By John D. Pierce

Any “air conditioning” in my family’s old Pontiac station wagon required cranking down four windows to create a breeze. Dad, however, was the only one permitted to rest his arm on the car door with this elbow protruding.

“Keep your arms in the car” was about as common of a parental refrain as “Don’t make me have to come back there.”

Somewhere deep in those childhood experiences was a repeated and preposterous story used to reinforce this behavior. We were told about a family that arrived home one evening to find a severed arm and hand dangling from their car side mirror.

While the story’s origins are unknown, its purpose was clear: to scare the Pierce boys into keeping our arms inside the car while cruising along the winding roads of northwest Georgia and east Tennessee.

Fear was a common means of controlling behavior.

Fear of “Wait until your dad gets home…” caused us to behave or at least conceal our misbehavior.

Fear of hell caused us to tithe, pray, and memorize Bible verses.

Hidden Canyon Trail in Zion National Park, Utah

Fear can be a healthy or unhealthy motivator.

My fear-based warning when on a hiking adventure (that my daughters often hear) is: “Never be just one step or a slip from death.”

I don’t always follow my own advice, but consider that to be a healthy fear of unnecessary death.


However, unhealthy fears can suck the joy out of life. They are not the best motivators.

It is important to remember that love casts out fear — and is the preferred motivator for living. Choosing love over fear makes us more gracious and giving — even if it requires a bit of risk.

So, when given a choice, choose love rather than fear. It is something most of us could do with one arm — or perhaps with an extra one that comes home with us.

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