What do you do when your child is afraid? Join AMBrewster as he unwraps numerous biblical passages to help Christian parents help their children understand and respond correctly to bad fear.
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Listen to the following episodes on Apple Podcasts by clicking the titles.
“Teach Your Children to Obey” series (starts in episode 138)
“Your Kids Need an Interpreter | helping your children navigate the world’s delusion” (episode 104)
“A Parent’s 5 Jobs, Part 3 | Interpreter” (episode 186)
“How Do You Become an Interpreting Parent?” (episode 231)
“Teach Your Children to Interpret their Movies Correctly” (episode 267)
“Emotions and Parenting” series (starts in episode 32)
“Why Do Your Children Feel What They Feel?” (episode 97)
“Parenting a Terrorist” (episode 37)
“Fearless Parenting” (episode 40)
“Peaceful Parenting” series (starts in episode 69)
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Last time we learned that there is — in fact — good fear, and as Ambassador Parents who want what’s best for our children, we need to be prepared to parent them into good fear. In fact, without good fear, bad fear will control our lives.
Of course, we also saw that good fear doesn’t look anything like what we normally consider when we think of fear.
I don’t know about you, but I picture someone who’s irrational in their thinking. I imagine screaming and hiding and shaking and wetting themselves. I think of people who are chained in their lifestyles because they can’t bring themselves to drive anywhere or drink milk.
Of course, there are light-weight versions of fear. There’s the polite decline when someone is invited onto a boat. There are the seemingly lighthearted comments like “I just can’t stand spiders,” which often translates into, when I see a spider I become an irrational nightmare. There’s the individual who was thrown from a horse who refuses to ever get back on because they have now become a stalwart mouthpiece sounding the siren call of equestrian safety.
And none of that is the kind of fear we want to see in us or our children.
And that’s the type of parenting we’re going to discuss today.
But first I want to thank Matt and Sonja for making today’s episode possible. I bumped into Sonja and her mother while in Memphis at the Association of Certified Biblical Counselor’s conference. They are always a joy to see.
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So, thank you Matt and Sonja for your faithful love and support!
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Okay, let’s talk about fearful children.
Two episodes ago we discussed the realities of fear. If you haven’t heard that episode or the last, you really need to listen to them or today’s episode will likely not benefit you.
But — by way of review — biblically speaking, fear is an emotional ornament tied to the branch of believing-something-is-dangerous which grows from the root of mistrust.
Good fear is a trust that the things God says are dangerous are always dangerous. Therefore, we fear sin and its consequences. Of course, we also fear God.
Now, again, please make sure you’re thinking correctly. No one at TLP is advocating for a religion based off of terror. The followers of false gods needs to scare people into obeying their false god because they have no relationship with their followers and they have no real power.
But God doesn’t need fear to persuade. Though we are to fear the Lord, the Bible says that “God is love,” not fear. However, if we love Him, and if we have half a brain in our heads, we acknowledge that God is to be feared and have no problem doing so.
And that fear has two dynamics. There’s a reverential awe for His grandeur and majesty and a sanctified dread of displeasing He Who is so powerful and amazing.
And if you think that’s just a “despicable” way to describe God, you’re being a hypocrite. It’s the same type of relationship you want with your kids. You don’t want them obeying you because they’re afraid of you. But you do want the to respect you. You do want them to desire to please you because they love you. You do want them to wisely dislike the consequences that come upon them for disobedience. And you do want them to love you so much they would be afraid to hurt you.
That’s what we’re describing when we talk about the fear of the Lord. That’s an appropriate way to define fear because it’s a simple belief (and accompanying emotion) based off the fact that it’s dangerous for us to sin. It’s dangerous for us to sin against others. And one of the reasons it’s dangerous is that it displeases God, and we should love Him too much to want to do that.
So, all of that is good fear.
Then what’s bad fear?
Bad fear would be believing something to be dangerous that is not dangerous. There are various degrees of this, so let’s work through them now.
1. It’s foolish to believe there is danger where there is none.
The shadow of a stuffed animal and the imagined contents of that creepy corner of the basement possess no real danger . . . at least not the kind of danger imagined by a three year old.
We would say fearing that which is not fearful is foolish. And that’s what this category is: it’s foolishness versus wisdom.
And there are two sides to this foolishness: we can imagine there is danger where there is none, or we can imagine there is no safety where there actually is.
