When our second son was a toddler I had a horrific dream (several in fact) where he was killed, usually by me loosing his grip in a high place and letting him fall. I remember one time in particular when I woke literally crying; it was awful. I knew enough about dreams at that time to know that the events of dreams are almost always symbolic and that my son wasn’t going to die, but it felt like he was. In fact, the feelings you have in dreams are always real, and I was feeling afraid. So I did some listening prayer and asked the Lord to show me where this fear was coming from and He spoke very gently into my heart that I wasn’t trusting my kids to Him. I prayed a bit about that and sensed God’s peace.
I wish I could say that the peace took permanent root, but it didn’t. There have been and still are many moments when my dad-heart is filled with fear; like when I’m watching Malachi climb the 40′ grain bins at the farm. I know he can do it. I know I should let him. I climbed them when I was his age (and pretended to fall off when my grandma came onto the yard.) But when it’s my kid up there, things are just different and I have to work to keep calm and let him be the adventurer every boy needs to be.
I know many parents who are ridden with fear, and I believe even the ones who say they aren’t still have moments where their imagination gets the better of them and they imagine horrible situations for their children. The problem is that in our church culture fear has been made so much the enemy that even feeling a measure of apprehension must mean that you don’t trust God. After all, doesn’t perfect love cast out all fear? Truthfully, that is what John 4:18 says but does that mean that we are distrusting or unspiritual if fear creeps into our hearts? I just don’t see it.
Think about the great parents of the Bible. Moses’ mother made him a basket-boat to keep him safe from the soldiers. Was she chastised for not trusting God? Do we really think Jehosheba, the daughter of King Joram, was perfectly calm as she whisked away baby Joash to save him from his murderous grandmother, Athaliah? What about Mary and Joseph? Weren’t they panicked when Jesus went missing on the trip back from Jerusalem.
See we can talk about the spiritual giants who stood up to kings at risk of losing their head, or being burnt to death in a furnace and I think it is fair to say that while those men were amazingly courageous, there were plenty who were also filled with fear and dropped as if dead when faced with the supernatural visitations and tests. And if we were truly to put ourselves into the sandals of the parents in the Bible, how, humanly speaking, could they not have feared for the lives of their children?
No, fear is a human response to the unknown and that doesn’t make you a bad parent, it puts you in good company. We mustn’t become so “spiritual” as to think that every normal response is ungodly or sinful. I think we have overly romanticized what it means to be a parent and allowed a spiritual daydream to convict instead of the Holy Spirit. To be sure, there are parents who are riddled with fear to a very unhealthy level and that isn’t good, but God isn’t mad at you for feeling fear, He just wants to guide you out. In reality what hyper-fearful parents feel is just the aberration of a God-given parenting instinct to protect our children. So what do you do when you feel fear rising? Let me offer some suggestions.
It’s a human response to the unknown to feel fear and that doesn’t make you a bad parent, it puts you in good company.
First, don’t pretend. Don’t pretend to be ok just to make it seem like you have it all together. We live in such a make-believe culture and I think we could do with a little more “real.” Of course, that means you need a place free of judgement to feel safe enough to stop pretending you’re ok when you aren’t, and that means the church, Christians, pastors and leaders need to work to remove this unnatural expectation that all fear is bad. Can I, once again, just reassure you of how normal you are? Every parent worries about their children finding good friends, saying no to drugs, following Jesus and driving! (We joke, but it’s only to hide our nervousness behind a laugh!) Nope, pretending hasn’t helped a single solitary soul! So let it out and admit your fears to someone you trust!
Next, try to stop saying “What if.” I think that if there were one single piece of advice I would suggest to help wrangle your fear to the ground it would be this – stop saying “What if!” I have sometimes found myself worried that my wife hasn’t returned home after an evening with friends. I can go to such ridiculous places in my mind! I start wondering how I’m going to raise the kids. Whether my parents will help out financially. What it means for our foster children. And on and on. But what I’ve learned to do is to stop and take a reality check. I’ll literally ask myself how many people actually die on the road around our home. There are very few fatalities compared to the thousands of cars travelling our highways. Then I think about how I’ve been afraid in the past, and how great it feels to hear the garage door opening. Sometimes I’ll say sorry to Jesus for allowing myself to go to that place, but then I move on. No more “What if’s.”
Look I know there are dangers in life, but if you can’t handle to idea of your kids walking home from school because someone might kidnap them, ask yourself honestly, how many kids were kidnapped in your community this year. See, you’re playing a “What if.” Of course, I’m not talking about being foolish, there are certainly some places in Winnipeg I would want to escort my kids home from school, but to allow my imagination to make my community into a hotbed of gang members and kidnappers is really silly.
Finally, seek to get a bigger picture of God, not a smaller picture of fear. Sometimes, I feel we focus on the problem so much that it becomes much bigger than it really needs to be. Fear is not the problem, we simply need to put a bit more effort into our relationship with Jesus. When we allow Jesus to address our hearts, our picture of Him grows large. When we spend time worshiping Him we remind ourselves how magnificent He is. When we add gratitude and thankfulness to our lives, then we more easily remember the times He has come through for us… and aren’t there so many stories when He came through? So the size of your fear isn’t the problem, the size of your God is. But don’t let that worry you! Just decide today that you will take a small step to enlarging your understanding of how big, strong and mighty our God really is!
So don’t fear, friends, all parents feel afraid for their children. They always have and we always will, it’s part of life. But we can become healthy not allowing fear to paralyze us – we truly can over come! We can become stronger than the fears that loom large. Take a minute right now and take out a journal or notebook and start a list of the times that God has come through for you, and determine in your mind that when you next face fear that you will go to that page and review how great our God is!
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