Do you love fully, freely, and fearlessly, or are you afraid to love others? Perhaps you want to love, but are terrified of having your heart wounded or broken….again. Whether you are single, married, a parent (or not), in ministry (or not), if you have ever loved, then you know the fear and vulnerability that comes along with it. You aren’t alone!
I first realized that love was a fearful thing when I was a teenager. I grew up in a loving home with a solid, Christian family. When I was 16, my youngest brother was born. We were adopting him, and I was very excited that he was becoming a part of our family. But his adoption was complicated, and to add to that, he experienced serious health problems. I loved him very much, but found myself afraid to love him completely. I feared we would lose him, either through the adoption process or through his health. I was terrified of being head-over-heels in love with this precious baby only to have him taken from us. Thankfully, neither thing happened, but my fear was real, and I regret that I didn’t allow myself to fully give my heart in his infancy.
A few short years later, while I was in college, we experienced some difficulties in the ministry where my dad pastored. My heart was hurt, and in some ways I felt betrayed by people I had trusted and loved. I felt my heart begin to withdraw a little more.
At the age of 21, I married my husband. How thankful I am that God gave him to me! I knew that he was the one that God had chosen for me and I looked forward to serving and sharing our lives together. After a few months of marriage, I realized even more how deeply I loved him and fear began to invade my heart again. I began to imagine a lot of different scenarios. What if something were to happen to him? What if he were to die? What if he were to leave me? What if he ended up not being the person I thought he was? So many fears, so many worries, left me again in a position where I was holding back in loving the person I truly cared about. I didn’t want to fail in loving him, but I feared the vulnerability that was the companion of total love.
My husband became an assistant pastor in a wonderful church. I loved our church and the opportunity we had to serve the Lord together there. But once again, I found that my fear of loving haunted me. I struggled to get close to people, and I hesitated to make any close friendships. I felt guilty that I was not fully invested in loving our church family, and yet somehow felt that I was “protecting myself” against possible pain.
Within a year or two of marriage my husband and I also began to struggle through the difficult process of infertility diagnosis and treatments. My fears grew as I realized I could not conceive. Would my husband continue to love me, even if I could never give him a child?
Then, we began to consider adopting. We had several adoption attempts fall through. This was such a painful thing, and I felt my heart shriveling a little more with each disappointment. I didn’t want to take a chance again. I didn’t want to risk loving, to risk being broken, to risk betrayal, disappointment, and hurt.
Let me interject here that my husband never contributed to any of these feelings. He is a wonderful, godly man, who has loved me incredibly through all of my fears and misgivings. I can’t describe how precious he is to me, and how he has always loved me, and sought to make me feel loved.
One day, as I was reading the book of I John, this verse just seemed to grab hold of my fearful heart. “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love.” (I Jn. 4:18) I knew my love was not perfect, not mature, and certainly not fearless. I knew the torment that fear brought.
Fearful love steals joy. It undermines trust and communication. It is short-tempered. It is suspicious. It doubts. It is selfish. It expects little and gives less. It withdraws. It withholds. It is reserved at best, and retaliatory at worst. It is the opposite of the love described in I Corinthians 13.
Ultimately, we know the Lord Jesus Christ is the example of perfect love. He is the One who loves completely, unconditionally, without reserve and regardless of whether that love is returned. And yet, how often do we even fear receiving and returning His love? What might He demand of me? What might He expect of me?
As I thought of His perfect love, and studied these verses, I realized that the underlying sins of fearful love are selfishness and pride. I am afraid of love because I am afraid of what it might cost ME. I am afraid I might be hurt, betrayed, embarrassed, or rejected. And the truth is, I might be, probably will be. Love is a costly thing. But true love is love that gives. Genuine love is ultimately concerned with the well-being of its object. It “seeketh not its own”. If we offered this type of love to our spouses, our children, our parents, our siblings, our brothers and sisters in Christ, our neighbors and friends, and yes, even to our enemies, then we would be “perfect in love”.
Christ’s love will drive fear from our hearts. As we know Him, as we understand His great love for us, we learn that He desires to give us peace, joy, and confidence in Him. He knows that fear has torment. “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” (II Tim. 1:7) As we come to know Him and His love, we can rest in that love and the assurance that it is never-ending, never-failing and ever-present. We can trust that His love is always seeking our good. One of the most beautiful passages in the Bible speaks of this love He demonstrates to us,
“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter. Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us. For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rom. 8:35-39)
Christ’s love in and through us will also drive fear from the love we show to others. As He teaches us to love with His heart and mind, He frees us to be less concerned about ourselves, and more concerned about giving His love to those around us.