How do you parent a child in this situation?
Well, wisdom is the application of knowledge and understanding. Therefore, in order to parent toward wisdom, we must start with teaching. And this teaching must not merely be impartation of Truth, it must also guide toward understanding and then help the child apply that Truth wisely.
This one is probably the easiest to parent. When something is verifiably true, it’s not super hard to help the child see the facts.
Consider Proverbs 3:21-26, “My son, do not lose sight of these-- keep sound wisdom and discretion, 22 and they will be life for your soul and adornment for your neck. 23 Then you will walk on your way securely, and your foot will not stumble. 24 If you lie down, you will not be afraid; when you lie down, your sleep will be sweet. 25 Do not be afraid of sudden terror or of the ruin of the wicked, when it comes, 26 for the Lord will be your confidence and will keep your foot from being caught.”
When our children take what they know about the situation and what they know about God, understand it, and believe it, they will not fear.
Now, there’s a lot more to be said about this. For example: what do we do when the child won’t trust us when we say there is no danger?
But I think those questions will be answered as we move to our next points.
2. It’s always sinful to lose our Spirit-control.
Ephesians 5:15-21, “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. 17 Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.18 And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, 19 addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, 20 giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, 21 submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.”
As we parent our children to be wise, we will parent them in self-control.
Bad fear is sinful because any time a person loses control, they are not functioning in a Christ-honoring way. It doesn’t matter if the child is overreacting when there is no real danger or if they’re overreacting when there is a real danger.
Both responses are wrong, but the second one is actually worse.
Let me give you perfect example. I keep bees. I absolutely love it, and I’ve been doing it for almost a decade. When I tend the bees, I don’t use any smoke or special garments. I go out there wearing whatever I happen to be wearing. I don’t put on gloves or netting over my head.
Now, when the bees are all flying through the air, acting the way God created bees to act, they will fly all around you and even land on you.
When they feel a little threatened, they may bump into you or buzz around aggressively.
They really only sting when they have decided that you are a legitimate threat to them or their colony.
Here’s the thing . . . . freaking out and swinging your arms wildly is only going to get you stung. Squishing a bee who is not stinging you is the last thing you want to do because it can enrage the other bees who may or may not have previously been upset.
I know what I’m talking about. I can say with all honesty, I’m a professional with this.
If a bee has gotten annoyed by something I’ve done, the single best thing I can do is stand still and drain myself of all emotion. I don’t run, swat, scream, or really do anything. I pretend to be an inanimate object. And the bee loses interest and goes back to what she was doing.
I really only ever get stung a couple times a year. There was actually a three-year stretch where I didn’t get stung even once.
But the moment I take my students out to see the bees, it’s amazing how many of them . . . standing nowhere near the hive, either get stung or get close to being stung.
The flinch and run and swat at anything near them. So, this bee on her way out to get honey, get’s smacked by this person totally freaking out for no good reason, and that ticks her off, so she gets some of her friends to teach this guy a lesson.
How did any of that help the situation?
I’ve also have well-balanced, obedient, and calm students in the middle a plague-like swarm of bees without a single issue all because they had self-control.
Now, please understand, this is not some kind of pull-yourself-up-by-the-bootstraps kind of self-control. What we’re really talking about is submission to God, His Truth, and His will that allows the Holy Spirit to guide and empower everything we do.
Please hear me as I say this next sentence with all the love, compassion, care, and humility I can muster.
If you lose control, start screaming, and basically freak out over a perfectly harmless spider, you’re not only displeasing God, you’re also teaching your children to live foolishly by substituting Truth for irrationality.
A wise person understands the will of the Lord, is filled with the Spirit, and look what pours out of such a person: they address “one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with [their hearts], 20 giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, 21 submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.”
That is the response of a Spirit-controlled follower of Christ.
The previous category of fear was foolishness versus wisdom. This category is loss of control versus self-control.
In situations like this, we must parent in knowledge for understanding. But we also must tie in the very real fact that the Holy Spirit desires to sanctify the people of God. He’s the One Who empowers us to do what is seemingly impossible in our own flesh . . . like dealing with a spider.
Now if you’ve been with TLP for any length of time — and you really should consider getting caught up on the past episodes. They are evergreen and eternally relevant — you will recognize that this sounds an awful lot like our “Teach Your Children to Obey” series.
