I am loved when I am still, when I quiet my thoughts and listen. I often listen to music when I walk—Gungor and Jon Foreman, mostly—music that invites me to relax into the garishness of life and the permanence of Love and the beauty of mystery.

I remember I am loved when I practice gratitude—when I interrupt my anxious thoughts to remember all that is good, to remember all God has done, to remember how far I’ve come and how God has never left. I remember I am loved when I realize despite my mistakes, He has still brought me to this place on this day to witness all this beauty. Oh yes, God is Love in all its power and mercy, its goodness and delight. It is higher and deeper, longer and wider than we are capable of knowing. What can man do to me? What could ever separate me from this Love? Where could I ever go to escape it? How could I ever outrun it?

Thank you for taking time out of the busyness of your life to slow down enough to read all these thoughts that have found words. May you know light and Love, free of fear, full of abundance and hope. May Love make us brave to be all we are created to be.

Amen and amen.

PS: I’ve created a Spotify playlist of some of my favorite woods-walking music. You can find it here. I’ve made it collaborative, so feel free to add your favorite songs that cast out your fear and remind you of your Belovedness.

Fear to Freedom: Expecto Patronum—Perfect Love casts out all fear

<Previous: The radiance of Love

 

No esoteric blog series on Love and fear would be complete without at least one reference to Harry Potter.

I wrote years ago about my geeky literary love for these stories and the brilliance of JK Rowling and the beauty of art in revealing the truth of creation. As I began to piece together my thoughts for these essays on fear, another genius Rowling metaphor came to mind.

Harry Potter casts the Patronus curse

Dementors are among the foulest creatures that walk this earth. They infest the darkest, filthiest places, they glory in decay and despair, they drain peace, hope, and happiness out of the air around them… Get too near a Dementor and every good feeling, every happy memory will be sucked out of you. If it can, the Dementor will feed on you long enough to reduce you to something like itself… soulless and evil. You will be left with nothing but the worst experiences of your life. (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban)

If Dementors are the personification of fear, the victorious counterforce of the Patronus is Love. The wizard conjures a Patronus by focusing on a happy memory (dare I say, a memory of being loved), summoning the most positive emotions and channeling them into an apparition of light. The Dementors must flee. The Patronus always wins. Boom.

Like a Patronus, perfect Love casts out fear. When we live into that space of knowing we are loved, of knowing Love is present, of knowing all of creation is loved—then we are freed from the chains of fear. We do not have to be afraid of being insignificant or unnoticed, we do not have to fight for recognition or power or appreciation because we are complete in Love.

Love makes us brave. It gives us courage to come alive and fully be who we are created to be. We can throw ourselves into expressing and using our gifts and our personalities and our passions without shame. When we know we are loved, the opinions and validations of others don’t matter anymore. They don’t affect our worth or our security. They cannot change the irrefutable fact that we are and always will be held within the strong hands of Love itself.

God instructs us over and over again, “do not fear, for I am with you…” We can be free from the prison and paralysis of fear because we know that He (who is Love) is with us and around us and behind us and within us. We are held in Love. God’s desire for us is freedom and wholeness. We cannot be free and whole while living in fear.

We know how much God loves us, and we have put our trust in His love. God is love, and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them. And as we live in God, our love grows more perfect. So we will not be afraid on the day of judgment, but we can face him with confidence because we live like Jesus here in this world. Such love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear. If we are afraid, it is for fear of punishment, and this shows that we have not fully experienced his perfect love. We love each other because he loved us first. (I John 4:16-19)

There is so much to digest in this passage. This is the goal: to fully experience Love so that we are not afraid. Love does not punish. Love embraces. As we live in Love (God), our love becomes better and we become more courageous—that is, we grow unafraid—because the Love around us and in us forces the fear out of us, making room for only more Love.

I wanna go hug some puppies.

(I’m kidding.)

(By the way, the Dementors’ victims were often comforted with chocolate. This is good and true. I stand by my conviction that JK Rowling is a genius.)

Love is so much more than a pleasant feeling. Love is a force more powerful than the strongest Patronus. It protects us and fills us and sends us out with courage and strength.

Be not afraid, for Love is with you…

Consider:

How do you picture Love? Besides the Patronus, what metaphors resonate with you?

