Fear is the absence of love

After a year of prayer, I finally found a fantastic spiritual director with whom I really click (just in time for this spiritual dry spell…coincidence?). When we met a couple weeks ago I was telling her about the “dark night of the soul” I was experiencing, and that a theme of this time period has been fear – not fear like terror, or even fear of anything big like health or safety — just the little fears that used to be part of daily life for me without God, but that I hadn’t experienced since my conversion. I found myself fearful and worried about a writing project, a relatively small financial matter, some technical issue with my computer, all sorts of aspects of the future, etc. When I asked her what I should do, she thought about it for a moment, then her answer caught me off guard:

“Fear is the absence of love,” she said.

She went on to gently suggest that when I find myself feeling fearful about a certain situation, I should ask: How can I pour love into this situation? And if I don’t see an immediate way to do that, I should do some act of love, even if it’s unrelated to the situation.

This advice was so unexpected. I never thought of fear and love as being particularly related. Though it sounded right, I couldn’t quite figure out why it was right. I looked up one of the passages from the Bible she’d quoted, in Chapter 4 of John’s first letter, and found that this chapter where John says “there is no fear in love” is also the chapter where he establishes that “God is love, and whoever remains in love remains in God and God in him.”

Then it all made sense. God is love, so to say that fear is a lack of love is to say that fear is a lack of God (not that he’s not there, but that we are not keeping our eyes on him). This explained why this spiritual dry spell led me to be so fearful in the first place, and why the recommended remedy was to pour love into all situations that caused me fear. In the times when I felt God’s presence so clearly, I feared almost nothing. It was relatively easy to turn all matters over to God and trust that he would work it out for the best, since I was so aware of his omnipotent presence all around me. But once I didn’t feel his presence so strongly anymore, I felt like I was all by myself, having to control all the events of my life (and deal with their outcomes) completely on my own, trusting only in myself. It’s a nerve-racking place to be. But to add love to a situation is, in a sense, to add God to a situation. And with God there is no fear.

This advice has worked amazingly well. At first it seemed like it wouldn’t apply to some of the more mundane matters I had myself worked up about — after all, how do you pour love into an insurance company dispute? — but I’ve found that every single time, when I’ve taken a moment to think about it, I’ve been presented with a clear way that I can change my course to proceed in love. And, though I frequently fall back into a bad state of mind and have to go through this about five times a day, it has indeed been very effective in alleviating my fears.

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Enter the Conversation...

32 Responses to “Fear is the absence of love”
  1. razzler says:

    Very interesting. I’m going to see if I can try to do the same thing.

    How did you find your spiritual director? Is he/she a part of your church?

  2. Jennifer F. says:

    Razzler – I asked my priest for a recommendation. Although most diocese have one person who’s in charge of keeping a list of all the certified spiritual directors for the area (people who have gone through the extensive training that’s required to officially be a spiritual director), so you could contact your diocese’s main office and ask them for a list.

  3. Tausign says:

    Spiritual direction is the right direction. An individual can only go so far in the Faith without it. Without SD error and confusion; doubt and worry sets in. And since you’ve made your faith so public, its bound to draw hidden spiritual attacks. Great decision!

  4. Elizabeth says:

    Jennifer: Another way I practice love in the midst of worries & fears is by being grateful. The Bible tells us to "give thanks in all things" which seems like a preposterously impossible thing to do (esp. when juggling diapers, bottles and school schedules for my 5 children!); but I have found that if I inject praise into the smallest of daily details (like singing a praise song on the way to school), the entire mood of the day is altered. My focus shifts from me, me, me to Him, Him, Him. This is my offering of love to God–to praise Him even when things are difficult and worrisome. It's an act of pure love and it's difficult sometimes, but whenever I praise Him, He meets me right there.

    I know you weren't looking for advice, so I'm sorry if I overstepped. ;-)

  5. Joe says:

    Wonderful reflection, Jen!

    As I read, the phrase that came to mind was “Do not be afraid!” It is on Jesus’ lips numerous times, as well as messengers from God throughout scripture.

