“Want to hear a horrible story?” This is how my priest should have begun his homily on Ash Wednesday. Because the story he told was indeed horrible. But the lesson has been chewing on my heart for days. It won’t let me go.
When he was on a train from Southern India to Northern India there was a family in his car with several children. In the course of the journey one of the little girls died. A doctor on the train examined the child and declared that she had died of something terrible and very contagious. She could infect the other little daughter. The doctor told the mother to throw the dead child’s body out of the train before others caught the disease. Like any mother would, she refused to throw her child’s body from a moving train. They argued over it. The train then went through a tunnel. While in the tunnel the electricity to the train cut off and the train went dark. While it was dark the father of the child threw the child from the train. When the lights came back on it was discovered that he did not throw his dead child from the train, but his living child. The body of his dead daughter was still there.
Do you feel like throwing up? I did when I heard that. My heart was sufficiently wrenched. The pain, the trauma, confusion, suffering, anger. Injustice of it all.
This is what fear does. When fear is our motivator we throw away what is good and alive while holding onto what is dead and dangerous. Fear causes us to react rather than respond. It causes us to embrace what is terrible and reject what is good.
Fear causes the culture of death and the rejection of life.
Fear causes people to throw away relationships and isolate themselves.
Fear causes the confusion that eventually leads to torment.
“There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love.” I John 4:18
The enemy loves to make us afraid. He knows that if we become afraid we will make bad choices, disconnect from important relationships, and turn our love off. Surrounded by beauty, with grace right there within reach, with Jesus being closer than a water is to fish. And we choose darkness.
Torment. That’s what it is.
The devil is a terrorist whose suicide bomb is fear.
Like the father who threw away his precious child whom he intended to protect, we will throw away our peace and freedom and cling to bondage.
For I, the Lord your God, hold your right hand; it is I who say to you, “Do not fear, I will help you.” Isaiah 41:13
We are in this season of fasting and self-denial. But are we doing it for the right reasons? What is our motivation? Years ago I had a sign on my bedroom door that I would read every day before I walked out. It said:
Fear of what you might lose.
Hope of what you might gain.
Love of what you might give.
There are only these three motivations for everything we do, in every interaction we have with others, with every decision we make: Fear, hope or love. Choose love. Choose love. Choose love. Every day, a thousand times. It is the only way.
“In order to live in one single act of perfect Love, I offer myself as a victim…to your merciful love.” (St. Therese of the Child Jesus)
For some of us, because of our pasts or our brokenness or our sin, fear has to combatted on a daily, hourly or sometimes moment-by-moment basis. We have to choose all the time to banish our fears and drown them in the love of God. Perfect love is what drives out fear. Perfect Love is my lifeline. It is my prayer, my deepest longing, my vocation. As I learn to embrace and cling to and welcome and live in Perfect Love, fear–the kind of fear that throws the baby out of the moving train–loses its control of me.
Want to hear a horrible story? Fear destroys lives. Everyday.
Want to hear a beautiful story? Jesus is Perfect Love. Everyday. Everywhere.