Wednesday, January 05, 2011

There is No Fear in Love

Wednesday, January 5, 2011
Memorial of Saint John Neumann, bishop

By Colleen O’Sullivan

Beloved, if God so loved us, we also must love one another. No one has ever seen God. Yet, if we love one another, God remains in us, and his love is brought to perfection in us…. God is love, and whoever remains in love remains in God and God in him. In this is love brought to perfection among us, that we have confidence on the day of judgment because as he is, so are we in this world. 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. (I John 4:11-12, 16b-18)

After the five thousand had eaten and were satisfied, Jesus made his disciples get into the boat and precede him to the other side toward Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd. And when he had taken leave of them, he went off to the mountain to pray. When it was evening, the boat was far out on the sea and he was alone on shore. Then he saw that they were tossed about while rowing, for the wind was against them. About the fourth watch of the night, he came toward them walking on the sea. He meant to pass by them. But when they saw him walking on the sea, they thought it was a ghost and cried out. They had all seen him and were terrified. But at once he spoke with them, “Take courage, it is I, do not be afraid!” He got into the boat with them and the wind died down. They were completely astounded. They had not understood the incident of the loaves. On the contrary, their hearts were hardened. (Mark 6:45-52)

If God is for us, who can be against us? What will separate us from the love of Christ? Will anguish, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or the sword? For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:31b, 35, 38-39)

Fear. Anxiety. How well I can identify with the disciples! There they are, alone in a boat on a storm-tossed sea. They are scared in the dark, because everything always seems more frightening at night. Maybe they’re wondering if they will drown, the waves are that high. They are so filled with anxiety, they don’t even recognize Jesus coming toward them. They think he’s some kind of ghost and so they become even more terrified. Fear feeding on itself and spiraling out of control.

I myself don’t even have to be in a boat in a storm in the night to be scared and start worrying. I am very talented at manufacturing my own anxieties right in the middle of a sun-filled day. What if I don’t have what it takes over the long haul to care for my elderly parents, who live two hours away? What if I wake up from my hip replacement surgery in the spring and my legs aren’t the same length? What if one of my parents becomes ill while I’m recovering from surgery and not permitted to drive? Who will go and take care of them? What if I forget to train someone at work in how to do some task while I’m gone that I’m usually responsible for? What if I get totally bored and depressed by having to stay home for at least two months? What if, what if, what if…..?

I’d better re-read the rest of the Gospel account, because Mark tells us that as soon as the disciples are with Jesus, the wind and their anxieties die away. They are relatively new to discipleship and don’t understand everything that they are experiencing with the Lord, but once they let Jesus into the boat with them, their fears are calmed. They are in the presence of Love.

Through the power of the Holy Spirit, God is always present, maybe even especially present, in the center of whatever boatful of anxieties we create for ourselves. It’s not a matter of ever going it alone in life; it’s more that we need to open our eyes to see God and open our hearts to feel God’s love for us. As John wrote in yesterday’s reading from his first letter, “In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us…” In today’s reading, he goes on to say that “There is no fear in love.” Fear and love don’t go together. God doesn’t impart fears; he simply loves us. We manufacture a lot of our own anxieties, worries that God never intended us to have.

One of my favorite Henri Nouwen books is With Open Hands. I like the image of surrendering that last little thing we are holding onto in our clenched fists and approaching the Lord with open hands. Take a few minutes today to reflect on any fears or anxieties you are holding onto tightly. Open your eyes and your heart to God’s love for you and then prayerfully open your hands and relinquish to God whatever is weighing you down.