What brings out the worst in human beings? The answer is fear.
We live in a climate of fear in our nation. Every time we turn on the news, we see the worst playing out in front of us. Political division. Racism. Violent protests. Terrorism. Not only that, social media and other public forums are becoming an increasingly toxic place in which to attempt to address these issues. Though some voices are calling us to accept one another and celebrate our differences, they are often drowned out by self-appointed judges who punish those who dare to express a different opinion with verbal attacks and ridicule. Fear of being targeted by these firing squads causes many to withdraw from speaking their minds when it comes to controversial issues, even if their input is valid and inspiring. The worst isn’t just coming out in our “macro” social problems; it’s coming out every day in our conversations—and it’s all driven by fear.
More than ever, we need to grow in relational intelligence—to develop the attitudes and behaviors that create a safe place for people to be themselves and connect with one another. The central truth of relational intelligence is this:
Fear drives us away from people. Love drives us toward people.
As long as we are aligning ourselves with the spirit of fear, we will be pursuing the goal of fear, which is distance and disconnection. We will end up caught in the endless cycles of injustice, offense, and punishment that cause so much chaos and pain to us and others.
The only way to pursue a new goal is to align ourselves with the spirit of love. Love’s agenda is always connection. Only when we take personal responsibility to let love cast out fear in our own hearts can we hope to bring love to the hurting and divided world around us.
Here are five ways to displace fear with love:
1: Practice Emotional Awareness.
Typically, we end up aligning with the spirit and goal of fear because we fail to take responsibility for our emotions and remember that we are not slaves to our instincts. Yes, our instinctive reactions to fear can be powerful. The moment we feel threatened, fear tells us to fight, flee, or freeze before we form any kind of conscious thought about what the threat is or what to do about it. But we are all powerful people who can learn to stop ourselves when we start to react with anger or avoidance and practice emotional awareness. This is as simple as asking ourselves (and the Holy Spirit), “What am I feeling right now? Why?” Identifying fear and its cause usually causes fear to lose intensity, and creates space for us to think and respond with love, not fear.
2: Remember Who You Are.
One of the most popular worship songs these days is Jonathan and Melissa Helser’s “No Longer Slaves.” The chorus is a declaration of identity: “I’m no longer a slave to fear. I am a child of God.” This declaration comes directly from Romans 8:15: “For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons . . .” This song and verse offer us a powerful key to overcoming fear in our lives: When in fear, reconnect with the Spirit of adoption.
The spirit of fear wants us to think like orphans—to feel insignificant, powerless, and alone in the face of problems, and to react by focusing on ourselves. Whenever we start acting like this, it’s a sign that we have forgotten who we truly are as sons and daughters of our Heavenly Father—those who have access to unlimited resources of love, courage, and wisdom with which to face any circumstance. When we are operating in our identity through the Spirit of adoption, we will align our choices with love and its goal of connection.
3: Seek the Source of Unconditional Love.
Ultimately, only God can enlarge and perfect our hearts to love like He does—with absolute fearlessness. Encountering and receiving His perfect love casts out fear in our hearts (1 John 4:18) and allows us to see both ourselves and others through His love. When our hearts become consumed by His love, it becomes easy to love others, and we look for ways to release it to those around us. Making time with Him the priority in our lives is what enables us to draw on His love as our source in every situation.
4: Choose to Put Connection Before Issues.
Human beings are very different from one another, and our differences can trigger our anxiety. The only way to lower anxiety and work through our differences is to put connection first. The heart of love says, “I will pursue connection with you even when we disagree.” This is how God loves us. He isn’t afraid of the things in our lives that don’t reflect Him. He doesn’t run when our humanity rears its ugly head. He is committed to us and pursues us relentlessly.
Loving others unconditionally means that we value our connection more than our need to be right. We see people through God’s eyes and allow them to be themselves. We may not agree with their viewpoints or opinions, but we aren’t afraid of them and we don’t disconnect over them. When we are willing to do whatever it takes to protect our connection, love wins. This is how the world will know that we are His—if we love one another (John 13:35).
5: Remember That You Are Called and Equipped to Be a Peacemaker in the World.
“Blessed are the peacemakers,” Jesus said, “for they shall be called sons of God” (Matt. 5:9). Perhaps the primary way we demonstrate our identity as sons and daughters is to make peace in the world. Biblical peace—shalom—is not merely the absence of fear or conflict. Peace is relational wholeness—with God, ourselves, each other, and creation. And there is only one source of true peace in the universe: the kingdom. “For the kingdom of God is . . . peace . . . in the Holy Spirit” (Rom. 14:17). This kingdom of peace, of relational wholeness, is within us (Luke 17:21), and we are called to bring it wherever we go—through prayer, through kind and life-giving words, and through powerful acts of love.
We all have a choice to keep our love on in the face of fear. This choice is the heart of relational intelligence. And it’s what our world needs most.
PS) Do you know how well you are doing at Keeping Your Love On? Take our Assessment and find out: KYLO Assessment