Fear Is A Great Motivator: Love In A Time of Pandemic



“Fear is a great motivator.”

Fear is the currency of 2020. Like compound interest, it settled in our quarantined hearts and now grows day by day. It purchases little plots of our minds and conversations until we run out of room for healthy thinking and discussion. COVID-19, BLM, protests, riots, the economy, politics, all constantly hover at the edges, waiting to burst in.

Almost everyone I talk to is tired. We built habits of checking our phones to check out for a few moments, and that habit has backfired. Instead of videos of kittens, we are confronted with images of violence. Instead of comments of congratulation on births, weddings, and jobs, we are greeted with controversial opinions with every tap on our phone. Obviously, these issues are important, but if we live in a constant state of fear and outrage, we will burn out. Self-care is not only recommended in the Bible, it’s demanded. That’s what Sabbath is, a reminder of peace, of abiding. Fear is a great motivator, but it will burn you out from the inside.

I am the primary caregiver for my three and five-year-old. As quarantine started, I wanted to stay up-to-date. I wanted to stay informed. I thought that if I could just get a handle on all of it, I could reach a state of peace. But it’s big. 2020 is big. It’s the year of the pandemic, the year of the presidential election. Instead of becoming informed, I became irritable. I became short-tempered and frustrated, and those around me suffered. They had to walk on eggshells. I had to step away from the noise.

That was the first trap, allowing the news cycle to dictate my attention and have first dibs on my mental resources. Now, I find myself falling into a second trap. I react in fear. I see it in other people’s eyes too. They don’t want to talk about what’s going on. Their response (and mine too) when COVID-19 or the economy comes up is one of fear. In fear of cataclysmic events, we talk about what is looming over our heads. In fear of the pain that accompanies these subjects, we beg off, citing our declining mental health. “I just don’t want to talk about it anymore.”

Constantly dialoguing in fear or clamming up in fear, we are still short-changing ourselves inside the fear economy. Both paths are self-serving and self- destructive. We can choose to talk about these issues or choose not to. There is a time and a place for both. What matters more, and what should guide the time, place, and manner of these discussions, is love.

Writing that sentence feels awful, because love is one of the most abused words in the English language. It’s an elastic word, molded and shaped to fit every possible discourse I could possibly want. Sports? I love the Red Sox. Food? I love pasta. Family? I love my wife. Shoes? I love my $10 flip-flops. But, somehow, love is supposed to be the governing motivation of the Christian life.

So how can we salvage this important word? What does love mean within the context of the Bible? This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Love, in the Christian context, begins and ends with the love of God. Since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. Love isn’t something we extract from deep down inside ourselves. Love is the overflow of this truth:

What is my only comfort in life and death? That I am not my own, but belong— body and soul, in life and in death— to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ.

This is the guiding principle for our decisions and discussions. That we belong. That we are loved. In life and death, in body and soul, I belong to Christ.

As I return to this truth and meditate on it, a strange thing happens. I start to lose my fear. There is no fear in love. After all, perfect love drives out fear. I don’t claim to have perfect love, but I know what it is. I know what perfect love is because I know Christ. I know what he did for me, and I know what he does for me. If God is for me, then who can be against me? Fear is a great motivator because it has to do with punishment, but who is the one who justifies? God. He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither COVID-19 nor riots, neither blue politics nor red politics, neither job loss nor virtual schooling, neither the present nor the future, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate me from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. And if you know Christ, that comfort lies within your grasp too.

Start small. When you rise up in the morning, recite it to yourself:

What is my only comfort in life and death? That I am not my own, but belong— body and soul, in life and in death— to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ.

If it doesn’t feel true, say it again. If it still doesn’t feel true, tell yourself it’s true. Go ahead, say it out loud if it helps. Nobody’s watching, and I won’t tell anyone what you’re doing. That we understand this truth is absolutely essential. Whatever it takes to get you there, do that. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to pray, “Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.”

The comfort of Christ’s love is the strong right hand of the Lord that will lead you through whatever you are facing. There is nothing so terrible it can remove you from Christ. We have nothing to fear, because His perfect love casts out fear. Not only is it the right motivation for what we do, it’s the only motivation we need.

Fear is a great motivator, but it’s a terrible motivation. Let the love of Christ dwell in you, let it guide and guard and motivate you in this turbulent time.

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash


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