    In this past Sunday’s Gospel, Jesus instructed his disciples to “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.”

    I think you and your SD are certainly on the right path; each of us struggles to improve our relationship with God who is Love. Scripture reminds us time and time again that such a relationship cannot contain any fear. We must bravely leap out of the boat with our eyes constantly focused on He who is Love.

    My pastor told a beautiful story during his homily yesterday. I found a version of it online:

    There’s the story told about a family who was woken by their smoke detector in the middle of the night to discover that their house was on fire. The father ran into the upstairs bedroom of his children and carried his eighteen-month old baby in his arms while dragging his four-year old by the hand.

    They were halfway down the stairs when the little boy remembered that he had let his teddy bear in the bedroom so he broke free from his father’s hand and ran back to his bedroom to retrieve it. In the furore and confusion, the father didn’t notice straight away that this son wasn’t with him until he got outside. By now the little boy was trapped by the smoke in his second story bedroom. Smoke swirled around him and he coughed and cried out from the upstairs window, “Daddy, Daddy! Help me!”

    His father yelled from below, “Jump out of the window Michael! I’ll catch you!”

    In the darkness and smoke, the little boy yelled back, “But Daddy! I can’t see you!”

    Daddy shouted back, That’s okay, son. I can see you! Jump!”

    http://childrensministerblog.com/?p=398

    Whenever we experience fear, we should always jump into the arms of Love! We may not be able to see him when we do so, but He can always see us!

  6. elizabeth says:

    I didn’t think spiritual directors were a Catholic thing. I haven’t heard or read anything about them in connection with my church. I’m going to ask.

  7. Heather says:

    You are absolutely right on about fear beign a lack of love and therefore a lack of love. When I was a new Christian I dealt constantly with fear and God finally had me search the Bible and realize that fear was NOT of HIM.

  8. Memphis Aggie says:

    Sounds practical – I’m going to try it

  9. coffeemom says:

    Great post, very timely and thank you. spot on target, once again!

  10. Jon says:

    I have heard it said that perfect love casts out fear. That may be from Julian of Norwich’s Revelations of Divine Love, rather than Holy Scripture though.

    Jon

  11. Frances says:

    Awesome, Jenn. I’ve been meaning to get meself one of them spiritual directors for a while now, myself.

    Can I ask a very direct question? Do you pay spiritual directors? If so, how much (approximately) do they charge? I’ve always wondered, and feel tacky asking my priest, whom I don’t know very well.

    thanks, and blessings on your journey.

  12. 'Becca says:

    Hmmm…a while back, you were saying fear is the absence of trust. What, then, is the connection between trust and love?

    I wrote an article (link behind my name) in which I talk about the Star Wars wisdom, “Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to the Dark Side.” and how my understanding of it was enhanced by your article exploring how lack of trust leads to fear. (By the way, where I said, “It is religious in focus, but…” that’s not meant to brush aside your religious insight! It’s just that I found your realization applies to other situations, too [“I’m afraid to leave my child with my mother because I don’t trust her to care for him properly.” or “I’m afraid to offer to help because I don’t trust in my ability to do the job well enough.”] and I know some of my regular readers are non-Christians who wouldn’t give your article a chance if I didn’t tell them what to look for.)

    Now I’ll have to think about whether love and trust sit side-by-side on that step of the path, or love is actually an earlier step (failure to love leads to failure to trust leads to fear), or what. And is it really that you feel fear because YOU are not loving enough, or that you feel fear because you are not LOVED enough or blind to how much you are loved?

    Someone recently quoted the “there is no fear in love” passage from 1 John in a discussion of how to discipline children: Our goal is not to make our children fear us; we must work with love. I’ve found that when I get angry with my 3-year-old, the root of it is fear: I’m afraid he’ll damage something or embarrass me in the moment, or I’m afraid he’ll grow up to behave badly all the time. So, under the fear is my failure to trust that it will all work out. I’ve tried to feed that trust by prayer (trusting God to help us), by trusting my child to improve as he grows, and by trusting myself to be a good mother. Working with love is helpful, too, but usually the best I can do is to touch some part of his soft and fragile little body and remember that he’s still very small and that HE loves and needs ME. As I try to pour love into the situation, often all I can think of is that loving him requires holding firm on this limit because the thing he’s demanding is not good for him, so I can’t give him what he wants and therefore he’s going to feel unloved in this moment even though I really do love him.