True obedience is doing the right thing (knowledge) in the right way (understanding) for the right reasons in the right power (Spirit control).
So, when your child starts uncontrollably crying, hyperventilating, screaming, and uncontrollably shaking, here’s what you need to understand.
Your child is believing something that is untrue. They need to be shown reality. And they need to choose to believe reality.
And here are some general guidelines for approaching such situations.
As they flex this spiritual muscle and — assuming they’re born again — rely on the empowerment of the Holy Spirit, they will find that fear is not the temptation it once was and the occurrences of a complete loss of control will disappear.
3. It’s a sin to trust the danger more than you trust God.
We could say, “It’s a sin to believe in the danger more than you believe in God.”
Consider Peter on the sea of Galilee. In Matthew 14:22-33 we read, “Immediately [Jesus] made the disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. 23 And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, 24 but the boat by this time was a long way from the land, beaten by the waves, for the wind was against them. 25 And in the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. 26 But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, “It is a ghost!” and they cried out in fear.”
So, these rugged fisherman are overreacting. What does Jesus do? He requires them to respond to reality: “27 But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, ‘Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.’ 28 And Peter answered him, 'Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.’ 29 He said, ‘Come.’ So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. 30 But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, ‘Lord, save me.’ 31 Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, ‘O you of little faith, why did you doubt?’ 32 And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. 33 And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, Truly you are the Son of God.’”
We’ve looked at foolishness versus wisdom and loss of control versus Spirit-control. This is irrationality versus discernment.
Jesus was left way far behind on land. He appears to them in the middle of the lake . . . walking on the water. And Jesus extends Peter the ability to walk on the water.
But then all of this Truth gets tossed out the window because of the same wind and waves that were there before Jesus walked up.
Now, granted, this was a harrowing challenge. It’s completely outside of my realm of experience. But we can see the irrationality of Peter’s response. Everything about this situation — in fact, the same Truth that caused him to get out of the boat in the first place — should have instilled in him all the confidence in the world. But he allowed himself to have an irrational thought instead of using discernment to realize he was in the safest place in the world at that moment . . . and it’s when he stopped rationally trusting God that he fell into danger.
“Well, Aaron, you’re being a little hard on Peter.”
No, I’m not. Jesus is. The only logical, discerning conclusion to which a spiritually-minded person could come in that situation was what Jesus said: “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” like it was the most obvious thing in the world.
I know that when we’re afraid, our emotions have convinced us that all is lost, but our emotions are lying to us. The only thing that can truly overpower deceitful emotions is a Christ-acknowledging mind.
Too often we try to assuage our children’s negative emotions with positive emotions. But emotions are capricious and fleeting regardless of whether they are happy or sad. We need to give our children substance. The Truth of God is a shield and strength. It can overcome anything. It can definitely overcome ours and our children’s fear.
So, when it comes to irrationality versus discernment, it’s a problem of interpretation: your child is viewing the circumstances and believing that the danger of the issue is greater than the security of God. They’re obviously coming to the wrong conclusion.
We teach a lot about the importance of helping our kids interpret life correctly. I’ll include some of those links below.
This kind of fear is prevalent. Yes, it’s dangerous to be a missionary in a foreign field. Yes, it’s dangerous to tell the bully, “No.” Yes, it’s dangerous to drive a car. It’s dangerous to mow the lawn. But, are we to shut down and refuse to do those things because of the inherent danger?
No, we are to trust the Lord and obey Him. Obeying Him will involve getting the right training and understanding and putting all of that into practice through the power of the Holy Spirit.
And, let’s be honest, this is not a heretical call to a health and wealth prosperity gospel. When Jesus and Paul and Peter were exactly where God wanted them, they all died. But is that a reason to be afraid?
We defined fear as the emotion you experience when you believe something to be dangerous. But, listen, it may be dangerous to be a missionary to the United Arab Emirates, but if that’s where God wants you, it would be significantly more dangerous to stay home. Our fear of disobeying God will always diminish our fear of everything else.
In Matthew 10:26-33 Jesus said, “So have no fear of them . . . And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. 29 Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. 30 But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. 31 Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. 32 So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, 33 but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.”
Denying God before man is the result of unbelief that damns to Hell. That is far more dangerous than losing your head for the sake of the Gospel.
It’s completely biblical to say that it’s irrational to be afraid when God has promised to protect you.
