The love that casts out fear
Paradisaea #13 // Falling Back Into Life -warp
50 % cotton, 50 % black tencel
& a bit of polyester in the glitter ends
Woven with a two-sided twill and plainweave combination, "The Pearls", in a larger version
Size 3 + (3,4 m)
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I’ve done some brave things. Getting married definitely was one of them, though at the time I didn’t know it. Giving birth to children was another, though with that one I didn't really have a choice.
Apart from these, there is one specific memory that stands out as maybe the bravest moment of my life.
It’s afternoon. I’m in the city centre, on the pedestrian street that runs in the middle of the shopping malls and department stores. In the middle of the street there is a huge compass star made of stone slates - it is generally considered to be the very heart of the city.
People are all around, walking, coming, going, standing, chatting, sitting on the stairs next to the compass rose. I lurk near the doors of a shop, frightened to death. I’ve tried to do what I came here for but have so far failed. I want to run, turn around and go back home, forget the whole thing, but I can’t. I’d hate myself for it. I’m terribly afraid but I don’t want to give into the fear.
Here in the hallway of the shop I’m practically invisible. Nobody pays any attention to me. What I’m about to do will make me very visible. I stand there, contemplating on my choices. I try to put my finger on the fear. What is it that I actually am afraid of? I won’t get hurt. These people don’t even know me. I cannot lose anything. And still I’m so scared that I feel like throwing up.
After a long internal battle I muster all the courage I have and step forward. I feel funny; nobody notices me yet but I feel very vulnerable. I take another step. And one more. Soon I’m standing in the middle of the crossroads, in the center of the compass star. People are dodging me as they walk by. I could still turn around and go home.
I take a deep breath and
When I’m on street level everything is much easier. I take a notebook and start writing. I don’t want to look around. They can stare if they want. I did it! I DID IT! I sat down! I feel jubilant. I was able to do it!
I sit for a while, write down some thoughts, watch people’s feet as they walk by me. Nobody says anything. Nobody asks me anything. And suddenly I’m at peace.
After a while I get up and walk away, blend back to the masses, invisible again. Inside of me there’s a wide open space, in the form of a fear that has gone.
I used to study journalistics. As a part of a writing project I had to once challenge myself. I wanted to write about fears, and in order to do so I needed to make myself face a fear. I decided to do something that would be highly unconventional and very visible - and yet very simple: I’d sit down in the middle of the pedestrian street where nobody ever sits.
It took all the courage I had. It was so hard to act strange. A whole flock of fears tried to stop me. What will they think of you? You’ll look like a fool. You are a fool. This is the stupidest idea you ever had.
It was a funny experience - and a powerful one. We’re afraid of so strange things - like sitting down. Two metres away from me people were sitting at the stone stairs and it was completely normal. It made me realise how our definition of “normal” is often quite artificial.
I learned a few things from my experiment.
1) “Normal” is a weak word. Usually “normal” just means “what the majority of people are accustomed to do without anyone ever questioning it”.
2) Our definitions of normality all too easily come to define us, and those definitions can be a form of slavery.
3) By slavery I mean that we learn to fear things that don’t actually have the power to harm us, but the fear in itself starts to control and diminish our lives.
4) Overcoming fears gives you an adrenaline rush that might last long enough to change your identity.
Ever since that day I’ve been interested in fears and how they shape us. They are cunning little rascals, able to hide themselves inside our brain and pretend to be something quite different. Some of them are useful, that’s true: it’s very practical to be scared of venomous snakes. A fear like that will keep you alive.
Many fears, however, will rob you of life.
Some years ago I came across a sentence that struck me strongly. It was from a book by John Eldredge. “How much of what you do is motivated by fear?”, he asked.
I felt exposed. Like someone asked the very question I didn’t want to hear and absolutely didn’t want to answer. “A lot”, I admitted. “Probably too much."
The thing with fears is that they feed off of our vulnerabilities. They nest in the places in our souls where we have been hurt, neglected or abandoned. They put down strong roots and pretend to help us; they pretend to be the pillars that keep us together. They teach us to avoid the things that hurt us, arguing that we’ll be safe if we just leave some things alone.
