“I’d rather live my life with the peace of knowing that everything I do leads me closer to my death than spend another second fearing ways to hold on to life that I forget how to live.“
“We are fearful people,” Henri Nouwen wrote close to his death. “We are afraid of conflict, war, an uncertain future, illness, and, most of all, death.” Nouwen has been gone for over two decades but his words are as relevant today as they were when he first penned them. We are fearful people. And probably now more than ever. But we need not be.
Look, I don’t want to die. I am sure you don’t either. But to fear it? I’m hard pressed to answer that. I am faithful, which means I ought not be fearful.
But I’m also human, and fear the pain or the horror that I might face in my final breaths. And it can be crippling - enslaving me instead of empowering.
Like Nouwen discovered, as so many of us have also come to realize, “This fear takes away our freedom and gives our society the power to manipulate us with threats and promises.”
The hard truth is this. We need to reach beyond our fears, be it war or death or my fear of heights, and move towards “the One who loves us with a love that was there before we were born and will be there after we die.” It’s there in God’s heart (where we place our faith) the things that oppress us, persecute us, and even kill us “will be unable to take our freedom.”
The apostle Paul expressed this experience of the complete freedom of the children of God when he wrote, “I am certain of this: neither death nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nothing already in existence and nothing still to come, nor any power, nor the heights nor the depths, nor any created thing whatever, will be able to come between us and the love of God, known to us in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:38–39).
Will this top me from fearing heights or snakes or death? I certainly hope so. I’d rather live my life with the peace of knowing that everything I do leads me closer to my death than spend another second fearing ways to hold on to life that I forget how to live. The same, I believe, can be said about love. Don’t be afraid. Give life a try.
Text excerpts taken from "You are the Beloved" by Henri J.M. Nouwen. Convergent Books, 2017.