“There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” – 1 John 4:18
He wasn’t a giant-sized man and he never abused me in a physical or emotional way, although childhood spanking did happen in a balanced manner when absolutely necessary.
We were actually quite similar and had a close relationship. Often we laughed and talked for hours covering all types of topics, personal, political, even religious. I was the apple off his tree and people placed us together when visiting his hometown in Ohio saying, “You’re Deane’s daughter, aren’t you?” I smiled and nodded with pride.
So why was I afraid of my father growing up?
My dad was a strong personality, proactive and quick with his tongue. He seemed to know everything; often before hearing our version of events at the dinner table. His presence filled our house, directed our meal conversations, and defined our family legacy.
More than that, he intentionally connected with us AND he meant what he said.
His rules and boundaries for the four of us growing up were not very flexible. If you crossed the line, he was there to meet you. In detail he would explain your mistake and the consequences, already laid out prior to any misstep. Once done, we all moved forward in the following new day.
His memory and overt interest in his children and grandchildren’s activities remained keen till he passed at 79 years of age in 2009.
The Positive Impact of Fear
I remember as a kindergartner not being able to fall asleep one night because I had told an exaggerated story at dinner. Realistically my parents knew the non-truth of my creative verbal tale, but somehow my young conscience would not let me rest until I confessed to my dad. I got out of bed to find him.
He was out playing basketball with some neighborhood dads so my mom told me to sit in the living room and wait for him. I recall feeling small and fearful in the big chair, looking at my pajama feet and hoping my dad would still love me. My child heart was sick and hated the sense of separation I felt from my dad due to my lie.
Of course he did not disown me and after tears and repentance, all was at peace in my little kid soul. That powerful lesson served me well in my life regarding truth and honor. I never wanted to feel that way again.
I am very happy to have grown up with this fear, this awe and sometimes terror of my dad. It protected me from some typical crazy child-adolescent mistakes and saved me from my unrealistic, overcommitted high school self many times.
He embraced the burden of being the grown-up, even against my linear, seemingly-irrefutable arguments as a budding young adult pushing the limits of parent respect and obedience. He took the time to show me my wrong thinking. Other times he let me do things my way and if all went awry, reviewed what could be done differently next time.
Knowing that my dad stayed on the throne, that he was not swayed by emotional blackmail children often use to manipulate adults, created a secure, safe place to explore my own identity. (Once when I threatened to run away in junior high, he walked over to open the door for me.) Within the carefully placed fences of personal safety and wise choices, my dad taught me I could bloom into whatever fit my skills and personality and even risk failure to learn from errors.
Transferring My Loyalty to My Heavenly Father
Throughout the growing up journey with my dad, his acceptance, even his delight in me did not change, was not altered by my reckless, ungrateful, challenging behaviors and adolescent backtalk. I never doubted his care and support. Good grades and top awards made him clap but did not become the measurement of his love. Mistakes were not thrown back in my face to deepen my shame or grant him control when he saw me acting too big for my britches.
This unconditional favor, undeserved and often surprising, paved the way for me to choose to submit to God.
I was not confused about the requirements in bowing to God’s sovereignty and Lordship. Growing up we attended church and participated in congregational life more than the minimal Sunday attendance. My parents served on administrative boards, taught Sunday school classes, and volunteered with youth activities through the years in various churches.
From a young age I believed the full Gospel message. I never wanted to be far from God even as a child, just as I wanted to be close to my dad. Entering into a personal relationship where I sought God’s counsel for my daily life happened as a college student.
Forty years ago I transferred my loyalty and surrendered my life to follow Jesus. I believed I would experience the same security I enjoyed under my dad’s leadership. I would be free to grow, to risk, to dream, to be ambitious and goal-oriented within the safe framework of the story written by my loving Creator and Heavenly Father.
When I needed correction, God guided me through His Word and the wise counsel of the Holy Spirit. As head-strong as God made me, I debated and questioned through prayer and Bible study similarly to the late night table talks I enjoyed with my earthly father. Sometimes He let me do things my way, and when pain and regret washed over me, showed me a better way, changing my heart little by little to see His view and avoid future rebellion.
Love and Fear Work Together for Good
Some well-meaning preachers, Christian parents and leaders say, “God is to be respected, not feared.” In trying to represent God to unbelieving, skeptical, hurting people, they want to focus on His loving nature and leave fear behind.
I find this a weak presentation in a day we desperately need strong and unrelenting heroes to trust in.
My experience with my own father and with God for these decades demonstrates that fear and love work wonderfully together. Confidence grows in authority figures that care enough to hold firm the safe, for-our-good boundaries, that we silly, selfish, head-strong children push against.
True freedom results from a healthy fear that God will do what He says, that His promises hold fast and if we come under His mission, good will result for us.
Not everything that occurs in our lives will be good, but it will work to our good if we lean into His wisdom and ways. He loves us that much; to not change the rules or outcomes of sin so we don’t need to spend time wondering if the fences have moved. We can continue with confidence and faith in His timeless character as we live the life He gave us.
To demonstrate the full extent of His love as well as His unchanging plan for mankind’s salvation and gateway to Eternity, God sent His only Son. Jesus came close to us. He walked on Earth to show us the Father in a way we could understand, in frail flesh and bone, caring for people as God directed.
Finally, in the most fearful display of power ever encountered, Jesus resurrected Himself for us, to conquer death, our biggest foe and pave a way for us to be reconciled to a Holy God.
We should fear such a God and Savior. And in that fear, be fully confident to receive His tender, unfathomable love for us. Embrace the mystery!
♡ Gail Goolsby is a life coach and serves as a Titus Woman for Proverbs 31 Woman.
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