This week we have entered Lent, the 40 day period leading up to Easter when we remember that Jesus went into the wilderness.
Traditionally Christians are called to give up stuff that’s bad for us and we tend to think of abstinence from indulgences such as sugar, chocolate, alcohol or even coffee.
But what if we gave up something that was really bad for us?
What if we gave up the one thing that most holds us back – what if we gave up fear for Lent?
“Giving up fear??”
“You’ve got to be joking? It’s so much a part of who I am”.
If that is what you are thinking, don’t worry that’s exactly what I said to God when I was sitting in our empty church reading a chapter of the book The Ragamuffin Gospel which I have found so sustaining recently. The chapter I was reading was called “Freedom from Fear” so it was hardly surprising that the Holy Spirit would gently sneak up on me with this subversive question:
“So why don’t you give up fear for Lent?
For that matter why not try givng it up for life?!”
I don’t know about you but I bump into fear every moment of the day – fear of the future, fear of being rejected, fear of failure… I could go on. But God’s Word tells me that his perfect love casts out fear so if I know I am perfectly loved and that NOTHING that happens to me can separate me from that love, why do I give so much head space and heart space to fear in my life?
I’ve been thinking a lot about this incredible love of God and how I am meant to live in it and allow it to live in me (John 15 ‘remain in me and I will remain in you’). Brennan Manning writes this about being at home in the love of God “Home is not a heavenly place in the afterlife but a safe place right in the midst of our anxious world… Home is that sacred space where we don’t have to be afraid”.
Can I be so at home in God’s love for me or can God’s love be so at home in me that I am more directed and driven by love rather than fear?
Brennan Manning again: “my ravenous insecurities make my sense of self-worth rise and fall like a sailboat on the wins of another’s approval or disapproval” Ouch! And as if that wasn’t enough, there is the realisation that rather than the disapproval of others it is my fear of the disapproval of God my deep down insecurity about whether or not God really loves me which undermines me the most.
Yes, I am affected by how others feel about me but I am far more affected by the internal fear that somehow I’m not really good enough for God’s love. This is our fear in its most fundamental form and if, by God’s grace, we can overcome this fear and ruthlessly trust in all the ways that God has shown us that he does in fact love us in spite of ourselves, then everything changes and fear really is cast out
I found this wonderful paraphrase of verses in 1 John which says this better than I can,
“My dear children, let’s not just talk about love, let’s practice real love. This is the only way we’ll know we are living truly, living in God’s reality. It’s also the way to shutdown debilitating self-criticism, even when there is something to it. For God is greater than are worried hearts and knows more about us than we do ourselves.” (1 John 3:18-20) emphasis mine.
Ruthless Trust is the title of another book by Brennan Manning which I have begun to read.
I’m only halfway through this book but everything it contains is beautifully expressed in the picture on the cover: the Christian life is not about what you know about God, it’s about trusting in what you know about God. It is your internal heart attitude that matters so much more than your head knowledge.
When I allow fear too much headspace or heart space I realise that it changes my ‘internal heart attitude’: when I become fearful I become angry or resentful, I am less likely to be grateful, I am more likely to be self-protective and less likely to be loving and compassionate to other people struggling with their own difficulties. When I don’t live in an open confident trust, I am not put into some neutral space, instead I find I am living with anxiety and suspicion.
And when I go to those darker places in my heart or my soul I sense that nursing fear is not good for me but even though I sense this, I can often feel so paralysed it feels like there is nothing I can do about it.
BUT (I love that word!) if I’m brave enough to face the fact that my fears have taken me to a bad place and that I am helpless to rescue myself then Jesus comes closer. He does not condemn me, he does not tell me I failed, he does challenge me but he does so very gently with a look of love in his eyes, he says to me
“and how is that attitude working out for you? “
What kind of a person are you becoming because you are holding on to control and because you give way to fear.
Maybe that’s a good question for us to take into Lent. Jesus challenged me about fear but maybe there might be another attitude to which you are clinging about which he might be saying: “and how is that attitude working out for you?”
But if it is fear that you are going to seek to give up, you will need to take up trust. And this might have to be a trust of heroic proportions. So here is a good place to start: Jesus’s words to the terrified father whose world had just fallen apart “don’t be afraid, just believe” (Mark 5:36)