Next: Remembering—A return to the beginning>

Fear to Freedom: The radiance of Love

<Previous: The prison of fear

God is light, and there is no darkness in him at all. (I John 1:5)

God is love. (I John 4:8)

See how very much our Father loves us, for he calls us his children, and that is what we are! (I John 3:1)

I’m really not sure how I missed the point. I’ve been a member of a church since I was a baby—ten churches and four different denominations, if I’m counting correctly—and I learned all the stories and memorized all the scriptures and the songs and the pithy platitudes, and yet I still missed it.

God is love.

I mean, I knew that. I said it, I sang it, I believed it—but I don’t think I really understood it.

Somehow, I bought into this idea that God is angry, that He is sitting up in heaven with a lightning bolt in His hand, ready to hurl it at me when I mess up. Somehow I internalized that I am doomed. I feared disappointing Him—“after all, Jesus died for you! You owe it to Him to follow all the rules! ‘Be holy, just as God is holy’!” And all the shame piled on my shoulders over many years of screwing up again and again. I would beg forgiveness and promise to do better next time—which, of course, I did, sort of and for a little while, but always failed again.

I’ve known God loved me, for the Bible told me so. I’ve known all the right answers. I’ve experienced a sporadic and fleeting peace because I knew He would forgive me again and that nothing I do or don’t do could make Him love me any more…or any less. I’ve known I am His child and I belong to Him. But I don’t think I’ve ever really understood the fullness of Love. I still don’t, and I’m not sure I ever will. Not completely.

My faith journey began with the liturgy of the Episcopal church—hymns and readings, communal prayers and brief homilies—and evolved to contemporary worship choruses, extemporaneous conversations with God, raised hands and closed eyes. The music got louder, the house lights grew dimmer, the spotlights became brighter, the smoke got thicker…and I grew more and more disoriented and disillusioned. I craved simplicity and quiet, perhaps because that was the origin of my spiritual palate. I don’t know.

But somewhere in the serenity of the woods, of thoughtful lyrics, of contemplation and quiet spaces, I stopped working so hard at making faith work. I learned to rest and to listen. I learned to sit in silence. The music of Gungor, Jon Foreman, and The Brilliance tethered me to a faith I was tempted to abandon altogether. I began reading about contemplative theology and practice— writers like Richard Rohr, N.T.Wright, Sarah Bessey, Ed Cyzewski, Barbara Brown Taylor. I’m still reading, still absorbing, still processing.

(This has been my journey. It’s my story, which may or may not look like yours or anyone else’s. And that’s okay. No one’s journey is right or wrong.)

b4c2d7c9fb28e69bff7ec8a1e37b8b42In those quiet spaces, I realized this: God is Love. Nothing else. This Love is a force and a light and a warmth that fills all the cracks and crevasses and vast spaces of Earth and cosmos. There is no place where Love is not. His love surrounds and fills and holds us—all of us.

(Remember in my introduction when I said I might get a little wooooOOOOooo hippy flower power? Stay with me…)

Psalm 139 rhetorically asks, “Where can I go from Spirit? And where can I flee from Your presence? If I make my bed in hell, you are there! If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me.”

There is no where we can go in our minds or in our bodies in which He does not already exist. We only have to remember that Love holds us.

We don’t have to spin our wheels to race towards an ever-moving finish line. We simply need to rest and to breathe. We simply need to remember.

So for me, this redefines the terrifying and heavily loaded church-words. “Sin” means forgetting we are loved and therefore acting unlovingly. “Repentance” means remembering I am loved and living from that identity. “Evangelism” means reminding others how deeply they are loved.

When we live in the space of this Love, we work to bring all into this place. How could we not? This is the work of justice, a return to the purpose of the Kingdom of God—oneness with God; that is, Love. In the Kingdom, all are equally loved and valued. This is our goal. Like Jesus, we seek those on the outskirts, the marginalized, the silenced, the oppressed, the poor, the sick, the weak. To the ones whom our world has dismissed as unlovable and unworthy, we stand next to them and say “WRONG. You are deeply loved and valued and important. Here, take my megaphone. We’re listening.”

This realization of Love has healed so many wounds and disappointments for me. It has answered my disillusionment with clarity, insecurity with contentment and perspective. When I find myself anxious or angry or uncertain, Love gently reins me back in and whispers, “You are Beloved. Rest. Breathe.”

Fear cannot co-exist with Love. This is impossible. One voice will always be louder. We choose which voice we will hear. I think this is a life-long process, and one I am only beginning. But of this I am certain: perfect Love expels all fear, and the more we lean into Love, the less power fear holds over us. We will explore this idea in the next post.

