While working as a counseling intern at a women and children’s homeless shelter, I found a small paperback on my supervisor’s bookshelf. I read the first few chapters awaiting our meeting. While the title and author remain a mystery (Lord knows I have tried to find this little book!), the message of the book remains clear. “Am I acting from a place of fear or love?” To be happier and more emotionally balanced, the author suggested we make note of our decision process and adopt an attitude of choices based on love over fear. This suggestion beckons the question, how do we begin this transformation of living life grounded on love and less fear?
First, we must recognize fear. Defined as worry, terror, dread, anxiety, fright, panic, and trepidation, is fear useful in our lives? Certainly. If we are hiking and come across a grizzly bear with cubs, fear is useful. As a survival instinct, fear can be a friend; however, when out of balance, fear itself becomes the enemy.
President Franklin Roosevelt in his 1933 inaugural address stated, “There is nothing to fear, but fear itself.” This warning addressed the debilitating nature of fear in a world suffering the Great Depression. As a therapist, I witness clients’ fears and search for my own. I see how fear prevents us from advancing as individuals, communities, nations, and citizens of the universe. We cannot become our true, creative selves if fear dominates our actions and emotions. So the question becomes, how do we convert incapacitating fear into decision making grounded in love?
To choose love we must, as the band Foreigner sang, “…. know what love is…”. Love is defined as affection, adoration, like, and desire. The Greeks further described four types of love: Eros – romantic love; Philia – love of friends; Storge – love of family; and Agape – unconditional love-of the Divine. Thus, our challenge is to attempt, as best we can, to operate from a place of love.
To do so, we must first choose to love ourselves for the unique, very human beings we are. I am constantly surprised how difficult this can be. There is often a looming inner critic whose negative judgment holds us hostage. We set the impossible goal of perfection, a homerun for every time at bat. Often, we don’t forgive ourselves for things we have done or left undone. Eliminating judgment and accepting forgiveness pave the way for love to flow. We actually never love friends, family, or aspects of the world any more than we love ourselves; therefore, it becomes imperative that we love our very human selves. I am not promoting negative, compassionless, narcissism, but the love of self. Our unique gifts, our wounds, our souls, all need unconditional love and compassion.
Once we are grounded in love for our unique selves, we can truly love others and better face challenging issues in life. We can see the world from a lens of love for all of creation. If political, familial, and environmental decisions were made from a foundation of love, rather than power and fear, what a different world this would be. Interestingly, as I researched FDR’s speech on fear, I had no idea there was also a hidden message from the president for choosing love over fear. Roosevelt took the oath of office using his family Bible with the passage I Corinthians 13, marked. Regardless of how you choose to approach spirituality in your life, this is a beautiful prose expression of the importance of love.
I Corinthians 13
13 If I speak in the tongues[ of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
8 Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. 11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. 12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.
So for all of us, let love become the guiding principle of our lives. 2020 has taught us one lesson. We are not in control of anything except our attitude. A loving attitude is our best companion on our journey of life. I believe the little book in the homeless shelter was read many times and transformed more than just my trajectory in life. We are never homeless if we love and are loved.
When presented with fear, remember to lead with love. As Hal David and Burt Bacharach put to music and song, “What the world needs now is love, sweet love, it’s the only thing that there’s just too little of.” I encourage you to watch this choice in action in the video below.