With venomous snakes it’s a wise thing to do. But when it comes to things like other people, friendship and joy, the risks are huge.
How many of us have been hurt in love? And how many have retreated into ourselves, promising ourselves we’d never risk falling in love again? Fears will feast on those experiences, trying to keep us outside of love. Robbing us of life.
Fear is a dangerous thing if it is misplaced. If I let fear set the agenda of my life, I won’t really ever live. Misplaced fears make us walk away from the things that would give us life - like love, friendship, joy, adventure… Or whatever is the thing we crave the most.
It seems that one of the biggest fears we can have is the fear of being abandoned. It’s a reasonable fear: to be completely abandoned would be the same as to die. However, fear often makes us avoid just the things that would give us life. We fear being abandoned, so we don’t let people come close to us. We are terrified of conflicts and never say what we think. We are afraid of not being seen and therefore never make ourselves really visible.
It’s painful to become aware of a fear. At the pedestrian street I hated finding out that I was a coward, caring too much of other people’s opinions. And at the same time it’s absolutely liberating to become aware of a fear, for a fear that is exposed is a fear that can be overcome. Most dangerous fears are the ones we don’t even recognize; they’ll lead us the wrong way without us having any idea of it.
Overcoming fears is an interesting topic. There’s a special kind of magic at work there: sometimes, when you make the decision to face a fear, they go *poof*. Sometimes they just… vanish. The impostor is exposed, and it has to flee.
It’s true that there are fears that live so deep within us that they need a lot of time, patience and love to be rooted out. They need to be faced again and again. And still the same magic works there: every time a fear is faced, it will lose a bit of its power. It will diminish, and one day it’ll be so small it will lose its voice completely.
It’s not possible to live completely without fear. It’s not even the point - fear is an useful thing when it’s doing what it should. The deliberate choice to face a fear is a life-giving thing. It’s hard, and yes, sometimes fears are so strong that they can’t be overcome without professional help. But oftentimes it’s possible to choose to fight a fear - and the choice itself might be the strongest weapon.
Do you know the feeling when you’ve overcome a fear? Jumped from a cliff to the water? Called someone who you love and said that hi, it’d be lovely to hang out sometime? Accepted a challenge at work? Given a presentation in school although speaking in public makes you want to puke? Gotten married? Had children?
It’s a lovely feeling: blood rushing to the head, heart beating with joy. It feels like there’s a window in your chest and it has just been opened up. You’re free.
And when fears have gone, freedom sets in.
I believe that in order to really live we need freedom from fear. Only then hope, joy and love can set the agenda of our lives.
Ever since I started to measure the Falling Back Into Life warp I’ve been thinking about fears and the joy after overcoming them. I wanted to weave one wrap for that specific feeling: the feeling of having overcome a fear. A wrap for the feeling of an intoxicating joy - the feeling of being finally free from slavery. I had a dark weft in mind, and with this black tencel these thoughts have found a form. The darkness of the weft makes the colours really pop. Fears can be a dark tone in our lives, but when they are overcome, they make the beautiful things in life shine. After fears are beaten, they bring forth beauty: the things that are freed are usually the things that are most valuable in life. After the fear is gone we might see those things properly for the first time in our lives.
Apostle John wrote once that “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear” (1. John 4:18). I don’t think that he meant that a person who loves would never feel afraid. It seems to be quite the contrary - to love someone is to be aware of the possibility of loss. The way I understand his words is that to really overcome a fear you need to have love in your life. And a perfect love will make all fears vanish, like darkness cannot exist in light. A love like that might be too large for a human heart to hold, but participating in it is possible. I’ve understood that modern psychology also acknowledges the importance of “love” in the healing process; a hurt or broken person needs safety, intimacy, grace and love to be made whole again.
With love, over time, and with the will to face fears it is possible that the identity of a person changes and becomes what it was meant to be. Just the possibility of this makes me feel joy. A person who is free is a person who can change the world.
Love is stronger than fear. Even if it doesn’t always feel like it. The thought that in this universe there is a power stronger than fear is a source of hope for me. From that hope rose the name of the wrap: The Love That Casts Out Fear.