Walking the Sea

Walking the Sea: March 2013

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Through the Heart of God

Last Sunday evening, Amy and I took a train trip together. It was her first time on a train and I was eager to share my favorite way to travel and taking her to her Nana’s for a sleepover was the perfect opportunity. I was so proud of her, carrying her sleeping bag and ticket as we waited in line and then giving her ticket to the conductor at the counter. My favorite part of traveling with just her and I, though, are the conversations we get into. For our train adventure, we started playing a game we called, “Where’s God?” She instructed me to look out the window and find somewhere I saw God. He could be in cars, strolling through a field, under a street lamp, or in a bar. We played the game several times, going back and forth between us, discovering God in all the places he could be. I hope Amy knows God is everywhere – in the houses, on the train, and in her eyes. I want her to know from experience she can hear God, that God hears and loves her, and I want her to live her life knowing that love for herself, God, and others. I want her to be free – free of fear, free of shame, and free to express the beautiful person God created her to be.

If you think I’m the teacher in this case though, you would be wrong. Amy has taught me one of the most important lessons of my life: the lesson of perfect love. When Amy sees me, her face lights up, she calls out my name in joy, and sometimes, we both run into each other’s arms. This child does not hide her love, she lives it. What if Amy lived in fear of me instead? What if she was so careful to keep her clothes clean in case I might disapprove? Always staying on the designated path in case I decided to leave her, only talking to me about topics she thinks won’t anger me, keeping her distance because I could hit her, never laughing, never expressing or liking herself because she thinks I don’t like her either. What if she was afraid of me, afraid of others, afraid of herself? It would break my heart. I couldn’t stand to watch her tear herself up, someone I love deeply, and live in fear of what I might do. I would want to kneel down and tell her not to live in fear, but to know I love her exactly as she is. That she is free to be herself, to explore, to delight in the world around her, stomp in the mud puddles, and to talk with me about whatever comes to mind.

And that makes me think. If I, who love this child, would go to such lengths to convince her that I love her and that she need not be afraid, does not God, who loves us infinitely more, do the same? Does it not break God’s heart when we live in fear of him, when we put all our efforts into staying squeaky clean, avoiding topics of conversation, keeping our distance, and hating ourselves? Does God not fall to the floor and weep for love of us? Does he not try to convince us otherwise? Yes! God does!

In 1 John 4:18, we read, “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. We love because he first loved us.” We were created to live in love, perfect love and fear has no part of that yet we so often insist on living out of fear and being afraid of the God who longs for us to not be so frightened of him who loves us most.

What do you think of when you hear the word fear? A dark ally? Loss? The unknown? When I hear the word fear, I think of some of the people I know who live in it. People who live a life of fear are constantly looking at the darkness, creating their own hell. They imagine a world against them, a world where other people wish them ill and where they imagine the worst in other people’s characters. They think of the worst scenario. Imagining their own dark reality. They then live in the shadows, shutting people out and hiding their true selves away. How many of you know C.S. Lewis’s stories of Narnia? In the first book, The Magician’s Nephew, there is a character who lives in fear: Uncle Andrew. The animals, not being sure of what he is, try planting him like a tree and then when they are convinced he is alive, they offer him food; the bear offers a honeycomb and the birds bring him worms. Uncle Andrew is terrified of these creatures and believes they are torturing him. But Aslan, the Great Lion, is wise. This is what he does: 

"Please, Aslan," said Polly, "could you say something to - to unfrighten him? And then could you say something to prevent him from ever coming back here again?"

"Do you think he wants to?" said Aslan.

"Well, Aslan," said Polly, "he might send someone else. He's so excited about the bar off the lamp-post growing into a lamp-post tree and he thinks-"

"He thinks great folly, child," said Aslan. "This world is bursting with life for these few days because the song with which I called it into life still hangs in the air and rumbles in the ground. It will not be so for long. But I cannot tell that to this old sinner, and I cannot comfort him either; he has made himself unable to hear my voice. If I spoke to him, he would hear only growlings and roarings. Oh, Adam's sons, how cleverly you defend yourselves against all that might do you good! But I will give him the only gift he is still able to receive."

He bowed his great head rather sadly, and breathed into the Magician's terrified face. "Sleep," he said. "Sleep and be separated for some few hours from the torments you have devised for yourselves." Uncle Andrew immediately rolled over with closed eyes and began breathing peacefully.

 C.S. Lewis understood someone who lives in fear. No matter the good around them, they see it as evil. No matter the kindness, they see it as a disaster. Building a wall around themselves, they shut themselves in, hide away. They live in constant fear of attack so they put on thick layers of armor that weighs them down.  Are they protected? Certainly! They are protected from feeling love, knowing joy, knowing themselves, and having real companionship with others.

How many times in our lives do we give in to fear? How many times have we assumed the worst of another, that this person did this or that to spite us, to hurt us? We then get angry about it and are unkind to them all because of what we have assumed to be true. Even if they haven’t done anything to us, we compare, we judge, and if they are better at something, we think ill of them. We are creating our own reality and then we live as if it was true, causing ourselves all kinds of heartache and pain. But the reality we create and the truth can be two very different things.