I am so thankful that the Lord has always loved me in spite of my sin and selfishness. He has slowly but surely been healing my heart. I cannot honestly say that I am never afraid as I love others. In fact, I find that this is the area in which I struggle and fail most often. As a wife, as a mother, as a family member, and as a part of the body of Christ, I have been hurt and surely will be again. None of us welcome that feeling. However, I can honestly say that the Lord has changed me, and I pray He will continue to do so. There is a joy and peace in loving fearlessly that I cannot explain. I want to love others the way that Christ loves me.
Here are a few basic thoughts that have helped me on this journey. I pray that they might help you as well.
- Realize you are loved.
Many times we fear love because we feel we are not loved. We already feel that we have been rejected, and perhaps we have; but let me assure you, you are loved. You are loved by God. He loves you so much that He gave His Son for you. (Jn. 3:16) He longs for you to receive His Son, and to return His love. No matter how anyone else treats you, nor what they tell you, He loves you. He wants you to be His own child. You are loved.
- Choose to love.
As a Christian, love is not an option. I am not only encouraged to love others, I am commanded to love. According to the Lord Jesus, love for God, and then others, are the greatest commandments. This command to love is repeated often. It is the single greatest quality that will prove or disprove your discipleship.
“By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.” (Jn. 13:35).
If I am God’s child, I cannot honestly say, “I cannot love that person.” It is only, “I will not love that person.” God never commands us to do something He will not enable us to accomplish. Do not mistakenly excuse a failure to love by thinking you can compensate with all the other things you “do for God” or for others. There is no substitute for love as a child of God. As I Cor. 13:1-3 says,
“Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.”
- Be a victor, not a victim.
If you are old enough to understand what love is, you have probably already had some type of hurt from someone you love. Maybe it has never been a deep hurt, or perhaps you have suffered an unspeakable betrayal or injury. Either way, you have a choice to make. When we have truly suffered wrong at the hand of another, we must choose: will we remain a victim, or will we be a victor? Please know, I do not say this to belittle the hurt or even the harm we suffer from those who claim to love us. The reality of those hurts is deep. But we cannot change the actions of others. We can choose our response to those actions. A wonderful passage on this topic is I Peter 2:11-3:15. Will you allow the Lord to help you overcome your hurt, your anger, your fear, or will you choose to be a victim indefinitely?
Rather than saying, “I cannot love because of the wounds my heart has endured”, we should turn our eyes toward Him and say, “I can love because of the wounds He has endured for me.”
- Be willing to forgive.
We often say, when we are wronged, “I cannot forgive that person.” But again the problem is not usually so much with the “doing”, but with the “willing”. We “cannot” forgive because we do not want to forgive. And yet, just as with loving, forgiveness is commanded for the Christian. We can be enabled to forgive, not through own grace, or strength, or ability. I discovered long ago I don’t possess any of those things. However, “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me”. (Phil. 4:13).
- Be filled with the Holy Spirit.
When we are filled with the Holy Spirit, He will teach us how to think like Jesus Christ, how to speak like Him, how to act like Him, and yes, how to love like Him. This is not some “mysterious” thing. It is simply being willing to die to our own selves, and surrender our wills to Him. The first “fruit of the Spirit” is love. (Gal. 5:22) When I lack love, it is obvious evidence that I am not walking in the Spirit.
- Commit to kindness.
“Charity….is kind” (I Cor. 13:4), not just to those who are kind to us, or to those who deserve it, and not even just “randomly”. Christlike love is intentionally kind as God is kind – not just to the good, but to the unthankful and to the evil (Lk. 6:35). This applies to our families as well as to perfect strangers. We often treat people outside of our homes with far more kindness than we do those with whom we live. Remember the virtuous woman? One of her sterling (and most convicting) qualities was that “in her tongue is the law of kindness.” (Pro. 31:26)
- Be an initiator, not just a responder.
One of the characteristics of those who are “fearful lovers” is that they rarely initiate in a relationship. They are determined that they will not suffer rejection or humiliation (there’s that pride again!), and so they only love responsively. They seldom reach out and offer love to anyone, and especially not to someone who may not return their overtures. If we are going to choose Christlike, fearless love, we must also be willing to initiate love. “We love Him, because He first loved us.” (I Jn. 4:19) Christ does not wait for us to love Him before He loves us.
We must be willing to take the first step, to say the first kind words, to lend a helping hand, to offer forgiveness, to demonstrate mercy, to give grace.
Finally, remember that love is action, not just emotion. It is a deliberate, dynamic, daily response to the great love we have been given. ” And walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath given himself for us….” (Eph. 5:2)
With God’s help, love fearlessly today!