    You have a 3-year-old, too. When you find yourself afraid of his behavior or afraid that you’re being a lousy parent to him, how do you pour love into that situation?

  13. SuburbanCorrespondent says:

    You missed the obvious quote (from St. Paul): “Love casts out fear…” I love that line, and the first place I encountered it (as I was brought up on the Old Testament only) was in Little Women, when Beth musters the courage to speak directly to Old Mr. Lawrence. It’s a beautiful part of the book.

    Also, when I was in RCIA, I was struck by how many times in the Bible are phrases such as, “Fear not!” “Be not afraid!” and the like. This post is right on.

    And I’ve been meaning to tell you that your post on spiritual dryness has been helping me a bit with my current teenager travails. After so many years with little kids, surrounded by an atmosphere of love, the teen years feel to me like being thrown from a warm bath into a cold shower. Now I will certainly try to pour love into the situation. Not quite sure how, but I’ll work on it.

  14. Lundie says:

    Very timely for me to read this. Thank you for sharing it.

  15. ispeakbeanish says:

    What a great point! It really is simple when we get down to it isn’t it. I will really be thinking about how to do this in my life. Thanks!

  16. Ida says:

    http://frangipane.org/
    “Standing behind our walls”
    I got this in my mail today.
    I think it might help you and bless you.
    I know a lot about fear so I can relate to what you have written but when all is said and done I always come back to the fact that Jesus has already fought the ultimate battle and won all my wars
    Blessings
    Ida

  17. Ida says:

    Standing Behind Our Wall
    by Francis Frangipane

    I got this in my mail today and I think it can bless you also
    Ida

    The sense of distance we often feel between Christ and ourselves is an illusion. As we enter the days prior to Christ’s Second Coming, the Lord shall begin to remove that falsehood. Indeed, He promises, “In that day you shall know that I am in My Father, and you in Me, and I in you” (John 14:20).

    The Scriptures tell us that Christ is the vine, we are the branches; He is the head, we are His body; He is the Lord and we are His temple. From start to finish, the Bible declares the Lord not only has a dwelling in heaven, but that He also abides perpetually in redemptive union with His people. The ever-present focus of His activity is to guide us into oneness with Himself.

    Thus, for all that the Holy Spirit has come to establish in our lives, whether through gifts, virtue or power, His highest purpose is to lead us into the presence of Jesus. The Holy Spirit labors ceaselessly to establish intimacy between ourselves and the Lord Jesus. Someone once said that intimacy means “into-me-see.” This holy transparency fills the letters and words of the Bible with the heartthrob of God. Like sheep, we actually hear the Shepherd’s voice speaking to our spirits, bringing comfort, correction and direction (see John 10:27).

    Not only are we privileged to know Christ’s teachings, He is so close to us in spirit that we can discern the tone of His voice as He instructs us. This is heart-to-heart intimacy. Listen to His wonderful promise:

    “I am the good shepherd; and I know My own, and My own know Me, even as the Father knows Me and I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep” (John 10:14-15).

    Jesus says, “I know My own, and My own know Me.” How intimate is this relationship? The union between Christ and our hearts is of the same quality as His union with the Father. He says it is “even as the Father knows Me and I know the Father.”

    Yet, the sense of distance between Jesus Christ and us persists. You may have prayed, “Lord, You said You are with us forever but I feel alone. I cannot perceive You.” If Christ is within us, how can we find the living flame of His presence?

    In the Song of Solomon, this quest to find the secret place of His presence is given wonderful expression. The bride says, “Listen! My beloved! Behold, he is coming, climbing on the mountains, leaping on the hills! My beloved is like a gazelle or a young stag” (Song of Sol. 2:8-9).