For today, consider:

How has your perception of God evolved? What are your earliest recollections of who He is?

What is your initial response to the idea of God = Love? How does that affect your view of humanity? Of yourself?

How do you define “justice”? Do you agree with the statement that justice is “a return to the purpose of the Kingdom of God”? Why or why not?

Next: Expecto Patronum—Perfect love casts out all fear>

Fear to Freedom: The prison of fear

<Previous: In the beginning

My kids stretch the spectrum of teenagehood: the eldest survived the horrors of middle school and high school and is well on her way to both the exhilaration and existential crisis of early adulthood; the middle turns sixteen this summer, having emerged from (what I sure hope was) the worst of it. Ninety-four percent of the time, he’s really cool and fun to be around. My twelve year old, on the cusp of middle school, is just dipping his toes into the swirling vortex of teenaged angst, and I have to remind myself 27,000 times a day that we will survive this. It’s going to get much worse before it gets better. I know that.

Having survived these seasons with minimal amounts of therapy, I can look behind me and take some deep cleansing breaths. I see moms and toddlers at the pool or the playground or the aisles of Target, and while I would like to walk in their shoes again for maybe 45 minutes, just long enough to smell my kids’ hair and kiss their chubby hands and have them sit in my lap while I read “Guess How Much I Love You?” one more time, I would not want to repeat those years.

None of my kids suffered horrible separation anxiety, but they certainly had their moments. I remember reading about this necessary stage of development: around eight months, a baby realizes he actually exists as a separate human from his mother (or dad or any caring tall person), and that realization FREAKS HIM OUT. He is frightened. So any time the caring tall person leaves his line of vision or, heaven forbid, goes to the bathroom for two minutes of peace, he cannot handle the aloneness and expresses that fear with piercing screams. The caring tall person has to reassure him that she will always come back, that he is loved and cared for, and that doesn’t change when she leaves the room.

Likewise, an eighteen year old, who has always been fiercely independent and gets mad when anyone tries to help her, whose first toddler phrase was “MY do it!” and much later “I got this…” goes to college orientation and is suddenly paralyzed and thinks she is incapable of asking a question at the information desk, and she might snap at her mother. She suddenly realizes she is her own person, responsible for her own self, and that realization FREAKS HER OUT. She is frightened. So her mother must reassure her that she is, in fact, extremely capable, that her family is still there. She is loved and cared for, and that doesn’t change when she moves away.

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Fear is so deceptive. It lies to us, over and over, until we don’t recognize the lies. Fear removes our security and our confidence. Fear whispers You are not important. You are not enough. Your life does not matter.

And in that dark place, we turn our ears away from the voices that tell us You are Beloved. You are Enough. Your life has purpose. Listening instead to the lies of fear, we try to protect and save ourselves. We try to prove to the world (and to ourselves) that we are indeed worthy to be loved.

I’ve observed myself and those around me, analyzing patterns and behaviors of fear. I paint these observations with a very broad brush—not all of them apply to every person or situation, and certainly a lot of nuance exists with each one. So consider these with a generous helping of salt:

When we are afraid, we carefully construct a fortress around our hearts and minds to protect ourselves from the (false) reminder that we are not loved. We don’t let many people past the gate. Vulnerability is not worth the risk of being wounded again. Or perhaps the walls exist to keep others from discovering what we believe about ourselves: that we are messed up, unlovable, unworthy creatures best left to ourselves. Ironically, those same walls created to protect us also keep out the truth that we are actually Beloved. Inside those walls is a lonely place.

When we are afraid, we are jealous and possessive. We fear that love has limits, that we will not get enough, that sharing attention means we are not valued or important or worthy.

When we are afraid, we attempt to control people. If we can control what someone does or doesn’t do, we hold power over them, which makes us feel important, which makes us feel loved. Hunger for power is always birthed from fear. (Control, of course, is an illusion. We control nothing but our own reactions.) We might manipulate or lie or attack—either overtly or passive-aggressively—to create the sensation of control. Look at any theatrical villain: underneath the evil facade always exists a deep wound. The quest for power and control is an attempt to compensate for insecurity and fear.

When we are afraid, the unknown and The Other—those who are not like us—drives our need for power and control. (This sentence deserves its own five-part series.) We close our ears to understand anything other than our own perspective, and we draw lines and determine who deserves to be in and who is left out because we fear losing our own importance and relevance.

