Fear Can Be a Terrible Motivation

By Mark Davis Pickup

Recently I read about a family that took a stranger into their home. He has no family and is slowly dying with a terminal disease. I admired the family for their kindness and willingness to become involved with the plight of a stranger, but something troubled me about the story. It reminded me of my own fears and cowardice.

I am frightened of where multiple sclerosis may yet take me. What if my degenerative disability puts me into a nursing home like so many other people with degenerative diseases? It would remove me from being actively engaged in the lives of those I love most! (I’m no different than other people in those institutions.)

I avoid nursing homes: To see those who are living that nightmare reminds me of my own mammoth fear. I turn away. That is my shame. My fear is abandonment, yet I abandon. I want Good Samaritans for me yet I am not one to others. Fear has been a terrible motivation in my life. 

There are many artists’ depictions of Christ’s parable of the Good Samaritan. The parable is taken from the 10th Chapter of Luke. Jesus was responding to a lawyer’s test about inheriting eternal life. Jesus turned the question around and asked the lawyer “What is written in the Law?” The lawyer replied, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” So far so good, then Jesus told him his answer was right. Then the lawyer cynically asked, “And who is my neighbor?” It doesn’t take much discernment to detect the lawyer’s question was meant to exclude some people from love’s embrace. Jesus responded with a parable to illustrate that love should not have calculable limitations.

Jesus’ story of the Good Samaritan was meant to illustrate that a neighbor is the person who shows mercy and a neighbor is also someone who needs mercy. Christ’s story tells of a man who was attacked by robbers while travelling on a desolate road. A priest and a Levite passed by the half dead man without helping him. It was a Samaritan who stopped to help. It’s interesting that Christ spoke of a Samaritan because Samaritans and Jews were enemies and despised each other (cf. Luke 9.51-56; John 4.9). The Lord asked the lawyer, “Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” I imagine the lawyer felt a little uncomfortable and embarrassed at being put on the spot. He replied, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus’ reply must have resonated with the lawyer just as it should resonate with you and me: “Go and do likewise.”         

If you and I are honest, we all must admit there have been times when our Lord’s words haven’t resonated with us. We have behaved like the priest and Levite and passed by someone in need. There probably were excellent excuses, but they were excuses. The fact remained that someone needed love but did not receive it. At such moments, legitimate or lame excuses cheapened our connection to the human family―not to mention our Christian faith.

Perhaps like the priest and Levite on a lonely stretch of road, there were times when we were afraid that a similar fate might befall us. Yes, fear has been a terrible motivation in your life too. Perhaps the needs of the needy may inconvenience us and demand more from than we were prepared to give.

When we pass by a person in need, we may as well have done it to Christ. It would have been a poor defense for you or I to say, “At least it was not indifference!” On the surface, it can be hard to distinguish between inaction motivated by fear or by apathy. I believe the opposite of love is not hate but indifference.

Have you ever turned a blind eye to the plight of someone in need? Perhaps it was fear that held you back. (I hope it was not indifference!) We are all called to love God with all our being and our neighbor as ourselves. It is a tougher part of the Christian pilgrimage, but Christ himself expects it from His followers. Love calls us to action.

Mark Davis Pickup has lived with aggressive multiple sclerosis for over 33 years. Although electric wheelchair dependent, Mark has spoken across the United States and Canada promoting the sanctity, dignity, and equality of all human life. He has addressed politicians and legislative committees (both Canadian and American), university forums, hospital medical staffs, religious and denominational leaders, community groups, and organizations about the critical importance of protecting all human life from conception to natural death. Mark is also a widely published writer on bioethical and Christian issues. He writes a column for Canada’s Western Catholic Reporter newspaper. Mark is the recipient of numerous awards including the Monsignor Bill Irwin Award for Ethical Excellence, the William Kurelek Award for fostering respect and appreciation for the dignity of human life (Canada), and a Governor General’s Medal for Community Service.

This article has been reprinted with permission and can be found at humanlifematters.org/2017/02/fear-can-be-terrible-motivation.html