Fear is a terrible motivator. Let’s try love instead.

Not too long ago I realized that fear was a terrible motivator for change. If you used fear as a motivator to lose weight, your fear usually ended up making you seek the very things that you didn’t need. You’d be afraid of diabetes or cancer but instead of using healthy coping mechanisms like exercise or meditation, you’d go back to smoking cigarettes or eating “comfort food” which is sadly never healthy. And then you’d be stuck in that ugly cycle again.

Love is a better motivator. You love how you feel after you eat a well-balanced meal. You love how you feel after you have a good night’s sleep. You love how you feel after you’ve had a walk around the block. Or you love your granddaughter, and you want to live long enough to see her get married and graduate from college. Or you love the book you are working on, and you want to finish writing it.

If you are working towards something, rather than running away from something, you are more likely to have good results.

I think the same thing is true with following Jesus. So many people try to sell the idea of Jesus as the boogeyman. They use him as a guilt trip, and try to drag you along for the ride.

They will say that you are going to burn in hell if you don’t follow Jesus. Or they will say that you can’t go to their church if you don’t follow him the way that they follow him. Or they say that you will be condemned by God. They are motivated out of fear. They will do what their pastor says, they won’t question anything, and they will stay within the lines of whatever proscription their church has set up for them.

I don’t know about you, but that kind of motivation never worked well for me. I’m a questioner. I’m a person who likes to ask “why”. In fact, I need to know the reason why I have to do something in order to know how to do it. It isn’t that I’m being difficult. I’m not trying to get out of whatever task I’ve been assigned. I just need to understand the “why” so I can understand the “how” and the “what”. Fortunately I had teachers who translated this as “gifted” instead of “obstinate”.

I never wanted the Jesus these fear-lead people were selling. The mean, overlord, high-school principle Jesus. The micromanaging boss Jesus. But sadly, these were the loudest people. This version of Jesus wasn’t what fit with what I read in the Gospels either. I needed a Jesus who was about love and service. I needed a Jesus who taught me how to humble myself, but not in a way that was belittling. I mean humble in a way that lets the light of God shine through, but using me as the lens. This way, I’m still there, but I’m not in the way. I become a vehicle, rather than a driver.

Consider two dogs. One is a service dog. He’s been trained to help a blind person with their daily life. He resists his own inner nature to chase the squirrel when he is crossing the street with his companion. This keeps his companion safe and headed in the right direction.

Or, alternately, there is a stray dog that got yelled at all the time by her owners. She was never trained how to behave properly, and she just gets yelled at every time she does wrong. All she hears is yelling. So this dog ran away from home and now cowers in fear all the time, never knowing when she is going to get yelled at.

The service dog has been humbled, but it is out of service and out of love. He resists his own inner nature that causes him to stray and act without thinking of the consequences. He serves another person, helping that person throughout the day. He is a guide in the truest sense. And it all started with proper training. The trainer taught the dog how to be the best dog it could be, with positive commands and encouraging desired behavior and ignoring unwanted behavior.

The other dog has been humbled, but not out of love. There is no direction or goal in that humbling. It is a scattered and destructive kind of humbling. That kind of humbling is a lessening. Sadly, that kind of humbling is what many churches want to do. They want to focus on sin rather than redemption.

If you yell at someone for doing something bad, then that is all they will be able to think about. It ends up becoming pathological. We all desire attention. But if we don’t get attention for what we do that is good, and we only get attention for what we do that is bad, even if it is negative attention, then that is what we will continue to do.

Jesus took away all the “don’ts” in the commandments. He gave us what to do. We are to love. We are to love God and our neighbors with all our heart and soul and strength and mind.

Now, personally, I’m the kind of person that needs a little more instruction than that, so I supplement my Christianity with Buddhism and Judaism, with a little bit of Hinduism and Sufism thrown in for flavor. Some Christians would cringe at that, but I hope to change their minds. We are told to love our neighbors. How can we show them love if we don’t understand anything about them? The more I learn about other faith traditions, the closer I get to God. It is all motivated out of love. God made all of us different because he needs us that way. God doesn’t want us to all be the same. That would be as boring as garden full of the same kind of flower or an orchestra with just one kind of instrument. I like daylilies and piccolos, but I also like roses and kettledrums. I think God does too.

I love the fact that I can take a yoga class (Hindu) in a YMCA (Christian), while listening to music that has Caribbean steel drums and Tibetan throat singing and Chinese hammered dulcimer. I love that I can go to a Chinese buffet and get Japanese and American food too. I love that we are waking up to the beauty of each other and celebrating our differences. I think this is part of what the Kingdom of Heaven is all about.


