What do you do when fear comes a’knocking, or kicks the front door down like it did recently? Buy ALL the hand sanitizer and toilet paper, like everyone here did? Curl up in a ball (the energy I’ve felt this week)? Pour all your attention and energy into _____? Isn’t it interesting how grasping, which I think all 3 of these are examples of, is a stereotypical human response? While this isn’t bad, the problem with it is when we grasp, our hands, real and metaphorical, are clenched, which leaves us unable to give or receive Love! Fortunately, though, two super simple tools can move us from “closed” and afraid to “open” and Loving.
One of my favorite ways to read the Bible is as archetypal stories about human growth and development. I mention that because when we compare the story of Adam and Eve with that of Jesus, we get some valuable insight into fear. More to the point, we see a response that leads to a lesser life, and a way of being leading toward LIFE! You know how Eve, and a curiously silent Adam, meet a serpent who entices them to eat the forbidden fruit? In a very real way, this is a tale about a normal, but less than helpful way to navigate fear and uncertainty.
The questions and observations the snake voices to Eve raise doubts and insecurities in her, which I read as leading her to be afraid God is withholding, she’s lacking, and Adam and her are missing out. Then, in her anxiety, she grasps the forbidden fruit to take for herself and eat. Adam joins her, and what we read next, I believe, illustrates a Truth about being human: When we grasp and cling to something we either lack and want or have and treasure, our clenching breaks the Flow of Love into, from, and through us, which makes us smaller, more isolated, more disconnected, and less alive.
Jesus, though, shows us a different way of being. In one of the earliest writings about the Christ, Paul encourages us thusly:
“Do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men.” (Philippians 2.4-7, NASB)
While fear moved Adam and Eve to constrict, which, like when a hose is kinked diminishes our experience of the current of Life and Love all around and within us; Lovingkindness inspired Jesus to approach the world with a spirit of openness and givingness, a mentality that expands, connects, and opens us up to a never-ending torrent of heavenly goodness. Here’s the thing though, it’s not that fear is a bad thing, it’s truly a gift that can mean the difference between life and death, or health and hurt. It makes a world of difference when it comes to matters of safety. The problem comes when we let fear drive our regular lives, because when fear runs our “shows”, Love gets largely booted from our program.
Reflecting on my life, I see this pattern play out time and again. A “few” years ago, for instance, my first wife and I reached a crossroads, wherein to figure things and ourselves out, we separated for seven months. When my disposition was one of contracting around and trying to grasp her, our marriage, and the future together I’d imagined, not only did I suffer and get smaller, I became less loving and loveable. I clenched what I wanted so tightly, that when divorce became a possibility, I had quite a few moments where I literally wanted to die. I was SO attached to the future I’d envisioned, all other possibilities seemed pointless.
The turning point came when I opened my “hands” and let my wife and future hopes and plans go. It was like the kink in the hose connecting me to Big Love and Vibrant Life had been undone, and I began to be more filled with kindness, compassion, understanding, tenderness, curiosity, and giving than I ever knew was possible. After the “pause”, my ex and I reunited for what, I believe, was the best 6 months of our marriage, because we were more open to The Flow than ever before. So, when it then ended, instead of being devastated I was at peace, as we’d done it from a space of openness and fullness. We remain friends to this day.
While when I live in fear my view on things is limited and small, when I move from Love I see people, creation, and possibilities in generous and expansive ways, and I have a hunch I’m not alone. Where the fear within us sees lack and dead-ends everywhere, Love finds abundance and possibility wherever it turns. The question is: How do we return to Love when fear’s voice gets loud (as it’s doing for many of us now)? Drawing on my experiences, what I understand of Jesus, and beyond, I’d put it like this:
We resist and move away from fear’s compulsion to grasp and constrict, which disconnects us from the Flow of Big Love and Fullness of Life, via “plugging” into their current by choosing to practice gratitude and giving in simple, practical, regular, and sustainable ways. It’s that simple and that complex. Regularly bringing to mind, savoring, writing about, and talking about anything we are, or could be, thankful for; plus giving our words, thoughts, time, energy, or possessions for the benefit of others releases us bit-by-bit from the grip of fear and into the freedom of Love.
What do you think? Have you seen these patterns in your life? How might gratitude and giving enliven you today? What does Loving Big look like during the Corona Virus pandemic and social distancing?
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