Fear is a very natural and innate response. It alerts us to danger, keeps us from doing things we ought not do, and can motivate us to act to protect ourselves and others. For instance when I was growing up, a healthy dose of fear of my father’s ire kept me from doing some of the things I would have done if left to my own devices.
Frankly, until I had the little wisdom I gained from age it was not the result of my transgressions and their experiences that taught me right from wrong, but the judgement, and punishment that followed at my father’s hand, that kept me out of a lot of trouble.
My father’s parenting philosophy was simple, and driven by two principles he wanted me to grasp. The first was that he did not believe shame or embarrassment should be motivating factors in life.
“If you can help yourself, don’t do anything that will cause shame or embarrassment to yourself or another, and if you do, repent and take the steps necessary to make it right, as best you can, immediately.”
He believed that if you did something that caused shame or embarrassment, and you lived with it rather than rectify it, it would affect and disfigure your spirit and therefore your life, and the lives of those you came in contact with.
Every person has the image of God as part of their being, and shame or embarrassment are an insult to that image and the respect it deserves, lessening the person who God has created.
My father’s second principle was, “Don’t live life as a coward.” He would say, “It is one thing to be afraid, it is another to live and be motivated by fear.”
My father lived his own life by those principles, and like all of us, imperfect as he may have been, he had a great personal integrity that I admired.
Later in life I realized that these principles were motivated by something deeper than just “home spun” philosophy. My father was motivated by a deep love for his family and for his neighbor, bound together in his love of God.
As a result he also appreciated that he too was a child of God, created in God’s image, and was therefore worthy of the same love he showed others, manifested by respect.
While my father would never have said it in these terms, he was imparting to me the importance of our Lord’s teaching on the Two Great Commandments, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
And He was also pointing out that motivated by love, our fear is cast out, and we are able to follow the example of Christ, to live our lives motivated not by the fear of the world, but empowered by God’s love which has overcome the world… “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love.” (1 John 4:18).
If we live our lives accordingly, we will not be bound by shame or embarrassment, but rather, with a pure conscience and spirit. Our actions and reactions to others will have the earmarks of love.
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The Rev. Walter Van Zandt Windsor is rector at Trinity Episcopal Church.
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