My two year old son is suddenly afraid: of toy dinosaurs in our basement; of friendly scarecrows propped on porches; and any creature in a cartoon that so much as growls.
As a parent, I’m thinking about how to help him navigate these fears. First, I want to honor what he is feeling, right? Let him be scared and offer safe space for him to express his emotions, whatever they may be. I don’t want to shame him or blame him for his very real, very natural reaction. Especially for a little boy, I want to affirm his fears and allow crying--it’s ok! Cry! Be vulnerable little man--the world needs vulnerable men.
BUT. ALSO...I want to help him not be afraid to walk through the world, especially because what he is scared of right now will NOT hurt him. I want him to know what is real and what isn’t. So I try to honor his fear and then explain that these creatures are pretend; they are friendly scarecrows; and that I am with him and he is safe.
I’m trying my best. But I also live with the nagging question: How do I help him pay attention to his fears in healthy ways when I’m not sure how to do it myself?
I’m afraid of a lot. Early and often.
Do not be afraid. Be not afraid. Do not fear.
However you slice it, this phrase is repeated over and over again in the Bible. And then over again. It’s everywhere. One of the predominant themes: do not be afraid, for God is with you.
Well, if I may be so bold, I would edit God and Jesus just a bit (am I allowed to do that??): Be afraid, human who has very real, valid fears, BUT do not let those fears drive your behaviors. Your relationships. Your willingness to take risks for the sake of love and life. Be afraid, but then learn how to release those fears so that hope is your driving force.
How do we sort out what fears are real and which ones we think are terrifying but are actually friendly scarecrows ok to pass? There are many things to fear, from the local to the global, from the small to the all-encompassing: everything from whether I’m feeding my kids enough vegetables or ruining their brains with the aforementioned screen time to the risk of nuclear war and environmental degradation.
So much is out of our control. What we can control: our thoughts (somewhat, let’s be real…). Our posture. Our groundedness and center. There’s not a lot I can do as an individual about nuclear weapons. But there is a ton I can do to help myself not live out of the fear that if I do or don’t do x, that I am somehow a less beloved child of God. That if I don’t fit a particular model of success (be it professionally, personally, financially) that I am not worthy of love. That’s the real fear right there, boys and girls (and one I pray to God my boy and girl don’t face): That if I fail at something I fail at being a human being, worthy of love. I know with all my head that I’m beloved. I would spend the rest of my life telling you how beloved you are, believing it without a doubt. But settling into that belief, for myself, whole-heartedly, is hard.
So what to do? Do not be afraid. Be not afraid. Do not fear.
I try to notice my fear: Name it. Claim it. Then release it--whatever that looks like. Turn that fear into constructive anger and action. Release that fear and act out of a sense of hope. Of justice. Of forgiveness. Of vulnerability. Of love.
And I try my best to remember what IS real: that I am a beloved child of God, no matter what.
-Rev. Kate Floyd