Fear has always been present in my life in a very real way. Obviously, it was present with my mother’s emotional abuse & in the rejection I have faced, but it was also present in my spiritual life. Even though I moved so many times growing up, every time we moved my parents gravitated toward the same types of churches. They were legalistic, rule-based, and fear-based. Weekly altar calls were the norm. Turn or burn.
One of my earliest fears was eternity. This is what kept me up at night. Contemplating something that never ended. That there was something greater than this life made my heart race. Constantly hearing about Jesus’ second return and that He isn’t taking everyone to heaven. I was so turned-off and fearful because of this approach, I avoided the entire book of Revelation until my mid-twenties.
With weekly altar calls and the constant reminder that “if you deny Christ, He will deny you,” I must admit I prayed “the sinner’s prayer” of repentance on a weekly basis. What if I wasn’t sincere enough last time? There was no room for love and grace, only fear. I saw several people make decisions to follow Christ in this setting, only to give up after a short time. I believe fear can only motivate you for so long before you give up. The true motivator is love, but I learned nothing of that growing up in the churches I attended.
In High School my Youth Pastor read a passage of scripture that said there was nothing you could do to lose God’s love. Then he quickly followed it up with a discussion emphasizing – “do you really want to be the one to test that?” Implying it might not be true, there was a possibility of losing God’s love, and thus maybe even your salvation. My Youth Pastor’s wife mentioned that her brother had accepted Christ as a child, but he became disillusioned by the hypocrisy of the church in College. Tragically, he was killed in a car accident and she was told by a fellow churchgoer her brother was in hell because he wasn’t involved in church and he had long hair.
Since we always attended very legalistic, rule-based, and fear-based churches, it was imperative that we always appear perfect. My father wore a suit, my mother wore dresses and frequently my sister and I were paired in matching dresses. At church, we were perfect. The moment we set foot in church, it was all smiles and perfection.
Toward the end of my High School years, my older sister moved in with her boyfriend. My parents were outraged, but lied through their teeth at church telling people she lived at home. Religion seemed to be a one-day masquerade. There was a disconnect between Monday through Saturday and Sunday. How you lived outside of church was of little consequence if you acted the part on Sunday.