Love That Is Whole

By Carol Rose

Many of us know “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.” I once thought that meant I needed to love perfectly.

However, “love that is whole” is a better translation of the first-century concept than the words “perfect love.”

This shift frees me to ask: How does it work? How does love that is whole cast out fear?

Here’s a story from my life:

It starts with a marble, and with the church who knew me and knew what I was going through.

It starts with anxiety and worry, and with fear that was fossilized in me from long before.

In my late twenties and early thirties, I was working through some pretty terrible memories of abuse I had experienced from one of my brothers when I was a young child. 

I had a trip planned to see my parents. I knew that I would see that brother too, and I was feeling anxious.

At my church’s small group meeting, my friend held out a marble. She explained that the members of the small group would each pray for me while holding the marble, and then they would give it to me so I could carry it with me on my family visit.

They went around the circle and prayed for my safety, calm, and boldness. They prayed for deep breathes and for wisdom for me to know when to take a break.

The marble moved around the circle until it came to me, and then I put it in my pocket.

Because God’s love was made tangible to me in my church, I was able to write to my brother in advance and set some boundaries. For example, he couldn’t initiate touch with me, and if I initiated touch—for instance, a handshake or a tent-style hug—he couldn’t escalate that touch further.

Love is not incompatible with boundaries.When there are people who do not carry appropriate boundaries within themselves, love must set some boundaries for them.

The visit went much better than I’d dreamed. Not without some family drama. Not without me sometimes needing to put my hand in my pocket to touch the marble and be reminded of prayerful safety. But it went well. 

One afternoon during the visit, I was in the bedroom that had been mine most of my teenage years. I heard God say, “Pray for him.”

It took me by surprise—only not by surprise, because “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”

I believe that prayer is a powerful action of love. God has gifted us with power, and in prayer we exercise that power. We give it over back to God for the good of the world.

So I prayed for my brother. For healing of his back, which was bothering him. For deep healing that would make him safe for others to be around. For the boy he had been who was so very confused about power and sexuality. 

I prayed for my brother, and things changed in me. I don’t know what the prayer did for my brother, but I was no longer the victim. 

Love that is whole casts out fear. God’s love is whole. We are not the ones who bring the perfection. In God’s love, we touch that wholeness.

Carol Rose lives in Tucson, Arizona, and is co-pastor at Shalom Mennonite Fellowship. This was adapted from a sermon delivered at Shalom on October 2, 2016.