And when we realize our limitations of control, we get angry. We cannot coerce people to act like we think they should, and oh! how this pisses us off. So we lash out, lose our temper, fling hurtful words like flaming arrows. (And that always ends well, doesn’t it?)

I wonder if this fear, this belief that we are unloved and unlovable, is why Jesus instructed us to love our enemies. Could it be that the root of their abuse is deep fear and not believing they are loved? That their cruelty stems from a lack of understanding? That some deep hurt—which likely has nothing to do with us—led to an insecurity that causes them to assert control and demand power?

(This is, of course, an explanation and not an excuse for bad behavior. We are all responsible for our own actions and reactions, and we while we can love our enemies, we can also set healthy boundaries to protect ourselves from manipulation and abuse.)

Recognizing the root of bad behavior is certainly a game-changer. That kind of perspective lends itself to gracious compassion instead of returning anger for anger. If we understand someone is acting from fear of being unloved, it’s a lot easier to respond with assuring him he is Beloved.

And let us not forget that sometimes we are our own worst enemy—that loving our enemies sometimes means loving ourselves. We should speak to ourselves kindly and offer ourselves the same compassion and grace we extend to others who are afraid. If I am angry, I need to remind myself of Love. I can stop and ask myself, “why am I angry? why am I jealous?” and tell myself to knock it off and breathe and rest into the presence of Love.

Honestly, my long absence from writing was rooted in fear and forgetting I am Beloved. I know this. I hated the silence because what does that mean? It’s not good enough? I am not good enough? I’m not worthy of attention and affirmation? That pouring my thoughts onto a page demands a response, which determines my worth? No. NO. I am Beloved.

We’ll explore the idea of Radiant Love in the next post. In the meantime, think about these questions:

Besides the ones described here, what other patterns and behaviors of fear have you experienced or observed?

Which “bad behavior” in others annoys you the most? Why?

Which fear response to you most identify with? What do you think caused you to have this particular fear?

In what specific ways can you respond to bad behavior with compassion and understanding?

 

I’d love to hear your thoughts and comments below!

Next: The radiance of Love>

Fear to Freedom: In the beginning…

<Previous: Introduction

Our eldest birdie is about to fly the nest. I have a lot of feelings about this, but I discovered a most excellent coping mechanism: projects. Lots and lots of projects requiring lots and lots of lists. When I have projects, I don’t have time to stop and think about what is about to happen.

As she neared graduation, I threw myself into planning a graduation party she didn’t really want, although she graciously acknowledged my love for planning and hosting and celebrating, so she went along with it. I was swimming in craft paper and glitter and ribbon, and I could dedicate an entire post to my new Cricut cutting machine. I loved every second. (And, for the record, it was a GREAT party and she had a lot of fun.)

At the top of my Party Planning To-Do List was a digital slideshow of pictures from her birth to graduation, set to music. Important note: I documented the first six years of her life with cropped photos and clever layouts in all manner of acid-free scrapbooking glory without the use of a digital camera. For six years, I turned in rolls of 35 mm film to Walgreens, and I’m pretty sure I forgot to order duplicate prints. Which translates to this: to create a digital slideshow, I had to peruse six years’ worth of scrapbooks and scan the best pictures with an iPhone that did not even exist when those pictures were taken. And if you remember the scrapbooking craze of the early 2000s, we cut every picture into circles and ovals and stars and hearts and then matted them on adorably patterned acid-free paper—which makes for a darling layout, but does not lend itself well to scanning.

Thankfully, we bought a digital camera in 2005, so the remaining twelve years are responsibly archived on a portable hard drive and painlessly transferred into PowerPoint. Hallelujah, technology.

As I scanned and uploaded eighteen years of pictures, I realized that I am not mourning the loss of her childhood because she has not been a little girl for a very long time. Her baby pictures, her toddler pictures, her early school years—I saw innocence and joy, delight and security. That little girl had no doubt she was fully and completely loved. She was free and confident and fearless.

Until she wasn’t. Perhaps only her momma would notice, but I can easily pinpoint the pictures where her smiled changed and the light left her eyes. Those were really hard years.