Now there will be some people who say, “Aaron, with an attitude like that, people will just step in front of busses thinking that God will protect them.”
No . . . they . . . won’t.
Security comes from following Christ. That involves knowing Him and understanding Him and using wisdom and discernment to live like Him in this life. If Jesus — Who had the divine promise that the angels would not let Him dash His foot against a rock — would not jump off the temple when tempted by Satan, He definitely wouldn’t step in front of a bus to test the promises of the Father.
Fearlessness does not equate to recklessness. It’s equates to wisdom and Christ-likeness and holiness.
Irrational fear is a sin. It denies Truth by ignoring the promises of God.
The best way to parent our children through such difficulties is to guide them back to God’s promises. Psalm 34:4 says, “I sought the Lord, and he answered me and delivered me from all my fears.”
The phrase “fear not” is used 34 times in the ESV. “Do not fear” is used an additional 37 times.
Isaiah 41:10 says, “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”
I Peter 5:6-7, “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, 7 casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.”
I could go on and on and on.
But we must consider our last point.
1. It’s foolish to believe there is danger where there is none.
2. It’s always sinful to lose our Spirit-control.
3. It’s a sin to trust the danger more than you trust God.
4. It’s a sin to say that something is dangerous when God says it’s not.
My friend, it’s foolish to define danger differently than God does.
This is a question of worship. It’s idolatry versus the worship of God.
God says that we should not be afraid. Even if the situation or individual involves genuine danger, it will never be more dangerous than disobeying God.
And since it’s sinful to contradict God, believing that it’s okay to be worried or anxious or afraid when God says it’s not is — in itself — the most dangerous thing you or your child could do. That’s what you need to avoid. That’s what should scare you.
It’s sinful to trust yourself more than you trust God. Your perception of the situation should never trump God’s. That’s not discerning. That’s irrational. That’s not Spirit-controlled, that’s ridiculous. That’s not wise. It’s foolish.
This is why the biblical answer for fear is always faith in God.
Mark 4:39-40, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”
I Peter 5:7, “Casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.”
Philippians 4:6-7, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
Matthew 6:25-34, “I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? 28 And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 31 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. 34 “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”
I could go on and on and on because God goes on and on on this subject.
The world would have us believe that fear is inevitable and inescapable. That is patently not true.
Is it possible that something like an outbreak of candida may cause us to feel an adrenaline rush akin to anxiety? Yes. Should you seek medical attention if you have unexplainable bouts of glutamate that forces too much cortisol and adrenalin into your system. Yes. But there should be no reason to fear. There need not be any foolishness, lack of self-control, irrationality, or lack of faith in God just because your body is producing a chemical reaction that resembles fear.
The Truth about God hasn’t changed.
Isaiah 26:3, “You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.”
Now, I don’t want to be accused of oversimplifying the situation. I have been afraid of many things. I have also been a counselor for over a decade, and I’ve always worked very closely with medical professionals because I would not be considered one myself.
And I have never . . . listen closely . . . never had a counselee who experienced anxiety for solely physical reasons.
In fact, I can say that the root of all of my counselee’s fear was a lack of knowledge, understanding, and trust concerning God and His promises.
And that shouldn’t surprise any one of us because . . . that’s . . . what . . . the . . . Bible . . . says.
And the times a counselee had a medical issue that created similar feelings to foolish, uncontrolled, irrational, unbelieving fear, they learned to calm their spirit in the throws of bodily discomfort.
With careful attention to their physical health and wellness, those occurrences decreased, but when they happened they didn’t automatically demand a loss of spiritual peace.
God says “fear not” for two reasons.
No Christian needs to live in fear of anything other than his great God. And that reverential fear of God and the consequences of sin overshadows all the others fears of this life.
What is a Science test in light of God? What is a scary sound when you know the Creator of the universe? What is cancer in the face of the Great Physician? What are financial stresses to the Owner of all resources? What is the safety and care of our children to the comforting control of the Lord?
I don’t care if you’re a mother. You don’t get to worry. It doesn’t matter how huge the weight; fear is not an option.
We can train our children to overcome bad fear. Allow me to finish with a checklist:
Thank you for your patience today. Be sure to check out the description of this episode for more shows concerning emotions, fear, and peace.
And I’ll see you next time when we discuss “The Point of (nearly) Every Conversation.”
I’ll see you then.
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