A Conversation With
Catherine McNiel

Author Of Fearing Bravely: Risking Love For Our Neighbors, Strangers, And Enemies

Q: Explain the title of your book. We may not get over all of our fear, but we can live and love bravely. 

While He was on earth, Jesus was teaching His followers to not be afraid, even while He was being pursued to death. Something about living through Jesus’ death and resurrection helped His disciples see that God’s love was powerful enough to not give in to fear. They lived in a time which could have been very fear inducing, but they knew the power of God. Jesus is inviting us to do dangerous and scary things, in His name, for the sake of neighbors and strangers. 

Q: You use the phrase “discipled by fear” in your book. How can we be discipled by truth instead of fear? 

We often lack awareness of how heavily our culture is forming us each day. Through the media we consume and the messages we repeat, we can be shaped into people who are afraid. So, the first step is to gain awareness of how we are being shaped by the voices we let into our lives. Then we need to be so immersed in the words of Jesus that the Holy Spirit can prompt us to test what we are hearing against God’s truth. 

Q: Each section of the book includes suggestions of art and music to reinforce your themes. Why was this part of your application in the book? 

The creative aspect provides another angle to influence our hearts and minds. They can give us practice using a different “muscle” to focus on God’s love instead of giving in to fear. The practical steps in each section are best done in community. We need to work together to change our mindset and live in love. God invites us to create a new kind of community and world, to reflect His love. 

Q: You go beyond neighbors and strangers, to call us to love our enemies. You acknowledge that this is a hard teaching of Jesus. How do we move toward love of enemies? 

First of all, we can’t dispute that Jesus included this in His teaching. So, we can skip the debates about whether or not it is okay to hate certain people. Jesus doesn’t give us any loopholes. And it isn’t easy if we are honest. The solution is to flood ourselves with light. If I am filling my mind with God’s lovingkindness, which is abundant toward me, then I have more capacity to love. I can’t love from my own triggered, wounded place. The root of my love has to be God’s love, which actually can overcome fear, hate, and evil.

Lovingkindness Exercise: 

During a time of quiet prayer, remember the loving, nurturing heart of God—the same lovingkindness the Bible teaches and Jesus embodies. Imagine a space filled with this love, then picture yourself in it. 

Once you have grown comfortable in this spacious place of love, bring to mind others that you love. Begin widening the space to include them. Then, recall people you don’t know well, or have neutral feelings about, and allow the space of God’s grace and love to cover them too. 

Finally, bring to mind enemies, one at a time. Don’t begin this process with the person who has harmed you the most; choose instead someone who frustrates or annoys you. Then, bit by bit, day by day, expand this circle a bit further in your mind. If the process becomes too traumatic, seek the help of a pastor, spiritual director, or therapist. 

God’s love already covers us all, but practicing these prayers day after day allows God to renew our minds and change our hearts. 

Adapted from Fearing Bravely. Copyright © 2022. Used by permission of NavPress represented by Tyndale House Publishers, a Division of Tyndale House Ministries. All rights reserved.