Back in 2008 I stumbled across a Death Cab for Cutie song called I’ll Follow You into the Dark. Between the words and melody, it has a poignant beauty. If it wasn’t so morbid, I probably would have used it as my wedding song. There is one verse in the song that struck me especially hard. It includes a line where a Catholic nun explains that “fear is the heart of love.”
As a New Age spiritual seeker, I simply could not get behind the idea that fear is the heart of love. It sounds ludicrous, right? Love feels good and fear feels bad – even a 5 year old understands that. How can something that feels bad, be the core of the most cherished of human emotions?
Having converted to Christianity, I think the surface level answer is that everyone should have a reverent fear of the Lord. Let’s be honest though, I’ve never been one to stay at the surface level. My seeker’s heart wants to dig in, go deep and find the truth. I’ve been exploring this idea.
When I think of it from the perspective of my relationship with God, the use of the word “fear” aligns more closely with the word respect. He made me, more than that, He made everything. Including billions and billions of galaxies, let alone Earth and all its inhabitants. It’s clear I should have some fear. That magnitude of power is incomprehensible. He has full authority over it all and decides on my judgement day whether I am headed for paradise or destruction. This is scary, and I think this is why many Christians say that fear is the heart of love.
I’m a parent and I love my kids. I love them so very much. They bring me immeasurable joy, but I will punish them. When my daughter sasses me for too long, she gets a time out. When she says bad words or hurtful things, she gets a dab of soap on her tongue. I’ve even gone so far as to (dare I say it) spank her hiney when she out and out disobeys me. There are rules in our home and I hold her to them. Her brother will be taught similarly once he’s older.
On the flip side, my children know I love them. They see it not just in my rules, but also in how I take care of them. I clean, cook, work, juggle and fear for them. I desire their safety and comfort above my own. I make choices today that I may find distasteful or unpleasant, for their greater good. Truthfully, I can say the same for my husband – although I’ve never had to put him in time out.
In other words, my definition of love has evolved. I reconsider the heart of love; it’s not butterflies, excitement, eagerness, and fun.
Sacrifice is the Heart of Love
When we truly love people, we sacrifice for them. Not all day every day, but often and dutifully. We do this because we value them above our personal wants. That is generous, kind and faithful. That is how God wants us to think and to be. This is what Jesus demonstrated for us.
In the end, I’ll say that a dose of fear is healthy for our development, but that love is not defined by that or any feeling. It’s defined by attentive and deferential actions taken regularly for the benefit of others.