Yesterday’s blog post was harsh. I totally lost my temper over some things that had been building for months (maybe even years) and I just popped! My poor husband came home as I was in the middle of typing out my rant and he calmly laid down on our bed and just let me yell and rave about all of the injustice shown to me during the day. I laid out my entire case before him as if I were in a court room about to nail someone to the metaphorical wall. Take that!
We laughed a bit over my outrage and I do believe there is a time and place for us to get things off our chest, but I think I could have framed my point with less finger pointing…if that makes sense.
Here’s my attempt at a reframe:
This last September, I experienced what I can only call a Nervous Breakdown. I was unable to handle the everyday stresses of life and fear swept over my physical body in debilitating ways. I had struggled with panic attacks since I was very small, so I knew the feeling of “fight or flight” all too well. In fact, I learned very early on what my triggers were and how to avoid them. When the fear came in September, it began with a few days of intense panic attacks back to back but eventually grew into a constant physical state. I woke up afraid and found no rest until I was asleep and even in my sleep, I frequently suffered from nightmares.
Being in this frame of mind, you quickly find yourself striving for normalcy. What drugs can I take, what supplements am I missing, and do I need to make any diet changes, were all things I was constantly exploring. I had test after test run until finally we realized that the fear must run its course. I had to concede to all of the emotional disruptions if I was ever going to heal.
What this meant was I had to slow life way down. I rarely left the house, my husband worked from home, and life was about cleaning, meals, and being together as a family. Routine became my best friend. I got up, took the kids to school, did my daily chores, welcomed kids home, dinner, family time, and bed. Anything extra would send me into a meltdown of fear and tears.
I cry as I type this because I think back to that person-that little girl inside me who couldn’t help herself. There were nights when the husband would suggest a campfire or bike ride out of the blue and because I wasn’t expecting it, I would freak out and we would save those excursions for another day. The word “anxiety” became a common word in my kids’ vocabulary. “My mom has anxiety” they would tell their teachers.
Since then, the process of recovery has been slow. I am so much better than I was. I am able to live a normal life with the occasional flare up and things like traveling, camping, and freeways seem less and less scary in thought all of the time. I am confident that I will be able to do all of those things down the road.
Slowing down, however, has given me some time to really reflect on fear. Fear finds its way in so many aspects of our lives. Oftentimes, we have become so accustomed to fear that we don’t even realize that we are living in it.
They say that the opposite of love is not hate. No, the opposite of love is fear. I tried to think on that in the different areas of my life where I would tend to use the word hate or dislike. I would replace those words with the word fear. How often our anger and our outbursts are due to our fears.
What are some things that make you fearful? I know that the thought of dying doesn’t sound particularly exciting to me. Suffering isn’t on my top list of “to-do’s” either. The funny thing is that when we find ourselves afraid, rather than calling it for what it is, we try to outsmart our worst fears.
Maybe getting cancer is a fear that you have. In order to avoid cancer, we follow all of the right things to prevent that terrible disease. We juice, eat veggies, exercise, meditate, take supplements. It’s as if we are saying, “oh no, you aren’t going to get me.” All well and good. Nobody is suggesting that instead, we run out and do everything we can to get cancer. Of course that would be ridiculous.
The point is what is driving you? Is it fear? Or is it love?
I had been hearing about the problems of meat and dairy for years. I remember reading studies about casein (milk protein) way back when I was pregnant with my firstborn. All of the evidence was pointing to milk products being harmful to the body. And this persuaded me somewhat. We have never really been huge milk drinkers in our family, so not buying milk very often wasn’t hard to do.
The point I am trying to make is that hearing about how to save myself from the evils of milk wasn’t particularly motivating. I just wasn’t afraid of milk.
The coin started falling in the slot for me a few years ago when I started reading about different church leaders throughout history who chose not to consume animal products. People like C. S. Lewis, St. Francis of Assisi, Leo Tolstoy. This made me wonder if as a culture, had the western church been overlooking some biblical truths.
My search led me to seeing Jesus’ commands for non-violence in new ways. It led me to understand that the garden of eden was our first picture of how life before sin was meant to be lived. Our first mandate, after all, was to take care of the earth and animal kingdom. Jesus said “You have heard it said ‘an eye for an eye’ but I say ‘love your enemies.’ ” The connection between non-violence and my relationship to others, animals, and the earth was starting to take on a more realistic meaning. Living counter-culturally, being set apart, being that third option which offered hope and unconditional love were how I was coming to understand the concept of bringing the Kingdom. These were truths that motivated me to take this season and begin a new path of no longer consuming animal products.
