FEAR & LOVE
I have often found myself challenged by the apostle John’s comment in 1 John 4:18 that “perfect love casts out all fear.” Fearlessness in relationships has certainly not been my experience very often, so I need to grapple with where my fearfulness comes from and what can be done about it so that I might love others more freely and more fully.
I am discovering some answers to these questions in Larry Crabb’s book, Fully Alive: A Biblical Vision of Gender that Frees Men and Women to Live Beyond Stereotypes. In this book (as in many of his other books), Crabb addresses the matter of “relational sin.” He points out, “When we are controlled by fear, we relate in order to protect ourselves from pain and to advance our experience of personal well-being” (p. 129).
That sentence is accurate to the experience of my life: When I am afraid in relationships, I relate with others in a self-protective manner. There is no “perfect love” when focus is caught up in self-protection. He provides further perspective on my self-protective tendency a few pages later: “Relational sin in men, evidenced in words designed to display adequacy, win respect, or create feelings of significance, never pours life into another. Relational sin sucks life out of others” (p. 137).
He hits the nail on the head. My greatest fear is that others will view me as inadequate or incompetent or worthless. When I am afraid or insecure in a relationship I end up spending much of my energy trying to win respect or convince the other person of my adequacy. My focus, without consciously realizing it, is on proving my worth. So long as I am occupied with persuading others of my adequacy, my heart is not attuned to loving the other person freely or fully (or anything close to that).
Crabb offers an example of a man he knows who is learning to love more perfectly. He summarizes his description of Wayne with this sentence: “Wayne fights by moving toward his wife to hear her cry, to remember God’s undeserved grace, and to look into her soul until she is visible to him” (p. 139-140). What I hear Larry Crabb suggesting here is that if want to move from fear toward more perfect love, I need to step away from my fearful tendency to try to prove my adequacy. I need to set that aside to do something different. I need to step toward the other person, listening to that person, remembering God’s grace (that He loves me not on the basis of my attempted adequacy, and that He loves that other person as well), and looking to see that person’s soul (not just their disapproval of me or whatever it might be, but their soul). As often as I work at this, I will find myself moving away from fear-activated relating to more perfect love. God help me.