Untitled-7-p1I think this happens to all of us at some point. Most of us are born into families where we are adored and celebrated and cared for. As babies, we are fed and held, and that alone assures us we are loved. We grow into childhood hearing we are special, limitless, treasured. That kind of affection explains the fearlessness of children: the mismatched clothes and crazy hair, the princess tea parties and pirate adventures, the “look at me, Momma, look! Watch me! WHEEEEEE!” That security is rooted in the belief we are wholly and unconditionally loved. When we know we are loved, we have the confidence to live into ourselves, to fully express our deepest joys. When we know we are loved, we don’t fear punishment or scorn or judgement. We live with abandon and delight because we believe we are endlessly loved.

And somewhere along the way, we stop believing it.

Our disbelief could happen slowly, like trickling creek erodes the rock—incremental careless words, rejection, failure. Or it could happen with a single traumatic event, like a divorce or a death. However it happens, we turn our ears to the lying voices that tell us we are not worthy of love. Our tender hearts become stained and poisoned with fear, and we begin thinking and responding from a place of fear instead of a place of Love. We exit the realm of confidence and security, and we walk into a prison of doubt and insecurity.

Consider the Genesis narrative of creation: God created man and woman and blessed them. They “felt no shame” (2:25); they lived in wholeness and with peace. Then the serpent caused Eve question God’s goodness—essentially, “if he really loves you, why would he lie to you?” And it goes downhill from there.

I have come to believe that at its most basic, stripped-down root, most anger, selfishness, jealousy, bad behavior and poor choices come from this fear of being unloved. We’ll explore this idea in the next post. For now, reflect on this:

Do you remember a time or circumstance of knowing you were completely loved? How did that affect your thoughts and actions?

Do you remember a time or circumstance of doubting that you were loved? What was the result?

How do you think fear leads to anger, selfishness, and bad behavior?

I’d love to hear your thoughts – comment below!

Next: The prison of fear>

From Fear to Freedom: Introduction

I live in a sprawling Texas suburb, not unlike many Texas suburbs. What was once vast farmland now boasts row after row after row of rooftops, which we call “Master Planned Communities.” We also have shopping centers and restaurants and top-rated schools and playgrounds and amenities. We have megachurches and mega-Megachurches of every denomination and no denomination. Our family, like many others, moved to this area so our kids could receive an top-notch education while also enjoying the convenience and proximity to culture and opportunities. It’s a nice place.

And while I don’t take for granted the privilege this community affords, my soul aches for simplicity and quiet and contemplation, which isn’t easy to find while rushing between schools and activities and Chick-Fil-A.

A couple of years ago, I discovered a series of horse trails tucked behind our well-appointed community center. These dirt paths wind through tall trees and open meadows, carved from earth and leaves and thick gnarled roots. Whenever I can, I walk these trails—in the summer, when the trees are thick with green and the sunlight seeps through the limbs onto the dirt; in the fall, when the branches release their brown and yellow leaves and death litters the path; in the winter, when the sky turns gray and everything sleeps, waiting for rebirth; in the spring, when the world fragrantly returns to life and everything is new.

Within this space, my soul rests from the chaos of my busy suburban life, and truth and goodness and peace make their home.

Within this space, over the last several years, I have discovered healing and peace and the simplicity I have so deeply craved.

Within this space, within the metaphors of seasons and water and wind and earth, Truth revealed itself to me, teaching me gentle lessons about the prisons of fear and the freedom of Love and the fullness of Life.

Within this space, I realized we are born into and surrounded by Love, and that somewhere along the way, we stop believing we are loved, and we become afraid. Paralyzed with fear, we act unlovingly. Only when we return to that place of Love can we be free from fear and free to live as we were created.

This is the journey I wish to share with you over the next week or so. I must warn you, it might sound a little wwwwooooooOOOOOOOOooooo esoteric hippy flower power at times—especially if you, like me, cut your teeth on a conservative, dualistic black/white, right/wrong, body/spirit kind of ideology—but please stick with me, create space to listen and consider, and share your thoughts and experiences in the comments. I have a lot of words, so I decided to create a series of posts we can more easily and thoroughly digest together.

  1. In the beginning…
  2. The prison of fear
  3. The radiance of Love
  4. Expecto Patronum: Perfect Love casts out all fear
  5. Remembering: a return to the beginning

I’m not a theologian, and while I have read about and contemplated these ideas quite a bit during the past several years, there is still so much I don’t understand. I’m still learning and processing, and perhaps forming these thoughts into words will help me understand more. I hope you’ll lace up your running shoes and join me on this walk through the woods. May we discover together how deeply we are loved and how fully and courageously we are meant to live.

Next: In the beginning…>