by David Phelps

“Do not wait for leaders; do it alone, person to person.” – Mother Teresa

January, 2016

I had a couple of eye opening experiences a few weeks ago. First, I went into the County Government Center for the first time in years to pay our property taxes. Because I hadn’t been there in some time, I was surprised: I had to empty my pockets, remove my belt and go through a metal detector in the presence of two police officers. I don’t mind paying my fair share of taxes but this was worse than normal.

The second experience, later that same day, happened at the laundromat. A little girl wanted to “help” me with my laundry. Fortunately, her mother was standing nearby and could see that nothing out of line was happening. Later, the little girl came up to me and wanted to give me a hug. I glanced nervously at her mother, who was standing several feet away, and gave her a gentle hug.

At that moment, I realized I was afraid to hug a child! And that is simply wrong. Fear is natural and there are plenty of things to be afraid of but hugging a child shouldn’t be one of them. I had let my own fear of being misunderstood overcome the little girl’s desire to be friendly.

One day when Jesus and the disciples were experiencing a storm on the Sea of Galilee (Matt. 8:23-27), the disciples became afraid. When they woke Jesus, he calmed the storm and asked, “‘Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?’” (vs. 26b ESV). Another time, at night, he approached the disciples, walking on the sea, and they were afraid again (14:22-33). When Peter recognized him, he walked out on the water himself (vs. 29). But he became afraid and began to sink (vs. 30). Jesus pulled him out of the water and said “‘O you of little faith, why did you doubt?’” (vs. 31b ESV). Jesus repeatedly makes the connection between fear and “little faith.” At every turn, he tells the disciples—and us—“Do not be afraid.” Our lack of faith brings about fear, just as theirs did.

Paul wrote to his young friend Timothy, “God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.” (2 Tim. 1:7 ESV). The Spirit of God doesn’t make us afraid, doubt does. And John wrote “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.” (1 John 4:18a ESV). And one of the simplest expressions of love is to hug someone. If we believe God is in control, we don’t need to be afraid.

When King Herod heard about the birth of Christ, he was afraid of the child and what it represented because it was a threat to his reign as king (Matt. 2:1-3). While I was afraid of what the little girl’s mother might do, Herod was afraid of what the young Christ would do. But we don’t need to be afraid. The child who was born a king wants to reign in our hearts and cast out our fear. While I stand afraid to embrace a child, the child of God reaches out to embrace me.

I don’t want that little girl from the laundromat to grow up thinking there’s something wrong with wanting to hug someone. She can’t approach random strangers but she shouldn’t live in constant fear. I don’t want to live in fear either and, thanks to her example, maybe I can be more open to the possibility of giving and receiving hugs.

Across the ages, through our doubts, God’s words echo: Don’t be afraid of what man can do to you. Don’t be afraid to express love. Don’t be afraid to hug someone. Don’t be afraid to go where you need to go because God will be right there with you. Don’t be afraid to speak out for God and for justice. The one who sends us will have it no other way.

“So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.” (1 John 4:16-18 ESV.)

Copyright © 2016 by David Phelps