Jesus came to us to help us overcome our fear of God by Henri Nouwen
The passages below are taken from Henri J.M. Nouwen’s book “Bread for the Journey.”
1.Being free to Love
Jesus came to us to help us overcome our fear of God. As long as we are afraid of God, we cannot love God. Love means intimacy, closeness, mutual vulnerability, and a deep sense of safety. But all of those are impossible as long as there is fear. Fear creates suspicion, distance, defensiveness and insecurity.
The greatest block in the spiritual life is fear. Prayer, meditation, and education cannot come forth out of fear. God is perfect love, and as John the Evangelist writes, “Perfect love drives out fear.”(1 John 4:18) Jesus’ central message is that God loves us with an unconditional love and desires our love, free from all fear, in return. (Feb 29)
2.God’s Unconditional Love
What can we say about God’s love? We can say that God’s love is unconditional. God does not say, “I love you, if. . . “ There are no ifs in God’s heart. God’s love for us does not depend on what we do or say, on our looks or intelligence, on our success or popularity. God’s love for us existed before we were born and will exist after we have died. God’s love is from eternity to eternity and is not bound to any time-related events or circumstances. Does that mean that God does not care what we do or say? No, because God’s love wouldn’t be real if God didn’t care. To love without condition does not mean to love without concern. God desires to enter into relationship with us and wants us to love God in return.
Let’s dare to enter into an intimate relationship with God without fear, trusting that we will receive love and always more love. (Feb 5)
3.Returning to God’s ever Present Love
We often confuse unconditional love with unconditional approval. God loves us without conditions but does not approve of every human behaviour. God doesn’t approve of betrayal, violence, hatred, suspicion, and all other expressions of evil, because they all contradict the love God wants to instill in the human heart. Evil is the absence of God’s love. Evil does not belong to God.
God’s unconditional love means that God continues to love us when we say or think evil things. God continues to wait for us as a loving parent waits for the return of a lost child. It is important for us to hold on to the truth that God never gives up loving us even when God is saddened by what we do. That truth will help us to return to God ever-present love. (Feb 6)
4.Reflecting God’s Perfect Love
God’s love for us is everlasting. That means that God’s love for us existed before we were born and will exist after we have died. It is an eternal love in which we are embraced. Living a spiritual life calls us to claim that eternal love for ourselves so that we can live our temporal loves—for parents, brothers, sisters, teachers, friends, spouses, and all people who become part of our lives—as reflections or refractions of God’s eternal love. No fathers or mothers can love their children perfectly. No husbands or wives can love each other with unlimited love. There is no human love that is not broken somewhere.
When our broken love is the only love we can have, we are easily thrown into despair, but when we can live our broken love as a partial reflection of God’s perfect, unconditional love, we can forgive one another our limitations and enjoy together the love we have to offer. (March 4)
5.Yearning for Perfect Love
When we act out of loneliness our actions easily become violent. The tragedy is that much violence comes from a demand for love. When loneliness drives our search for love, kissing easily leads to biting, caressing to hitting, looking tenderly to looking suspiciously, listening to over-hearing, and surrender to rape. The human heart yearns for love: love without conditions, limitations, or restrictions. But no human being is capable of offering such love, and each time we demand it we set ourselves on the road to violence.
How then can we live non-violent lives? We must start by realising that our restless hearts, yearning for perfect love, can only find that love through communion with the One who created them. (Jan 20)
6.Empowered to Receive Love
The spirit reveals to us not only that God is “Abba, Father” but also that we belong to God as beloved children. The Spirit thus restores in us the relationship from which all other relationships derive their meaning.
Abba is a very intimate word. The best translation for it is “Daddy.” The word Abba expresses trust, safety, confidence, belonging, and most of all, intimacy. It does not have the connotation of authority, power, and control that the word Fatheroften evokes. On the contrary, Abba implies an embracing and nurturing love. This love includes and infinitely transcends all the love that comes to us from our fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, spouses, friends and lovers. It is the gift of the Spirit. (June 12)
7.A Father’s as well as a Mother’s Love.
The father in the story of the prodigal son is mother as well. His running out to welcome his son, his embrace and kisses; his offering of the best robe, the ring, and the sandals; and his throwing a party are not the typical behaviour of a distant patriarch. They express so much tenderness, nurturing care, and self-effacing forgiveness that in them we see both motherly and fatherly love fully present.
The perfect love of our heavenly Father includes as well as transcends all the love that a father and mother can have for their children. We may think about the two hands of God embracing us as a mother’s hand and a father’s hand: one caressing, consoling, and comforting; the other supporting, encouraging, and empowering. We too are called to be father and mother to those who want to come home. (July 5)
8.The Healing Touch
Touch, yes, touch, speaks the wordless words of love. We receive so much touch when we are babies and so little when we are adults. Still, in friendship, touch often gives more life than words. A friend’s hand stroking our back, a friend’s arms resting on our shoulder, a friend’s finger wiping our tears away, a friend’s lips kissing our forehead—-these bring true consolation. These moments of touch are truly sacred. They restore, they reconcile, they reassure, they forgive, they heal.
