Fear of the Lord

''The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom" (Ps 111:10). If that really is the case, it's no wonder we live in such foolish times! Even those who believe in God don't seem to "fear" him anymore. It used to be easier to "fear" God; he was always watching and ready to squash sinners like flies with a lightning bolt or two from his heavenly throne. Sadly, many of us still see him that way. But that isn't who God is, and it isn't "the fear of the Lord" either. At best, it's the fear of punishment. And at worst? The fear of being caught.

If we've moved beyond the concept of God as an exacting and threatening father, we still don't manage to put the pieces together. We may have learned how to come to him for help when we've made a mess of things. But we still don't seem to understand why anyone should "fear" a God we are told is all-loving and all-merciful. Instead, we reduce the whole idea of fearing God to reverence. We tell ourselves that it's better to revere God than it is to cower before him. We simply replace the word "fear" with the word "revere" and call it a day. But that kind of reverence doesn't seem to last. We might be reminded by a spectacular sunset now and again, but it doesn't take long before we stop standing in awe of God. Usually, it's because we've moved on to other things and are no longer standing before him.

So, what's a believer to do? Spend more time with the Blessed Virgin Mary. "Come, you children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the Lord" (Ps 34:11). While the words of the psalm predate Mary by centuries, they beautifully express what she has to offer us. Listening to Mary's example can unlock the beginning of wisdom in our lives. She, more than anyone, can show us what "the fear of the Lord" truly is, and the grace it can be for us.

I don't want to say that it was easy. Mary endured temptation as we all do but did not fall to it. Instead, she lived her entire life as if God was real, as if God was present, as if God was good. That is because she did not doubt that all those "as ifs" were, in fact, true. God is real, God is present, and God is good. Those things are true for us as well, but somehow we don't seem to live as if they are. We wander off to do things ourselves and then wonder why God doesn't act in our lives. Even when we want to give ourselves to him, we hold something back. We struggle to place ourselves completely at his disposal. Whether we revere God or fear his punishment, we do not trust him the way Mary did. She allowed God a free hand in her life and surrendered herself to his agenda because she loved him with an undivided heart. We struggle to do that because we keep trying to reconcile the love of self with the love of God, and the love of self always wins.

Mary feared the Lord because she loved him and knew his love for her. She was completely open to God, completely dependent on him, and completely trusting in him. Original sin did not pull her into self-interest and self-sufficiency the way it does the rest of us. Instead, Mary fully embraced her identity in God and the unique vocation for which he created her without reserve. Mary held nothing back from God. That is, she kept nothing of herself for herself. That is what the fear of the Lord looks like. That is what we can learn from Mary this Advent.

- Jaymie Stuart Wolfe is a Catholic convert, wife, and mother of eight. Inspired by the spirituality of St. Francis de Sales, she is an author, speaker, and musician, and provides freelance editorial services to numerous publishers and authors as the principal of One More Basket. Find Jaymie on Facebook or follow her on Twitter @YouFeedThem.