The other night I received a call from a neighbor while I was out picking Sam up from baseball practice. I could already tell something was wrong by the crying in the background. It was Silas. He and his friends had been exploring the woods at night when he saw something scary. Still not sure what he saw, as the eyewitness accounts range from ‘nothing’ to a ‘creepy mask’ to a ‘monster’, but whatever it was left him a shaking, ashen heap on the floor of our neighbor’s kitchen.
By the time I got home, he was already sitting upstairs with Daddy talking in hushed tones. He was still shaking, his skin all blotchy, and he had wrapped himself up in a blanket. All those nurturing mom instincts kicked into high gear as I burst into the room and tried to hug the scared right out of him. After a minute or so, Micah quietly picked the conversations back up where it had apparently been left when I rushed through the door Kramer style.
“Son, when I was in Iraq….”
Whoah whoah whoah, I thought. What? Iraq? War? Combat missions? Life and death?? That’s your idea of comforting???
I wanted so badly to stop Micah in his tracks and show him how to appropriately comfort our son rather than add more trauma. And yet, Silas didn’t seem to have the same reaction. He stopped crying, sat a little taller, and made eye contact with Daddy. So I reluctantly released my grip on Silas and my perception of ‘how to comfort a scared child’. We exchanged the Parent Glance-that ‘you got this?’ look-as I stood up, walked out the door, and chose to trust that Micah would take care of our son- even if he did so in a way dramatically different than
the right… the best… my way. (And yes, I realize that last blob of a paragraph is a grammatical nightmare.)
For the next 60 minutes, I hovered downstairs in suspense. What was Micah telling him? Silas is already frightened enough without hearing about Daddy’s combat experience. I bet they’re not even hugging!
Every once in a while I could hear their muffled voices and I could tell they were talking solemnly. I think I even heard laughing.
I still don’t know what was said that night, and I’m not sure I want to, but I know this: Silas walked down those stairs an hour later wearing a new courage.
And holding this book:
“Hey Sam! Sam! Did you know that this book is about our family history?” Silas said in a strong, confident voice as he walked to the couch and sat next to his brother and began telling him about the Kirkpatrick lineage.
If I were looking for a book to offer an object lesson of some sort, I would’ve probably whipped out a children’s book about a cute, scared little cartoon animal retreating to safety somewhere or being rescued by someone big and strong. Something like this:
Not Micah. He picks out a history of our family. And some how, that stirred in Silas a desire to grow bigger and stronger.
If I think more deeply about it, I probably mildly enjoy my kids being scared or helpless or in need. That way, I can comfort/coddle them, and I really like to comfort/coddle. Or better yet, I can accomplish the struggle at hand for them so they don’t have to (1) experience discomfort and (2) waste my time. Hasn’t every parent found themselves saying, “here, just let me do it!” But what does that really accomplish? I’m thinking that kind of parental hovering forges a path of retreat and apathy in my developing child. Character is strengthened in the fire of struggle, and my job as a parent is to support him in his struggle, not necessarily pull him out of the heat.
That’s what Micah did. He didn’t rescue Silas from his fear. Instead, he allowed him to examine his fear in the safety of his presence. He gave him his time and guidance and love, and he imparted to him courage and a sense of honor. He also gave him a spot in our bedroom that night 🙂
Releasing my children onto their own journeys with their own fears and battles and victories is…well…scary, just like walking through the woods at night. What are they going to bump into?? Micah often shares a phrase with the kids: Feel the fear and do it anyway. This obviously doesn’t apply to everything (I’m thinking heights, white rapids, wild animals, double dares and Inferno Mad Dog Hot Sauce), but it does apply to quite a bit.
I’ve spent the past 6 years actually in the company of supportive friends who meet weekly via conference call to discuss, in part, our fears. The things that stress us out. Scare us. To hear men and women of all ages in various walks of life from military to medical, mothering and finance, engineering, architecture, law, the arts share what scares them and what they and God are doing about it….absolutely inspiring. It stirs up a courage and camaraderie. “Wow, I’m not the only one!” And it inspires creativity as I find ways in my own life to feel the fear and do it anyway. To help illustrate this point, I’m listing some of my fears below. Some were quite strong years ago and have now weakened significantly. Some are still giants that I am throwing stones at. But all of them are being examined in the safe presence of God, who doesn’t dismiss my concerns or grow weary of my worry. He gives me the gift of his time and guidance and love as he imparts courage and a sense of honor, like a good dad does.
Some Things That Scare Me, Real Or Imagined:
- sharing my fears with others and being viewed as weak, silly, or crazy
- every.single.time.I publish a blog post (aka fear of rejection)
- loss of a loved one
- poverty and not being able to provide for my family
- wealth and not knowing how to use money wisely
- being viewed as arrogant or ignorant or a combination of both
- failure in all shapes and sizes
- having to say no to a person, invitation or opportunity, especially ‘good’ or ‘spiritual’ ones
- having to say “I don’t know” or “You were right”
- disagreeing or arguing
- forgiving someone
- asking forgiveness
- being uninsured
- having to deal with insurance
- going to the dentist
- homeschooling and ‘am I doing it right?’
- global politics
- being left out
- kid vomit in the night
- swimming in the ocean
- being too busy
- being too bored
- being alone
- the unknown
Something that has truly brought comfort and courage for years now as I walk through my fears has been Psalm 23:4. There have been nights, weeks, months, complete years where I would repeat this over and over out loud as I put one scared, shaky foot in front of the other:
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil, for you are with me;
your rod and your staff, they comfort me
It’s just a shadow. A shadow doesn’t have power; only what I choose to give it.
God is training me, and training is hard work. But he also gives comfort along the path.
And whatever is waiting on the other side of this valley will be well worth every step I take to reach it.
I can say with absolute confidence that God has sustained me every.single.time I have faced fear in this manner. Relief hasn’t come instantly or without great effort on my part to cooperate with Him, but I have always stood on the brighter side of a struggle with a sense of awe at God’s creativity, timing, power, and kindness. Always.
As you walk through your own cloudy valley, I pray you see God’s training and comfort as you courageously put one step in front of the other. May we all have the courage to take God at his word, feel the fear, and do it anyway!