My point is not that everyone should “Go Vegan”. Not at all! My point is that everything we do, we should be motivated by love rather than fear. My love for animals and the planet, as well as starving nations who would be well fed if everyone stopped consuming meat, were the driving factors for my new found abstinence.
One of the most common arguments I get about my stance on non-violence is what about the holocaust? Or what about someone coming into your house and harming your kids? Or what about ISIS killing believers all over the world?
The problem with that line of thinking is it is always based on fear. Look, evil is evil. It is horrific and gruesome, and despicable. But Jesus didn’t come to defeat evil with evil. He didn’t come to show us how to live in our reactivity to fear. He showed us how to overcome evil with good. He came to defeat evil with the ultimate sacrifice of love. He came to rescue the ones who are being deceived by evil, not eradicate them.
The fact of the matter is that our calling to follow Jesus is a high calling. It comes with a cost. It is not for the timid, it is for the brave. It is not for the coward, but for the courageous. He called us to be willing to lose our lives for the sake of bringing His gospel to this broken and hurting world. His message wasn’t about loving that annoying person we see at the coffee shop everyday, although you should. His message wasn’t about loving that jerk of a neighbor who never mows his lawn or takes out his trash, although you should.
No, His message was radical because it was crazy for the Jews to love the Romans. Think about what He was telling them to do.
The Romans were doing horrific things to the Jewish people. Taxing them, starving them, physically harming them, punishing them to the death even and it was only going to get worse. Some of the Jewish religious leaders acted on their fear and linked arms with the Romans. They were basically trying to strike deals in order to save themselves while their own people continued being oppressed. Fear makes us do crazy things.
The Jewish people couldn’t wait for the Messiah. There had been others before Jesus, claiming they were the Son of God only to deceive and fail the people.
So here comes Jesus… He is washing feet, healing the sick, feeding the hungry. He is hanging out with people of scandal and offering hope to so many who had been hopeless for a very long time. Example after example we see this light of His spread into the hearts of so many.
But then He says something so counter intuitive of their time. He says, “Love your enemies. Pray for those who persecute you-that you may be children of your father in Heaven.” (Matthew 5) Whew! There is a lot in those few words.
Love the Romans? Pray for them? So, you mean that you aren’t here to overthrow the bad guys? So what you are saying and what you are showing us is that you are going to let the bad guys win?
The “bad guys”, the guys who were so corrupt they laughed as they witnessed the suffering of Jesus. They joked about this God He claimed to be the Son of and why wasn’t He rescuing Him?
See, the point isn’t that death and suffering are things to avoid or win by the world’s definitions. The point is that death and suffering (although terrible and unnatural) aren’t things we need to be afraid of. Prevent? Find remedies? Of course. Non-violence doesn’t mean to not do anything. Pain is our body’s natural way of letting us know when something unnatural is occurring. It’s saying, “hey, I need some help here”. But we don’t go after pain with violence. We go after pain with care and nurture. We protect the whole body, even the wounded, ugly parts if we can. We try to do everything we can to bring healing to those areas because we love them and need them… because as sick and infected as they may be, they still have value and worth and potential to do great things. And simply because they were created by God, for God. He loves all of His creation. He came to redeem ALL of creation. Redemption for the animals, for the planet, the natural disasters, disease, hunger, cows, pigs chickens…mosquitos… and even for our enemies.
In all honesty, I am still very much afraid. And I trust with my whole self that Jesus gets that. What He wants is for us to be honest with Him. We have to be honest with the things that scare us and let Him slowly work on our hearts, (and amygdalae) to help calm our fears. He wants to take us to the place where we follow Him with a willingness to love others more than we love ourselves. That means loving ISIS. That means learning about how our animal based foods get to our super markets and how they effect the environment (in so many aspects), it means getting to know your muslim neighbors, your gay neighbors. It means letting go of this need to be right and submitting it all to Jesus. It means waking up to the things that feel so normal and asking if “normal” is kingdom.
We can trust that God is good. We can trust that He is working in all things (even the not so good choices) for the good of those who love Him. (Romans)
The last point I want to make is this: When Jesus said to love our enemies, He said “that you may be children of your father in heaven”. Notice this: The distinctive attribute of a child of God is their ability to love and pray over their enemies. The distinctive attribute is not how often we win. We have to be willing to not waver in our call to be peacemakers, to love others, and be willing to lay down our lives. We must pray that Jesus would grow us deeper and deeper into this courageous calling. And we must never underestimate the saving power of Christ’s love. He gave us this power in the Holy Spirit. He prayed that the Church would be unified in this power (John 17). Let us live into those distinctives which He has demonstrated and is calling us to follow in. Let us be unified so that we may be in the Father as Jesus is in the Father. Let us be His children as we move forward.