Dracula, the Mummy, Freddy Krueger, Smaug...
Monsters represent a part of human nature gone awry. They are mirrors reflecting the worst of our collective personality. Dracula might represent our human need to consume at the expense of others. Frankenstein's monster could represent the human drive to succeed without regard for morality. Chucky, the "lovable" slasher from the Child's Play movies, may represent our personal want to exert ultimate power over another individual.
In books and movies, these monsters keep people from living in freedom because of their fear. We carry monsters within us that have similar effects. They keep us from living in freedom--they keep us hindered in habits we wish to break free of.
What might your personal monster look like? What's the monstrous reflection of yourself that you fear?
WHAT ARE THE MONSTERS INSIDE?
At the heart of that question is another: what do you fear about yourself?
Monsters of fiction are meant to evoke fear. They live because of our fear. The same might be said about the monsters that live within us. Our anger, our need to feel in control, the paralysis we feel from self-doubt, the apathy that dispels compassion… they are all born and live because of fear. The true monster, the one that seemingly lurks behind the manifestations of our worst selves, is fear itself. Our monster is whatever that is inside us that inspires the fear that results in anger, or the need to be in control, or paralyzes our actions, or keeps us from connecting with others.
The monster manifests in different ways. For some, the monster might keep us from starting something new in our lives for fear of failure. The monster might be the way we keep people at an arm's length because letting them closer is uncomfortable. In others, that monster comes out in the angry or irrational ways we respond to the people closest to us — or to people at large.
Let's be honest, often the responses we offer in social media spaces are generally not shared out of concern for the other person. More likely, we respond out of a fear that the ideas someone else has shared will gain more traction than our own beliefs or ideas. The monster perpetuates arguments and strife.
HOW DO I DEFEAT MY MONSTERS?
The key is in addressing our fears. 1 John 4:18 famously says "There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love." (Admittedly, the first half of this verse is more often quoted than the second.) The author was trying to assure the readers that they need not live in fear of God's judgement. God loves people so completely that their sins will not be counted against them.
So, too, may our own love cast out many of our fears. As richly as God loves us, can we not love ourselves and one another? The first step is recognizing our fears. What fear lives inside you?
I fear rejection. I fear that rejection will hurt my ego (which, admittedly, can be a bit fragile at times). This fear keeps me from trying things that might call attention to myself, like singing karaoke, starting a YouTube channel, or sharing my actual feelings with those close to me. It makes me distant, apathetic, and more than a bit defensive at times.
Your fears and the way they bubble up are likely different. Some fear losing security or prestige. Others fear they won't be accepted.
If we find ourselves looking to lash out at others, we can both show love and experience love by identifying the fear at the root of that behavior. Often, we will find that the cause of our anger is less about the actions of the other person, and more about the fear we harbor within ourselves. Love does not demolish or remove that fear, but love provides a way to respond.
For my fear of rejection, a loving response would be to trust some people and share some of my feelings instead of closing down. Recall the image that came to mind when you thought about your personal monster. What would it look like to respond to the monster with love? Do you see the monster being transformed?
For many, the beginning point of responding to fear is accepting what is suggested in 1 John 4:18 — that we are loved by God. That love is an un-rejecting love — that means a lot to a person with a fear of rejection. As I once heard it put, "God loves you, and there's nothing you can do about it. You can only decide how you'll respond to that love."
You are not rejected, even at your worst. Perfect love casts out monsters. How will you respond?
Ryan Dunn is the Minister of Online Engagement for Rethink Church. He lives with his wife, son, mom-in-law, and furry tribe in Nashville, TN. He is an ordained deacon in the United Methodist Church.
[Posted October 12, 2018]