    This is our Lord, full of vitality! He is “climbing on the mountains, leaping on the hills.” To see Him on mountains, though, is to behold Him from afar. He is still distant. How do we live in a moment-by-moment sense of His indwelling presence? We still ask, “Where within me are You, Lord, within me?”

    The bride continues,

    “Behold, he is standing behind our wall, he is looking through the windows, he is peering through the lattice” (Song of Sol. 2:9).

    Yes, Christ dwells within us, but He is standing behind our “walls.” The walls between us and the Savior are primarily the work of unrenewed minds and hardened hearts. We have barricaded ourselves behind fears and carnal attitudes; we are held hostage by sin and worldly distractions.

    Yet these barriers can be eliminated. To the degree they are removed, we possess oneness with Christ and experience true spiritual advancement.

    Removing the Walls
    Even now, let us pursue the removal of these barriers. How? Imagine that, even as you are reading, the Lord Himself has quietly entered a nearby room. You look, and suddenly the room is vibrant and alive, shimmering with waves of light. Instantly, your senses are flooded with His holy presence as the living, probing light enters you and descends into your heart. The darkness that shrouded your inner sin nature is gone and your heart is exposed.

    My first question: Knowing that Jesus Christ is in the room, would you enter?

    If you could not bring yourself to move toward the room, what would be your reason? If it is because you feel you have failed the Lord too many times, then shame has become a “wall” between you and Christ. If fear keeps you distant, then fear is the barrier between God and you; if an unrepentant heart is keeping you from intimacy with Christ, then heart hardness is your cause of isolation.

    Remember, the pure in heart see God (see Matt. 5:8). If we repent of our wrong attitudes and sins; if, instead of shame and fear, we clothe ourselves with the garments of praise and salvation, the barriers between ourselves and the Lord shall be removed.

    But let me ask you a second question: How would you enter Christ’s presence?

    It is my opinion that we would not pick up tambourines and dance into His glory. No. When the greatest apostles and prophets beheld Him, His presence caused each to fall face down as a dead man before Him. For me, it would be with great trembling that I would approach the room of His presence. I would inch my way closer.

    How can we break the sense of distance between ourselves and Christ? In the same way we would repent of sin and shame before entering the room, let us turn our gaze toward His living glory. In trembling obedience, let us enter the fire of His presence for, in truth, He is closer than the room next door. He is, even now, standing behind our wall.

    Lord Jesus, I remove the wall created by my fears, sin, and shame. Master, with all my heart I desire to enter Your glory, to stand in Your presence and love You. Receive me now as I bow before Your glory.

  18. Jennifer F. says:

    Thanks for all your comments! I’m probably missing a couple I meant to respond to, but here are some replies to questions:

    Elizabeth – I’m always looking for great advice — thanks!

    Elizabeth (other one) –

    I didn’t think spiritual directors were a Catholic thing.

    They are. In fact, what got me interested in it in the first place is that the amazing St. Francis de Sales expressed the opinion in Introduction to the Devout Life (maybe the most life-changing book I ever read) that for anyone who is seeking to grow in holiness, having a spiritual director is not optional.

    Frances -

    Can I ask a very direct question? Do you pay spiritual directors? If so, how much (approximately) do they charge?

    This is a great question. Though I don’t think they’re prohibited from charging, I’ve never heard of a spiritual director doing that. Usually that’s just their ministry. Mine doesn’t charge at all, which is almost hard to believe considering how valuable her services are.

  19. razzler says:

    Although the Spiritual Director is a Catholic thing, the idea came long before Catholicism. Jesus mentored His disciples. Lots of Christians believe that in order to grow in your faith you need a mentor. I agree, I just wish we could become better at implementing this.

  20. Carolyn says:

    Thank you for your thoughts, Jen. Would you consider another post with specific examples about how you poured love into various situations? When I find myself gripped with fear, it seems impossible to do anything but be afraid. Sometimes even praying seems beyond my capabilities. Thank you for sharing your experiences…it helps to know I’m not the only one going through these situation.