Everyone who touched Jesus and everyone whom Jesus touched were healed. God’s love and power went out from Him (see Luke 6:19). When a friend touches us with free, non-possessive love, it is God’s incarnate love that touches us and God’s power that heals us. (March 25)
9.The Source of all Love
Without the love of our parents, sisters, brothers, spouses, lovers and friends, we cannot live. Without love we die. Still, for many people this love comes in a very broken and limited way. It can be tainted by power plays, jealousy, resentment, vindictiveness, and even abuse. No human love is the perfect love our hearts desire, and sometimes human love is so imperfect that we can hardly recognize it as love.
In order not to be destroyed by the wounds inflicted by that imperfect human love, we must trust that the source of all love is God’s unlimited, unconditional, perfect love, and that this love is not far away from us but is the gift of God’s Spirit dwelling within us.(June 13)
10. Small Steps of Love
How can we choose love when we have experienced so little of it? We choose love by taking small steps of love every time there is an opportunity. A smile, a handshake, a word of encouragement, a phone call, a card, an embrace, a kind greeting, a gesture of support, a moment of attention, a helping hand, a present, a financial contribution, a visit—all these are little steps toward love.
Each step is like a candle burning in the night. It does not take the darkness away, but it guides us through the darkness. When we look back after many small steps of love, we will discover that we have made a long and beautiful journey. (June 15)
11. Doing Love
Often we speak about love as if it were a feeling. But if we wait for a feeling of love before loving, we may never learn to love well. The feeling of love is beautiful and life-giving, but our loving cannot be based in that feeling. To love is to think, speak, and act according to the spiritual knowledge that we are infinitely loved by God and are called to make that love visible in this world.
Mostly we know what the loving thing to do is. When we “do” love, even if others are not able to respond with love, we will discover that our feelings catch up with our acts. (June 16)
12. Speaking Words of Love
Often we remain silent when we need to speak. Without words, it is hard to love well. When we say to our parents, children, lovers, or friends, “I love you very much” or “I care for you” or “I think of you often” or “You are my great gift,” we choose to give life.
It is not always easy to express our love directly in words. But whenever we do, we discover we have offered a blessing that will be long remembered. When a son can say to his father, “Dad, I love you,” and when a mother can say to her daughter, “Child, I love you,” a whole new blessed place can be opened up, a space where it is good to dwell. Indeed, words have the power to create life. (Sept 6)
13. The Non-possessive Life
To be able to enjoy fully the many good things the world has to offer, we must be detached from them. To be detached does not mean to be indifferent or uninterested. It means to be non-possessive. Life is a gift to be grateful for and not a property to cling to. A non-possessive life is a free life. But such freedom is only possible when we have a deep sense of belonging. To whom then do we belong? We belong to God, and the God to whom we belong has sent us into the world to proclaim in His Name that all of creation is created in and by love and calls us to gratitude and joy. That is what the “detached” life is all about. It is a life in which we are free to offer praise and thanksgiving. (Feb 20)
14. True Hospitality
Every good relationship between two or more people, whether it is friendship, marriage, or community, creates space where strangers can enter and become friends. Good relationships are hospitable. When we enter into a home and feel warmly welcomed, we will soon realise that the love among those who live in that home is what makes that welcome possible.
When there is conflict in the home, the guest is soon forced to choose sides. “Are you for him or for her?” “Do you agree with them or with us?” “Do you like him more than you do me?” These questions prevent true hospitality—that is, an opportunity for the stranger to feel safe and discover his or her own gifts. Hospitality is more than an expression of love for the guest. It is also and foremost an expression of love between the hosts. (March 6)
15. Choosing Love
How can someone ever trust in the existence of an unconditional divine love when most, if not all, of what he or she has experienced is the opposite of love—fear, hatred, violence, and abuse?
They are not condemned to be victims! There remains within them, hidden as it may seem, the possibility to choose love. Many people who have suffered the most horrendous rejections and been subject to the most cruel torture have been able to choose love. By choosing love they became witnesses not only to human resiliency but also to the divine love that transcends all human loves. Those who choose, even on a small scale, to love in the midst of hatred and fear are the people who offer true hope to our world. (June 14)
16. Witnesses of Love
How do we know that we are infinitely loved by God when our immediate surroundings keep telling us that we’d better prove our right to exist?
The knowledge of being loved in an unconditional way, before the world presents us with its conditions, cannot come from books, lectures, television programs, or workshops. This spiritual knowledge comes from people who witness to God’s love for us through their words and deeds. These people can be close to us but they can also live far away or may even have lived long ago. Their witness announces the truth of God’s love and calls us to act in accordance with it. (June 17)