Early this morning, I was just drifting off into the halcyon waters of deep sleep REM when my son woke me up to say he was scared.
I was non-plussed on a third consecutive night of one or another or both of my children waking me up to tell me of their fear. Mustering up compassion was not my first instinct.
“Go back to bed, Cam,” I said matter-of-factly, turning over groggily to stare at the time of 3:46 am on our alarm clock.
By the second time he came back, I had woken up enough to reconsider my first response: That wasn’t very compassionate of me.
This time when he told me he was scared, I asked him why.
“I had a dream about a giant foot that doesn’t belong to anyone; it’s a big foot, and it’s going around chasing people. It’s from ‘The Diary of a Wimpy Kid’ (one of the movies Dad and the kids had watched during Mom’s writing sabbatical).”
And I get it: there is something terrifying about a foot on the loose without an owner. I figured this wasn’t the time to pull out quotes from Scripture…the only one I can think of at the moment pertaining to feet is the “Blessed-are-the-feet-of-those-who-bring-good-news” one.
“That’s only pretend,” I said. “There’s no way a foot in real life could be on the loose without being on someone’s body. Just think up a more happy thought.”
“I try but the foot keeps coming back!”
“Then when the foot comes back, instead of worrying that the foot has come back, just breathe and say to yourself, ‘Let it go,’ and then let the thought of the foot go. Just pretend that the thought drifts right by you.”
“Okay, but what if that doesn’t work?”
“Try that first and see if it does work.”
(So far, so good…this at 6:31am.)
“Remember, Jesus is with you,” I said.
He went back to bed and I was left to imagine Jesus and my six-year-old duking it out with a giant foot on the loose.
But the episode has me thinking about how we face and overcome the things that make us afraid. Here are five tips that have helped me. Feel free to leave your suggestions in the comment section and I’ll republish them:
1. Identify your fear. What exactly are you afraid of? Public speaking? Intimacy with another? The loss of your job or financial security? Name your fear(s) so that it’s in the open.
2. Explore the source of your fear. Why are you afraid? Is it because of some past emotional wound or childhood experience? One of the best ways to discover what it is that makes us afraid of something in particular is to get in touch with our feelings or associations related to the thing that is causing us fear. So, for example, as a teenager and young adult, I was absolutely terrified of public speaking—so much so that I would do anything I could to avoid the experience. There had been a couple of times in my younger years when as an awkward, nerdy teenager, I had frozen in front of the class or my voice had wavered; and those experiences had traumatized me enough to render me paralyzed on future occasions. Whenever I got up in front of people, that little girl would be lurking somewhere in the recesses of my subconscious, telling me I was in her same shoes. With time and more experience, my grown-up self was able to tell that little girl that she didn’t have to be afraid anymore. Getting in touch with the source of our fear is an important step in learning to face and let go of our fears.
3. Prayerfully visualize a time when you did something that others would call brave. What did you do? Why was it brave? How did you feel doing it? Did you sense God’s help in those circumstances? If so, how? Chances are you felt alive. Really alive. When I am afraid, I remember a couple of times when I did something that others would call brave (either that or crazy). Paragliding in the Alps. Living in a refugee camp. These things terrified me, but they also introduced me to the thrill of really being alive. Every one of us has done something brave—I don’t care who you are or what your circumstances. Take note of that time or series of things and recall it as vividly as you can. The times when I was most afraid in many ways have also been some of the most memorable, rewarding times of my life.
4. Now prayerfully visualize Jesus “in the boat” with you calming “the wind and the seas.” In a fierce storm out on the seas, the disciples have to wake up a sleeping Jesus. Jesus doesn’t turn over and tell the disciples to go back to bed—although His response is telling: before he calms the winds and the seas, he actually says, “Why are you afraid, you of little faith?” (How’s that for compassion?) Whatever your circumstances, though, you can visualize Jesus right next to you. What is Jesus saying to you? If you’re not sure, ask Jesus to show you how He wants you to respond to your fear. You may have to “wake up” Jesus, but do it. Get His attention. Call on His name. Tell him you’re afraid and that you need his help. There is nothing to be ashamed about needing help from God. Being human means needing help from God. You may need to do this over and over again; but I’m convinced that Jesus will come to your aid (if not in quite the way you expect); and if the God of the universe is coming to your aid, what do you have to be afraid of? Seriously. (A paraphrase of that last part is in the Bible, too.)
5. Do the thing you’re most afraid of. I think somebody said this once, but I can’t remember who it was. Fear can be an outlet for making a serendipitous discovery about God’s untapped potential in you. The very thing that most terrifies you may turn out to be something you’re actually good at doing; or it may be an essential stepping stone in our development as human beings. One thing that scares me is the death of my parents (hopefully a reality I won’t have to deal with for some time still). My parents have been a formative and supportive influence, and selfishly, I’m terrified about having to go through the experience of seeing them age and die. But doing the thing I’m most afraid of will make me a stronger, deeper person with a stronger, deeper relationship with God—and the same can be true for you. When you do it, you’ll discover that the thing itself really wasn’t as scary as you had made it out to be; and you’ll feel proud that you did the thing that made you afraid. And, you’ll be able to say that you really lived.