Until my own recent struggle, I don’t think I realized just how far-reaching fear can become, not only personally, but how my internal fears can begin to affect my relationships in significant ways. I think we’re all guilty of acting in fear in our relationships – I just think we don’t generally notice until it becomes out of control and is seen more in the results of deep depression, desperate behavior, and a pattern of broken relationships.
It’s often not too difficult to look back and see where we did things the wrong way, acted in fear, and where things got off track. Unfortunately, it’s much harder to fix the problems when we’ve reached that point. It is not, however, impossible. It simply requires much humility and a determination to let God become our focus rather than people, and let love control our actions, not fear.
In order to help us learn how to catch relational problems sooner (and hopefully avoid unnecessary hurt and loss), I’d like to spend some time looking at the patterns of fear in relationships. As you read, you may recognize some of the characteristics below as struggles you have in your own relationships. If you do, don’t despair! I do, too. Fear is a natural human emotion and we all struggle with it in our relationships, because, as C.S. Lewis once said, to love is to be vulnerable. It’s scary. It could hurt. But it’s oh so worth it.
My goal in sharing these patterns is not to discourage you, but to give you hope! The first step in learning how to make things right and experience better relationships is to figure out the wrong thinking and behavior that have brought us to this point. Once we do this, we can look together at God’s word and find out how to change our perspective from fear to love, and then talk about what acting in love looks like in our relationships.
Let’s start with looking at fear in our relationships.
When we are fearful, we tend to…
1 John 4:18 says, “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.” When we act in these fearful, timid, and desperate ways in our relationships, we reveal that we’re not living in love. We’re not living in God’s love, and we’re not sharing His love with others. Instead, we have become guilty of focusing on our love of ourselves and our perceived need for others to love us.
I say perceived, because real self-worth and satisfaction can never come from others’ love and affection for us. People are flawed and make mistakes. No one can perfectly satisfy your expectations or needs. Eventually someone will disappoint you and hurt you. If you are finding your joy and satisfaction in that relationship, then the disappointment will cripple you. Inevitably, you’ll begin to act out against that person. It may be passive or active. It may be isolation, or it may be angry words. But your ultimate goal will be to somehow recover the loss you’ve experienced at their hands. This leave no room, however, for forgiveness, mercy, grace, or love.
However, when we are finding our self-worth in our relationship with God and His love for us, then when people hurt us and disappoint us, we can show mercy. Instead of focusing on what was lost, we can look for an opportunity to give – to give our forgiveness, to give our love, and as a result, we often end up experiencing greater relationships as we grow together through conflict.
Humility is a very important part of acting in love in our relationships. C.S. Lewis said, “humility is not thinking less of yourself; it’s thinking of yourself less.” The more we think of ourselves, the more likely we are to be consumed with pride, fear, and insecurities, which causes us to respond badly to conflict in relationships. Instead, when we choose to think about the other person, we can find a way to be understanding, gentle, and kind. We can remember that this person’s job is not to be perfect; that’s God’s job. We can remember that we’ve hurt people too – but God (and they) forgave us. We can look for ways to bless them, encourage them, and build them up, rather than looking for ways to punish them for the hurt we’ve experienced.
Who am I? Beloved by God. He loves me more than I love Him, and now I get to love other people more than they love me. -Ed Welch
So what does Scripture say about fear, love, and relationships? Quite a lot. I encourage you to do your own personal study and find out for yourself! For now, though, let's look at just one passage that shows us what love should look like in our relationships.
Romans 12:9-21 is a passage that not only is about loving others, but even goes so far as to tell us how to love those we've been hurt by. Surprisingly (or perhaps not so surprisingly?), there's no difference in how God wants us to love those who are easy to love and those who are hard to love.
9 Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.
10 Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.
11 Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.
12 Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.
13 Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.
14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.
15 Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.
16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing
to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.
17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone.
18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.
19 Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath,
for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.
20 On the contrary:
“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”
21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
With this passage fresh in our hearts and minds, let's look at what happens when we live it out:
How do we do all this? By God’s promised power and grace. 2 Timothy 1:7 says, “For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.” It is God’s love for us that enables us to have the confidence to act in love toward other people, which enables us to be givers instead of takers, and ultimately, enables us to experience better relationships than we ever dreamed possible.
In a word: passionate.