  21. Joy of Frugal Living says:

    Thanks for sharing this, Jen. I’m not totally sure how to apply it in some aspects of my current situation, but having it in the back of my mind is sure to help.

    Jennifer

  22. Anonymous says:

    the brick walls are there to show whether we really want something.

  23. Betsy says:

    Great post, Jennifer.

    You know, the linking of acts of love to the casting out of fear parallels so well with something that my husband gained from the Scriptures recently and taught our community group.

    In the original language, the “perfect love casts out all fear” verse can be translated (and possibly should be translated) “completed” love, as in the complete cycle of love coming from the father, flowing through us, coming back to us, returning to the Father, etc. In this way, it seems to take our fears with it.

    The “perfect” in perfect love doesn’t mean perfectly executed, I learned. And it doesn’t only mean perfect in that it originates with the Father. It means completed, in the same way that many scriptures talk about us becoming complete in Christ.

    Although this realization has meant so much to me, I hadn’t yet been able to imagine it working itself out practically, but your post today is such a missing piece of the puzzle.

    Thanks again for your precious sisterhood in Christ!

    On a side note, as a Protestant, I love the idea of an SD. We have “discipleship” in our church, but it is woefully insufficient. I hope that the protestant church will grow in this immensely important task of guiding the next generation of little brothers and sisters in Christ.

  24. jill says:

    This was just excellent. The only commandment Jesus left us with is to Love one another.

  25. just says:

    I love my spiritual director and don’t know what I would do without him sometimes! He’s a deacon in my parish, so I didn’t have far to look. You might want to check out sdiworld.org to find spiritual directors. It’s a multifaith site, and has good info on what to look for. It was recommended to me by our DRE and youth minister, who are both listed there.

    I have never paid my sd, except with fruit and veggies from my garden, and some very specific notes of thanks.

  26. Sara says:

    Another great, inspirational post, Jennifer. You express yourself so well.

    I’m nominating you for an award over on my blog. I hope you’re not offended by the title, but it’s all I’ve got! lol! And you definitely are one!

  27. Jackie Parkes says:

    Hi Jennifer..do you mind adding my blog to your links?

  28. Jennifer F. says:

    Hi Jackie – I look forward to checking out your blog. I’m really bad about updating my blogroll (since I have a home-made template it’s not easy to go in and update it), but I’ll keep it in mind for the next round of updates. :)

  29. Gina says:

    This was very helpful to me. Thank you.

  30. 'Becca says:

    On rereading to see if you’d answered my question, I noticed this:
    after all, how do you pour love into an insurance company dispute?

    Challenging, isn’t it? But it made me think of my friend Kristin, who runs a small business and is a very mellow, hippie sort of person. Time and again, I’ve seen her address a problem with some vendor or hotel or customer by saying, in a sort of almost-laughing commiserating tone, “Oh, this sucks!! What’re we gonna do? Let’s see, how can we work this out?” It is amazingly effective. The person stops thinking about whether it’s “your problem” or “my faceless corporate employer’s problem” because Kristin is framing it as “our problem” that we individual people will solve together. I have helped her solve problems before–including a time I called her to argue the opposing position in a creative-property dispute–and it is amazing how her approach gets everyone disarmed and sitting around the table together working hard to find a win-win solution.

    Part of the problem in dealing with insurance companies and such is the impersonal and antagonistic feelings in both directions. If you can connect with one person and treat him/her as a good person who wants to do the right thing, that I think is a form of love.

  31. Jennifer F. says:

    ‘Becca – thank you for sharing your friend Kristin’s example. I think you’re exactly right that it’s a form of love to simply recognize the person on the other end of the line as a fellow human being who wants to do the right thing.

    BTW, sorry I haven’t had a chance to answer your other question. Unfortunately, like with email, I am often not able to keep up with replying to comments. Hope to get to it!

  32. Lady of the Lakes says:

    Jen,
    This post is just wonderful and I wish I had read it before now. Thank you so much for posting this! I am going to try this when I deal with my own fears.