Truth, Fear & Love

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“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true…..meditate on these things.” Philippians 4:6-8

Meditate on the truth. 

I just finished reading Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried, and near the end of the book, one of the narrators writes, “I want you to know why story-truth is truer sometimes than happening-truth.” This line precedes the narrator’s confession of having killed a man in war. Although the narrator recognizes that he was not the one who threw the grenade, from his perspective, the fact that he witnessed the man’s death was the same as having killed the man himself; “[His] presence was guilty enough,” he says. O’Brien’s words made me ask myself:

What truth am I meditating on? What truth am I allowing to have power over my life?

You see, when I’m unsure of the the truth, I tend to create narratives in my mind. Regardless of whether or not the narratives are based on fact, I allow these story-truths to become the Truth.  Case in point:

Every once in a while, when I can’t get my life together and I have no time to do laundry, I’ll go to my neighborhood laundromat and drop off my clothes to be washed and dried. The deal is as follows: $1 per 1 pound of laundry. So, if you bring in 40 pounds worth of dirty clothes, you finna have to pay $40 for the employees to wash and dry your clothes.

This summer, I had one of those weeks where my life was in low-key shambles, and I opted to go to the laundromat. The woman at the register weighed my clothes and we both could clearly see the red digital numbers display 12 pounds on the scale. “That will be $15,” she told me, extending her hand out for my card to pay. Immediately, my mind began crafting a story-truth: This lady was black. I was black. Thus, it was clear that this black employee considered me to be a bougie black Yalie who had a surplus of money and used that surplus on things like paying others to do her laundry. Furthermore, it was obvious that this woman had decided that since I was a rich black Yalie, I could spare a couple of dollars, and she had no problem rounding up my laundry bill from $12 to $15.

My mind took a brief return to reality as I toyed with the idea of simply asking the employee if there had been a policy change, but the story-truth quickly recolonized my thoughts:

What would this black employee, my fellow melanin sister, think if I spoke up? If I asked her why she was charging me $15 instead of $12, I would most assuredly confirm her perception of me as a snooty, rude, and high-maintenance Yalie getting upset over a few dollars that I was more than able to spare.

I didn’t say anything in the moment, but after I saw her swipe the $15 on my credit card, it kept eating at me all day.

{Whatever is true, meditate on these things…}

I  struggled to remind myself that as real as my story-truth felt, it wasn’t the Truth. “The Truth is,” I told myself, “I deserve to be treated fairly, regardless of someone’s perception of me.” It took several conversations with God and friends to get to that Truth, but when I went to pick up my clothes later that day, I politely asked the employee who was on the evening shift, “Do you know if there has been any change in policies about the $1 per pound cost?”

The employee responded without skipping a beat, “Oh yeah girl, there’s a $15 minimum, so if you got 5lbs or 15lbs, we’re gonna charge you $15.” She gestured towards a sign on the back wall that I’d never noticed before that read: “$15 Minimum”. That was it. That was the Truth.

Looking back on that day, I realize my anxiety stemmed from my decision to live in a reality controlled by a false narrative. I was telling myself that the loving thing to do was to stay silent and not ask questions in order to avoid upsetting the employee. But the Truth is, I wasn’t making decisions out of love, I was making decisions out of fear. Moreover, I was perpetuating my own unloving view of this woman as a bitter New Haven resident with a vendetta against Yale students (a vendetta that I, myself, have a times…but that’s a story for another time).

How often do we do this in our lives? How often do we conflate fear with love? Trying to tell ourselves that we’re doing something “out of love” when it’s really out of fear.

Am I am helping this person out of love, or am I really just fearful of disappointing this person? (But even in this, we may be creating false narratives re: the expectations others have of us #justsayin).

Am I continuing to hang out with this person out of love, or is out of fear that if I don’t do it, who else will?

There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. 1 John 4:18

In the end, story-truths aren’t inherently bad. On the contrary, the stories we craft and tell can often be incredibly beautiful ways to keep memories of people and experiences alive. However, these story-truths can become quite debilitating when they aren’t based on the capital “T” Truth– a Truth rooted in love and freedom; a Truth that rejects the story-truths that tempt us to live lives marked by fear. This is the Truth I want to abide in, and it is with this Truth I pray:

Dear God,  may I and those around me live in such a way that our decisions are dictated by a Truth that overflows with freedom and love. May we be wary to live in a world of story-truths built on fear, binding us to burdens that weigh down on our chests and our minds, our bodies and our souls. Lord, may we resist the temptation to allow fear, guilt, and despair to be the rulers of our lives, recognizing that was never what You intended. God, we say yes to Love as the ruler of our lives because You, oh God, are Love. Amen.

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