The Sufi poet Hafiz said: "Fear is the cheapest room in the house/I would like to see you living/In better conditions. ... God wants to see/More love and playfulness in your eyes/For that is your greatest witness to the Divine."
Fear can exist in broad daylight, but it gains its strength from darkness. … Fear makes the future our enemy and the unknown our adversary, Sayles says.
Fear is the cheapest, shabbiest and most uncomfortable place to live. Fear douses the fire of love in our hearts and dims the bright playfulness in our eyes. The lights are almost always out in the cheap room of fear.
Fear thrives on darkness. Near midnight, your car breaks down on a deserted country road, and, while you wait for help to arrive, the woods that line the road feel haunted.
During a severe storm, the lights go out in your house and hope seems to fade away as well. The telephone rings at 2 in the morning, and an alarm sounds in your heart. Fear can exist in broad daylight, but it gains its strength from darkness.
When we live in fear, we are always staring out the grimy window, trying to see the future before it arrives, and attempting to control the uncertainty of tomorrow by worrying about it. Fear makes the future our enemy and the unknown our adversary.
What if the test comes back positive, or the company gets bought out, or the kids make a mess out of their lives?
What if that trucker in the big rig doesn't see me and veers over into my lane? What if a tornado blows through or an earthquake sunders the ground beneath our feet, or the river overflows its banks?
What if Iran manages to make a nuclear weapon? What if OPEC cuts off the oil, or the stock market goes south? What if I don't have the answers I'm expected to have?
What if the tightness in my chest isn't heartburn after all? What if I don't measure up to the standards, even my own standards? What if the secrets I've been trying to hide start leaking out, or the dam bursts and they come flooding out?
What if? What if?
The dark, shabby room of fear is often filled with noisy and glittering distractions to keep us from paying attention to our hearts.
The TV is always on, or the radio blares constantly, or we never put the telephone down, or we drink ourselves to sleep – anything to keep us from hearing what is really going on beneath the surface of our lives.
Fear keeps us from acknowledging the anger that seethes underneath our depression; from shedding the tears of loss and grief which would, if we could let them flow, drain the intensity out of our cynicism; from tending to the wounds that fester beneath our compulsions; and from facing the guilt that keeps us restless and defensive.
The New Testament says: "God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them. ... There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear."
Love has the power to break down the doors fear has slammed in our faces, to shatter the chains with which it has shackled us, to scatter the darkness to which it has consigned us, and end the isolation into which it has exiled us.
"There is no fear in love." Love will not finally be defeated. We don't have to be afraid.
Guy Sayles is pastor of First Baptist Church of Asheville, N.C. This column first appeared on his blog, From the Intersection.