Dwell with God (Monday)
Today's devotional comes from "Falling Into Goodness," a book of Lenten reflections by Chuck DeGroat. You can purchase the entire book on Amazon in paperback or for Kindle.
Monday Week 1
There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love. 1 John 4:18
“It feels like I just get stuck in my anxiety sometimes,” he told me. “It’s like I can be completely fine and relaxed, and then I get triggered. My whole body can go into a state of panic in seconds. It’s like there are two of me – the relaxed me and the anxious me – and they’re at war.”
We all long to live in the experience of oneness and worthiness in Christ. We all long for wholeness, through and through. When we’re operating from our core – our true self – it seems that nothing can overcome us.
And yet, both theologians and psychologists – and St. John in this passage! – seem to affirm a more complicated dynamic within us.[i] Truth be told, we can feel kind of fragmented at times. We can feel “not quite ourselves.” It can feel like parts of us are at war.
Think about it. There are parts of you that you don’t like and parts you do. There are parts that beat you up and parts that cheer you up. You might experience a conflict between parts of yourself. You might say to your spouse, “Part of me wants to go on a bike ride with you and another part of me wants to take a nap.” You might even experience a more profound confusion, even a sense of hypocrisy, as theologian and pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer expresses:
Who am I? This or the other?
Am I one person to-day and to-morrow another?
Am I both at once? A hypocrite before others,
And before myself a contemptibly woebegone weakling?[ii]
In this passage, love and fear compete for a place of primacy within. Of course, we long to live in perfect “wholehearted” love. But fear often wins out. Fear about the conversation that went bad this morning. Fear about the big date. Fear about what you’ll get back on tax day. Fear about the test results.
But perfect love casts out all fear, right? I just need to be more perfect, right? Wrong.
What St. John is getting at is not some kind of moral perfection, but a sense of oneness, of unity within, of wholeheartedness. It’s as if he’s aware of what psychologists know today – that we can become disconnected from our core self. He’s revealing to us that we can become fragmented, disconnected from our true selves dwelling in love, dwelling in Christ. Just like the man I mentioned above, we can get triggered, becoming one with our fear and alienated from Jesus.
Now hear this: St. John isn’t trying to shame you in this passage. He’s not asking you to “get over” your fear. In fact, I think he’s actually on to the ancient wisdom - that we’re more than our anxiety. I think he’s actually tuned into the reality that we were created in Love and for Love. I think he’s asking us to return to our roots, to fall back into the goodness of God’s original love, to a place of original fearlessness.
St. John believes that your deepest being is made for love and lives in love because he knew, very personally, Love incarnate – Jesus. But remember - he also knew fear. He watched as Jesus was hung from the Cross. So, he’s not looking to shame you, but to invite you – back into Love’s arms, back into Love’s security, back into Love’s goodness.
In the end, fear is a product of control. Parts of us vying for control within send our system into a panic, and we’re quickly disconnected from our true self in Christ and thrown into a state of inner emergency. But surrender is the antithesis of control.
So, surrender to love. Fall into goodness. His arms are wide open, waiting to catch you.
Loving God, I admit it – I get scared. Fear seems to take over my being at times. I’m beginning to realize that I can’t conquer or control fear, but I can surrender. I can fall back into the Love that is more original than fear. Teach me to fall, Jesus. Amen
[i] See Ch. 8 of my book Wholeheartedness for an elaboration of this psychological dynamic.
[ii] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works, Vol. 8: Letters and Papers from Prison, transl. Eberhard Bethge (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Fortress, 2009), pp. 221-222.