“Perfect love drives out fear, for fear has to do with punishment.” 1 Jn. 4:18 NIV
The type of fear John speaks of is the paralyzing, cowering kind that all people feel in the face of threats, violence, abuse and other evils. It is an oppressive, jailing kind that arises from the deceitful one, Satan. But Jesus came to free the captive (Isaiah 61:1).
The deceiver tailors his language of fear to his listener. To some he speaks in soft tongues, to others in sharp. The point of anything fear says is to control and bully, to keep the hearer from knowing freedom and love.
Fear bullies with sweet whispers. Fear seduces with sharp commands. Fear persuades with half truths. Fear controls with comfort. Fear is charismatic, a force of character that draws people to follow him into bondage. And he uses content of every kind under the sun: from self-perception to global annihilation, from sore throats to getting it all done.
Nothing but the whole truth, unvarnished and blazing gently in one’s being, will conquer fear. Before it, like wax melting under a candle, our rigid prisons fall away. To each of our personal realities God’s truth of love shines deeply into our personal convictions, changing and shaping them into action, releasing the prison gates of fear.
To the perfectionist’s ear, fear speaks in “shoulds”. He holds up the beautiful goal and desire for perfection, knowing that that IS what we are destined for, and says: “Look, that’s your goal, go get it! You should do this, then that, then that. You definitely shouldn’t waste your time on unproductive things. Do this…and this…and this.” The perfectionist climbs the mountain of “shoulds”, not realizing that it is made of pebbles rolling under her feet and she is getting no closer. Instead, she is wearing out, despairing, discouraged and unsure. Fear now holds her tired heart in captivity.
I am a perfectionist, and the above is my story. However, the story is not finished.
Into this captivity Jesus stepped. His foot light, he brought water, a pillow, His presence. He sat with me in my captivity until I had rested enough that I could listen. Then He began to speak, counteracting the poisonous thoughts I had been listening to for years, and when I was stronger, He invited me to get up and walk with Him. He began to show me things I had not noticed before, He ignited joy and peace in my heart. For a time, He refused to answer my request for a purpose, knowing that that would send me back up the mountain of pebbles.
After an uncomfortably long time, in which I finally found comfort, He invited me forward with Him. He never used the word “should”, always “let’s”. As He issued His invitation to me into His purposes He said: “You will go out with joy and be led forth in peace.” (Isaiah 55:12).
I am, literally, today, starting three major things to which He has led me. One of which is the series on this blog on “Ten Attitudes of Heart to Cultivate for a ‘Mary’ Life”!
Just to show you how personal He gets as He leads you, I will share the picture He gave me this morning as I listened to Him regarding these initiatives. First off, you have to know that I LOVE snow, playing in the snow, skiing, skating, all things snow. In that, I am a true Canadian:) In the picture, I saw myself as a child getting ready to go play in the snow, and in my excitement I wasn’t putting on my hat or zipping up my coat. He, Dad, came over and put my hat on, zipped up my coat to make sure I was prepared and then blessed me with a twinkle in his eye and said “Have fun!”.
I have been listening to Emily P. Freeman’s podcast “The Next Right Thing” (which I highly recommend!) and in episode three, she asks: “Are you being led by love or pushed by fear?” Over the last year, this has been especially helpful in my discernment process. It helped me recognize that a job I almost took was motivated by my fear of our future finances, not His leading. It helped me recognize that during this time of discernment, courage means taking the hours to go deep with God, to slowly process all the things He is showing me, and trust that my not getting a paycheck will not bring us to bankruptcy. It has been eleven months so far without my pay check and we have always had enough, even as we moved to a house with a higher house payment per month!
For me, the voice of fear says excitedly and urgently, like a happy friend: “You should do this because you are so able. You should do this to secure your future!” But if I don’t comply my happy friend’s voice slides into a menacing, condemning voice: “You’ll never amount to anything. You aren’t doing enough to bless the world. You have been given so much and you just squander it. How can you call yourself a leader? A good mom?” In both voices, the identifying characteristic is a push to perform and prove.
Whereas being led by love, the voice is a gentle friend, welcoming and pleased to be with me, regardless of what I do. Love’s voice invites, converses. Love says: “This is the way, walk in it, and I will walk with you.” If I don’t comply, love waits.
I’ve had many months now of discerning the voice of fear and the voice of Love as I have waited on the Lord to direct my steps. A desire of mine from as far back as I can remember is to get my Master’s degree. I’ve started one, I’ve tested the waters with a course for another, I’ve perused many catalogs. Every time there’s been a check in my spirit at some point on the road – a lack of peace about the focus, a revelation that just because I can do something doesn’t mean I should (there’s that “should” again!).
This time the Lord is inviting me to get my Master’s in Spiritual Formation and Direction. It isn’t a should at all, but an “I get to!” I know deeply that this is the right direction, partly because I realize that if I don’t make the attempt and join the Lord I will, literally, forever regret it. All my previous endeavors I was preparing to make do when all along, deep down I knew that I was cut out for this work and had lacked the courage to try. He has been persistently showing and telling me that He wants me living abundantly with Him in the purposes He has for me. He wants the BEST for me, not for me to simply make do.
Are you being led by Love, or pushed by fear? Only you and the Lord can identify the voice of fear in your life. It will speak differently to you than me. It will take courageous, deep work to identify and admit to listening to the voice of fear. But I promise, it is so well worth it. God made you for living deeply, joyfully and truthfully, not quickly, shallowly and fearfully.