What are we so afraid of? If we are honest with ourselves, we would admit we are fearful of so many things: being wrong, being vulnerable, being uncomfortable, facing pain, and facing the truth, among many others. To avoid theses fears, we like to draw lines. to protect ourselves, to make sure we’re “right”, to keep us where we feel comfortable and protected. We label places a “no go” so we don't have to face our fears. In our religion, we don’t want to be punished by God if we do something wrong – we want to be sure of our salvation so we make sure to do everything right, stay on the righteous road, only talk with those who are doing the same. However, while it’s good to follow what God has told us is right; doing something out of fear isn’t the way to go. Doing something for the fear of being punished – is not love, it’s about avoiding a reality we have first created and then are afraid of. God is not waiting to smite us. He’s not keeping tally of our mistakes. Love keeps no record of wrongs. Love is patient, love is kind. God is patient and kind and if we are living out of his love for us, we will extend that same love to others.

True love has nothing to do with fear. There is no fear in love. Real love accepts us exactly as we are, we accept ourselves exactly as we are, and we extend that same beautiful acceptance to others.

To illustrate love, let me tell you about a friend of mine. A few months ago, Kimberly started a studio called Defy where she teaches arial arts such as low-hanging trapeze and arial silks. Ribbons of silk hang from the ceiling, pooling on the floor and the goal is to climb up them and do tricks. It’s a fun way to exercise, I have new goals to reach for, and I get to spend time with someone I enjoy. Over the time I have been taking classes from Kimberly, my body has grown stronger. Through my progress is slow, I love the trying and then being able to do something, no matter how small, that I hadn’t been able to do before: the first step of a climb, pulling myself up onto the trapeze, or going upside-down. At the same time, I have been thinking a lot about love and fear, and I have found there are many commonalities between learning how to climb silk and learning how to live through the heart of God’s love.

One of the first things Kimberly taught me in class is you have to think “up”. In life, we spend so much time looking around us, moving side to side, we think left and right, not up and down. But to climb the silks, you have to think up and you have to leave the floor. The same with love. In both cases, you have to stop looking around you and focus on what you’re holding onto. In love’s case, what we’re holding onto is God. The up is our connection with him, our joy in the relationship, our delight in being loved. To climb up, you have to leave the ground – you have to let go and be teachable, relying on a strength far greater than your own and also let go of the need to defend the ground you were standing on.

Focusing on getting up in the air, you loose your focus on the people around you. You cheer them on, but you can’t compare yourself to them. Often, Kimberly tells me this. She says everyone moves at their own pace, everybody is different, and you can’t compare yourself to the abilities of another. We do cheer each other on but we don’t judge. We can laugh together when one of us falls or slides down the silk, we can delight in each other’s achievement, but it does not lessen our own. In love, we have to leave judgment behind. We have to stop comparing. We need to learn to accept and love ourselves just as we are without trying to make ourselves right or acceptable for others. We are each on a journey of our own with our own gifts and talents. We cannot be compared. The spiritual journey is going to be a torture if we are constantly comparing ours with another. We simply must accept each person, delight in our differences, cheer each other on, and let go of our need to draw lines around us, but simply connect up with God. We are much happier if we are not comparing ourselves with others, in our faith and in our abilities to climb.

The thing I love best about the silks, though, is how beautiful it is to watch someone who does it well. Sometimes I ask Kimberly to demonstrate a trick again just because I love watching her do it. She is so graceful twisting the fabric around herself, climbing upwards, going upside down. She doesn’t like to perform, but she will play around and try new tricks. I am in awe of her abilities; she has certainly put a lot of work into her skills. In the same way, it is a beautiful sight when someone loves well. When they have nothing to prove, nothing to gain back, they are simply enjoying the act of loving. It’s so beautiful to watch and to do. But such love, especially as an adult, does not come easy. We have to work at it – continually reminding ourselves to forgive, to let go of having to get something back, to have good boundaries. It is a continual process of letting go of fear and living in love.

Just as it can be difficult to reach up and hang on the silk, letting go of the fear of falling or failing holding us back, we have to let go of fear in order to love. As scripture says, God did not give us a spirit of fear for fear is not a characteristic of God. God does not hide in the shadows, God does not assume the worst in us, God does not create lines and then picket them. God has never told anyone I don’t want you, never said I don’t love you, never looks at someone and assumes the worst motivations. God looks at each person and sees how beautiful they are, he looks at us and knows the truth of our spirits. Being the light, shadows never cross his face and he certainly does not hide away. If God does not do these things, why do we?

He wants us to live in the spirit he gave us: love. He wants us to be free, to rejoice in the gift of ourselves and each other. Perfect love, whole love, leaves no room for fear. There is no space for weights that drag down our spirits but perfect love lifts up our spirits, it gives us joy as we love those around us. But the best part is, is that no matter how much fear we have in our lives to work through, God is far, far, greater than our fear. After all, nothing can take us away from the love of God – not even our fear of it. The light, God’s love, in truth, is always around us, always in us, pouring out of us. We have merely to live in it.

So how do we live in the light of God's love? We start by sinking into and accepting the roaring love of God down to our bones, agreeing we are enough as we are and that nothing can truly overcome us. We then recognizing we're operating out of fear, the spirit God never wants us to know. When we face our fears, when we let God's love in, it can be painful and uncomfortable, but in the end, it's far better. We are free. The weights and shadows are no more. It is a process, but the more we do it, the more we face into our fears in the light of God's love, it gets easier. We bring these fears into the light of God's love and see them for what they are: mere shadows. Learning to listen to God's voice, he helps us understand the truth and the larger perspective. He helps us climb. And from that vantage point, we just get stronger and stronger as we depend on his love and live out that love in ourselves.