“Such love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear. If we are afraid, it is for fear of punishment, and this shows that we have not fully experienced his perfect love.” 1 John 4:18 (NLT)
My flight was in the boarding process as I settled into my aisle seat, 7-B, and began to pray for whomever might sit in 7-A.
Sadly, I wasn’t praying for that person’s soul — I was praying for his or her size. I dearly hoped the stranger would be petite, someone who wouldn’t feel miserable squished next to an abundantly blessed woman on a tiny commuter plane.
I watched the passengers file past, apprehension mounting. My opening patter was well rehearsed: “They keep making these planes smaller, don’t they?” or “Sure wish my hips could fit in the overhead compartment.” Anything to put him or her at ease.
Moments later a slender, smiling boy appeared beside me. “I’m 7-A.”
I beamed at him. “Wonderful!” He had blond hair, perfectly round glasses and the pink cheeks of late childhood. I pegged him at 9 or 10, maybe even a mature age 8.
He climbed into his seat, barely taking up half of it, and announced, “I like this plane. It’s my size.” He leaned toward me and added in a stage whisper, “It makes me feel bigger.”
Bless his heart.
I asked his name, wondering what it must be like to travel alone at such a young age, then gently patted his arm. “I’m here if you need anything.”
The child talked non-stop for the first 30 minutes before folding over and drifting off to sleep. Watching him, I resisted the maternal urge to smooth back his hair. So young.
When the engines grew louder, signaling our descent, my neighbor woke up with a yawn, glanced at his watch and grinned. “Whaddaya know? My birthday is next week.”
Picturing a big party in the works, I asked, “Which one will this be?”
My smile froze in place. It couldn’t be. Not this small boy, no taller than a third-grader.
I could only imagine the snide comments his peers threw at him. Or the many clueless strangers like me, who treated him as if he were a half-grown child instead of a full-fledged teenager.
“Happy birthday,” I murmured, my heart breaking for him. What must it be like to be smaller than people expect?
It’s like being larger than people expect.
I looked down and fumbled with my seat belt, suddenly feeling exposed. Just like this self-conscious teen who kept his defense tactics at the ready — “It’s my size” — I had my verbal arsenal loaded as well, deflecting imagined criticism by beating people to the punch — “They keep making these planes smaller, don’t they?”
No, Liz. They don’t.
The time had come to see my self-effacing banter for what it was: fear of embarrassment, fear of rejection.
What if you don’t like me? What if you say something unkind?
Today’s key verse, 1 John 4:18, helped change my thinking. God promises that His “perfect love expels all fear.” The truth is: People may not love us. But God does. If we embrace His love, we won’t fear the approval of people and can instead focus on loving them.
“If we are afraid,” 1 John 4:18 continues, “it is for fear of punishment.” Rude stares, rolled eyes, hurtful comments. Such things might come from people, but never from the Lord. As our verse concludes, such fear “shows that we have not fully experienced his perfect love.”
I not only want to experience God’s perfect love; I also want to give it away. Now whenever I fly alone, I offer a different prayer. To be more other-conscious and less self-conscious. And to seek God’s approval alone.