Sandy came to my house and said, "I don't know if I even want to try anymore."
"What do you mean?" I asked.
"Some days I'm not sure I even want to live. I feel like I have a weight on my shoulders all the time--an unbearable weight."
There is no weight more oppressive than fear, so I asked, "What are you afraid of?" I also had the advantage of seeing fear imprinted on her face and posture.
"I'm so afraid of criticism."
"Everybody, but mostly my mother."
"My father is no great treat either."
"Dating scares me to death."
"My job. I'm afraid of failing and looking stupid--all the time."
For many minutes I didn't say another word, but I did hold her hand and stroke her cheek as though she were a small child. Slowly, the tension in her face and body evaporated. She buried her face in my shoulder, wept, and clung to both my hands as though she would never let go.
I finally asked her if she felt afraid.
"No," she said.
"Not afraid of criticism?"
She paused before saying with a tone of surprise, "No, not really."
"In this moment you're not afraid of anything, and yet not one of the things you were afraid of before has changed. Only one thing has changed."
"Me. I feel loved."
"Safe. And free. And happy. I wouldn't have believed it could happen."
My wife, Donna, likes to say that Real Love is all about freedom and joy. Freedom from fear and guilt and pain. And without all that, joy just blossoms.
We spend all our lives trying to control the people and situations that "make" us afraid, when the solution is far simpler and more effective. We just need to feel loved, and then we find the freedom and joy we deserve.