Moving from the House of Fear into the House of Love

From a talk by Henri Nouwen

This outline is taken from the first 15 minutes of this ‘Henri Nouwen, Now & Then’ Podcast: Henri Nouwen, 1985

Although Henri died in 1996, he remains one of the most influential spiritual writers of our time. With an extraordinary ability to reach audiences from every denominational, cultural and political persuasion, his books and talks continue to inspire and encourage those who seek to live a spiritual life.

• • •

If there is one thing that has overwhelmingly impressed me over the last several years in my travels, it is how fearful we truly are. It is amazing to me to see how afraid we are – a fear that often pervades every part of our being. In one way or another, it is always the fear for the unknown

In this world in which we live, we are increasingly tempted to make fear our house, to live in the house of fear, to let our decisions of what we are doing, what we are seeing, what we are thinking be determined by our fears. And we know quite well that the people who can make us buy in to their agenda of fear are the ones who fall over you. Power means the ability to push the ‘fear buttons’ of the other; such as someone saying, “If you don’t do what I tell you, then you are going to lose your job” or “We need to buy those fighter jets to protect the Artic”. Those who can control you with their agenda of fear are the ones who have power over you; they are the ones who are enslaving you – whether it is family, employers, politicians, the church – it doesn’t matter.

And then there is that fear of the other – the stranger – who are they? We are living in a world where we have more and more unknowns – strangers, refugees, aliens; and now illegal aliens – “‘they don’t belong to us and I am afraid of what they might do to me”. And maybe we fear God – that he is adding up our own sins and guilt.

While I am overwhelmed by how fearful we are, I want you to know one simple thing: that fear is born at the same time that love is born, and they never will be totally separate.. We see this from the first time that we as a child became aware that there was an other person, and that my mother was not part of my body, and my mother might leave me – two things became possible. I suddenly could love the other because there is another to love; but I could also be fearful that the person I loved could decide not to come back to me. Right at the moment that love becomes possible, fear also becomes possible. Every time we become involved with people we enter into a relationship.

I want you to hear that the task of our life is to make love the dominant tone. And the temptation is always to let fear to become that which makes our decisions. But then fear becomes that which rules our lives – and then we have become slaves without freedom. And the task is to again and again reaffirm that love is stronger than fear.

The opposite of fear is love. The opposite of love is fear, not hate.

I ask you to think very carefully where you are afraid, how you are afraid, when you are afraid.

Many of our questions are questions raised out of fear, and any time you can make people buy into those questions, you have power. It is noteworthy, if you check, that Jesus never answered any question that was raised to him because they were raised out of fear. He could see that an answer to a question raised out of fear was going to increase the person’s fear. Jesus answers in a way that the question becomes a new question; a question that does not belong to the house of fear, but is rather a question that belongs to the house of love.

How many times does a person ask you a question where you ask yourself – where does the question come from – from a  fearful heart or a heart of love. And the task that we have is to think of how we can convert the question from a question of fear into a question of love.

And the whole call of the Gospels is to move from the House of Fear into the House of Love. That is the great news – that God invites us out of the House of Fear into the House of Love, which is the house of freedom – free to move, free to think, free to talk, free to love, free to be together. “Oh, how I long to dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life.”

• • •

Thanks to the Henri Nouwen Society for providing this podcast.

Leave a Reply