The Fear of Love

Tim Jackson —  July 23, 2012 — 8 Comments

I recently chatted with a young woman who survived growing up in a dangerous home with an evil father. Oh, he looked normal enough to outsiders—kept a job, paid the bills, went to church, and played the part for the public—but in private, he was a cruel, sadistic beast who preyed upon the insecurities of his wife and children.

How did she survive? She became a runner. She learned how to outdistance the problem, literally and emotionally.

In junior and senior high school, she ran track. She was a fierce competitor. She’d had lots of practice. Putting distance between herself and a threatening adversary became second nature not only on the track, but also off the track in her relationships.

Now that she’s found a good man who—unlike her dad—can be trusted, she’s discovered that she just can’t stop running. She readily admits the undeniable longing for love deeply embedded in her heart. But while that desire entices her, it terrifies her even more!

Why? Because she’s realizing that running has become a way of life.

The truth is, all relationships are risky and have the potential for both pain and pleasure. Running is her way to manage that potential for pain in her relationships. Admittedly, it helped her survive an abusive situation, but now it’s sabotaging her potential for joy in a relationship with a man who truly loves her.

It’s her fear of love that’s paralyzing her from moving forward.

John Eldredge wrote in Wild at Heart, “The only thing more tragic than the tragedy that happens to us is the way we handle it” (p. 106).

Oddly enough, for many it’s the fear of losing love that shuts love down before it even has a chance to take root and grow.

This young woman’s fear of intimacy, of getting close, of finally being loved paralyzes her heart, preventing her from exchanging her running shoes for a pair of dancing shoes.

For many who have suffered the torment of growing up in an abusive home, their capacity to trust others to deeply love and care for them and not leave them is greatly diminished. They find it next to impossible to believe anyone will stay in their lives for an extended time, much less for a lifetime. They are always waiting for the other shoe to drop, dashing their hopes for a meaningful relationship yet again.

The solution for many is, “Just don’t get close to anyone. Outdistance the pain. Never commit. Keep moving, and you’ll never feel the pain of abandonment or abuse again.”

Unfortunately it works for a while . . . with some of the pain. But it’s a thief. It steals. It kills. And it destroys one’s opportunity to playfully splash around in the refreshing waters of committed love.

But there is hope. The antidote to our fear is perfect love. The problem is we are not perfectly loved. Or are we?

John, the apostle of love, said it best: “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear” (1 John 4:18 NIV). It’s God’s perfect love for us that can infuse us with the courage necessary to take the risk of loving others. And that’s the antidote that can transform any of us from “runners” to “lovers.” John’s words are a necessary reminder when we panic and start lacing up our running shoes. “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19).

So, what shoes are you wearing these days? Running shoes or dancing shoes? I love to hear your thoughts and stories.



Tim Jackson

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Tim Jackson is married to his college sweetheart, Cole. They have 3 adult children. Tim is the producer for the website, writes Discover Series booklets on a variety of counseling issues and hosts webinars for RBC Ministries. He's also the founder and president of Still Waters Counseling & Equipping Ministries, PC, a local counseling practice serving individuals, couples and families. When not in the office, you will probably find him up a tree with a bow, in a duck blind or fly fishing on one of Michigan's many rivers.

8 responses to The Fear of Love

  1. This hits home! Really, really close to home. Thank you for sharing.

  2. I would definitely have to say I’m wearing my running shoes. It isn’t because of a neglected childhood, it’s from giving my heart to men who don’t appreciate me. I’m at a point now where I would be afraid to trust even the best man with my heart because of past experiences. I don’t know how to let go of the pain and move forward, when I do I end up hurt yet again.

  3. I am a father of 2 daughters, and have been raising one of my daughters on my own for several years now. This story touched me as well as gave me some convictions on my own relationships with my 2 daughters. Life is not a rehearsal, and we stumble and and fall sometimes more than we would like to admit, but in Christ and threw others experiences as well as our own we can have hope for a better future. Thank you for sharing.

  4. Tanya,

    Thanks for sharing. Running is easy when you’ve been burned in the past. I’m saddened to hear of your experiences with men who haven’t appreciated you. Trust is broken and the pain of loneliness at least seems to feel safer than the pain you’ve experienced with the men in your life.

    Discernment is a skill that you need to acquire to determine who is reasonably safe to trust and who is not. Intimacy with God can help you cultivate discernment and eventually building meaningful relationships with those who have proven that they are more trustworthy because of their character.

    Check out Brent Curtis and John Eldredge’s book, The Sacred Romance, for help in building that vital intimacy with God that frees you to love in ways you never would have thought possible.

  5. Conrad,

    I love hearing your heart for your daughters! It tells me you’re becoming a better dad because you’re willing to take a look at yourself first. We all do make mistakes. I sure have made my fair share, believe me. But, your daughters are blessed to a have a dad who is engaged in their lives because of what Jesus has done in his life. Never stop following Jesus and loving your daughters with the love that comes through Him.

  6. Trust, sometimes the toughest part of a relationship but oh so necessary. If we want to take off those running shoes and exchange them for a pair of dancing shoes, as Tim writes, we must learn to risk trust and with that comes some level of fear, I agree. Personally I’ve had to be willing to receive the love that others are handing out. When past experiences teach us that love is risky, that people are undependable, that people abandon us, that people abuse us; why should we love again? I love what Tim writes about the antidote to our fear…turn to God and His word; 1 John 4:18-19.

  7. I have to say I have my running shoes on most of the time. All my life and having just turned 45, I have lost the ability to trust anyone completely. I was abused from the age of 5 until I was 12, and was then raped by my brother. I lost my hope of ever trusting anyone after that, but I did fall in love or so I thought when I was 18, and got married and then an older sister ran off with my husband. How can I trust others, when my own family did what they did to me. I am in a loving relationship now, but I still don’t feel able to trust 100%. I believe that god loves me but evn trusting in him fully is difficult. Thank you for your blogg, certainly gives me things to think about. Thank you!

  8. My shoes were work shoes, I guess, because I worked very hard to earn the love I missed in my childhood. It’s hard to stop doing that, too, but dancing is so much more fun! Thanks for the encouragement.

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