I have a friend who needs more sleep. It will help with his anxiety and depression. It will help with his heart condition. It will help him to be more focused and less forgetful. He knows this, yet he keeps staying up late and getting up early, so every day is a repeat of the last and it is full of failure and pain. But like with liquor or drugs or any other vice he has to want to change and then there has to be grace in there somewhere too. It is hard to be stuck where you are, going around in circles. It is like Sisyphus, forever pushing that stone up a hill.

What stones do we have? Guilt. Shame. Anger. Fear. Hate. Racism. Abuse (of self or others). Drugs. Some of these stones are given to us by our parents, by classmates, by society. Some we pick up ourselves throughout our journey in life.

After a while it becomes very hard to carry all that weight. Sometimes we continue to carry our stones out of habit. Sometimes it is out of a sense of duty or obligation. Sometimes it is out of fear – what if we don’t know how to act without it? We’ve carried it around so long that we started to define ourselves by it.

I knew a guy who is an alcoholic. That is how he defines himself. He doesn’t say that he is a person with a drinking problem. The problem has become his personality. He has decided that “messed up” is who he is. He carries around this stone like it is a normal thing now.

I know women who stay with the same boyfriend for years even though it is plain that he is no good. He sits on the couch playing video games all day while she goes to work and supports both of them. He makes fun of her in public. But she stays, because she’d rather be in a bad relationship than no relationship at all. He is her stone. He weighs her down. But she doesn’t know how to move on. She doesn’t need him financially, and he isn’t helpful emotionally. But she’s defined herself by “being in a relationship”, even if it is unhealthy.

We are like that with our stones. We’d rather stick “with the devil you know” than to be on our own.

My Mom wanted to quit smoking for years, but she knew that my Dad would never quit. She thought it would be too hard to quit while he kept smoking. So she kept it up, all two packs a day of it. He finally left us to go live back home with his Mom (in his 50s) and then we found out my Mom had lung cancer shortly thereafter. She quit smoking then, but it was too late. She died at 53. Then he died just 6 weeks later. They had both killed themselves out of habit and an inability to change.

I wonder if Dad ever thought the same thing – that he wanted to quit smoking but didn’t think he could if Mom kept smoking? Wouldn’t that have been ?

I wonder if our friends and coworkers are like that? I’ll quit gossiping if you do. I’ll quit telling racist jokes if you do. What if we are playing chicken with each other? What if we are keeping ourselves back because of others? Who is going to be brave enough to take the first step and just drop the stone she is carrying that is slowing progress down?

Not taking care of our bodies is another stone. Overeating is a form of self-abuse. There is a pain that comes from being overfull. There is pain that comes from the guilt and shame of the addiction itself. Somehow the punishment (the obesity, the disability that comes with being so large) is seen as deserved. Sometimes the problem is that the person feels lesser-than, that he doesn’t deserve to feel good, to feel love. Sometimes becoming obese is a way to keep people away.

Sometimes people say they are too old to change. This too is a lie we tell ourselves so that we don’t get better. We think we can’t, so we don’t even try. As long as you are alive, there is hope. And if you start trying to get better, you’ll gain more life. You are only dead when you give up. As long as you keep trying to grow, you’ll get stronger.

One way to drop that stone is to realize that you are carrying it. You’ve carried it for so long that just dropping it outright seems impossible. Try doing it in little steps. Journal about it. Journaling helps you notice progress. It is like writing a letter to yourself.

I’m sending you a letter, now. I used to be where you are. I still have stones I’m carrying. The things I’ve done to grow and stretch have given me the insight and strength to get over and around other stones. I’m sending you this letter to let you know that you can do it. It is hard. It takes a lot of work. You’ll fall and fail quite a bit. You’ll stop doing the work for a while and then remember and start back up again. That is normal. You aren’t failing. You’re being human. I’m cheering you on.

In a way, I’m also sending a letter back in time to myself, to let myself know that there is hope. I’m 44 now. I was nowhere near this balanced and aware and healthy at 24. I wonder where I’ll be at 64? At 84? I need to remind myself to be gentle with myself but not allow myself to fall off the path completely. I’m trying to remind you of the same. Forgive yourself your failings, but keep on working on them.

I wonder if we can get a letter to Sisyphus and tell him to just walk away from that stone? Forget pushing it up the hill. It is easier to climb up the hill unburdened.