Love And FearWhen I was about fourteen, I found myself involved in a local church group. My sister and I were really close; a friend invited her and I followed suit shortly thereafter. For a few years, it filled a void within me; an emptiness that I guess I'd always felt but didn't know how to acknowledge. It was like knowing the sky was blue but not knowing what blue was. Now, many years later, I am no longer a member of a church nor am I very religious like I was growing up. But, looking back, I find myself grateful for what I learned at that time in my life, though I have a feeling that the lessons I learned were not exactly intended by the church elders.
I remember when I had decided to leave, it took me about two years to stop having nightmares about the end of the world or burning in hell. I had cut ties with a lot of the friends that I had known prior to my conversion into the church and so was very much alone for a time. And since I had stopped going to church, very few people that I did know who I'd once shared beliefs with no longer wanted to talk to me.
It was around this time that I was diagnosed with cancer. It was a minor form; not terminal. I had a few procedures done and was extremely fortunate in that that's all I needed. But it was scary for me. And I remember calling one of my close friends, who I had known from church, and I was on the phone him one night sobbing because I was so afraid. And he told me that I should have known better than to leave the church. And getting cancer was God's way of punishing me for leaving. I deserved it.
Now, for anyone reading this, please understand that my intention - my point - is not to propagate a negative opinion of Christianity. I have met many wonderful, beautifully loving and compassionate Christians in my life. And although I no longer follow the teachings of the Bible necessarily, I do believe that it is a book full of great wisdom and that, in the hands of the right type of heart and mind, good things can happen.
My experiences with the church have taught me to notice the differences between love and fear; and that it is incredibly possible to confuse the two. When I decided to leave the church, it was because I realized that I wasn't going because I loved God. But rather, I was going because I feared him. I feared losing my friends, my social circle, my direction in life. I feared death; and I feared hell. I count myself lucky that my family wasn't involved in the church. And when I realized all of this, I decided that wasn't good enough for me. I didn't want a life built around fear.
But I spent years believing that my fear was love. And I often find evidence that I am not the only one that has made choices out of fear believing that love was the reason. It is a lofty point of view - throwing love in peoples' faces when we make decisions at their expense. The problem is that when you do things out of fear - especially if you confuse yourself into believing that you're motivated by love - you can do damage to the people in your life you care about the most.
And that damage can be hard to fix.