I’ve been thinking about this topic for a while, and for most of the last few months it’s had some relevancy, but never until just the last couple of weeks. When some mom friends mentioned a couple of weeks ago that their children were afraid their sniffles meant they’d contracted the Coronavirus, that’s when I realized we all need a refresher course in mothering through faith and not fear. (1)
Since then, uncertainty has multiplied with each new case of the virus and every announcement of a closing or cancellation. My dry erase calendar is nearly wiped clean. I just made that hair appointment, but should I now cancel if it’s just the two of us in the salon? And then the state requested the closure of all non-essential businesses. Now my unruly hair is not the casualty but my friend’s livelihood.
Most of the rest of the dates erased involved friends dearly beloved whose weakened immune systems would be at risk if they ventured out for our ladies’ group read-through of Romans. We are all navigating uncharted waters as we try to temper panic despite the fear-inducing events happening around us. Who would have thought just a week ago that today we’d be sleeping in different bedrooms because an in-the-moment decision was made to move my 94-year-old mom out of the crush of the DC area to our more remote abode?
Are we past that discussion about mothering in faith not fear? Have we crossed too far into the realm of anxiety and chaos to be discussing how to enjoy God’s peace in this time, how to rest calmly in his care, how to love our neighbors? Is it too uncertain to teach our kids to do the same?
I’ve always thought of myself as a Pollyanna. I don’t know if you’re familiar with Pollyanna. She was a character in a book from 1913 that was made into a Disney live action movie in 1960 with Hayley Mills cast as Pollyanna. “Young orphan Pollyanna believes life’s most difficult problems can always be surmounted by a positive attitude and pragmatism. But when she moves in with her dour aunt, she is introduced to a range of disheartened folks who challenge her upbeat outlook. Not to be discouraged, she sets to work spreading hope and good cheer.” (Disney)
The dictionary defines a Pollyanna as an excessively cheerful or optimistic person. I may not be excessively cheerful, but the optimistic part has been the modus operandi for me whenever there are reasons to worry or be fearful. Doug’s health, financial concerns, uncertainty about my children’s futures. And then there are all the things the world is telling us to be fearful about:
- Top of the list: the coronavirus
- Our nation’s future—economically, politically, environmentally—what sort of world are we leaving to our children?
- Accidents and dangers from every day life—due to manufacturers’ neglect, a neighbor’s liability, unsafe food sources or products
- “Acts of God”—a natural hazard outside human control, such as an earthquake or tsunami, for which no person can be held responsible (legal and insurance use)
- Threats to our loved ones—trafficking, bullying, porn
Terror or fear is a state of the mind usually induced by some external circumstances. I am focusing only on the natural response of fear, not anxiety as a medical disorder. Not that the Bible cannot provide an answer to anxiety—it’s not an either/or situation—but a medical condition requires professional consultation and intervention.
I am not a professional in any of these areas—neither food production, law, manufacturing, healthcare, child development, etc. There are plenty of good sources popping up online about any of these (as well as sites full of false information, so caveat emptor). If you have any to suggest, please let us all know in the comments.
But I do want to talk about fear, the biblical Christian, and how we can help our kids navigate this road with trust instead of trepidation.
There were many Bible figures who exemplified moments of fear. Adam and Eve hid from God, fearful in their new condition of sin. Abraham lied about Sarah being his wife because he was in fear for his life. When Joshua and Caleb were sent along with others to spy out the land of Canaan and the people who lived there, the report they brought back caused the Israelites to fear. Despite Caleb’s insistance that the victory was promised by God and he would bring it about, they rebeled against God’s command to take the land. Nicodemus came to Jesus in the dark for fear of being seen with the man his colleagues were trying to destroy.
Fear, Vulnerability and Control
Fear makes us aware of our vulnerability. It causes us to equivocate and deceive to cover up the thing that worries us. It instigates disunity, discord and rebellion. It’s a megaphone that we want the good and safe and sure parts of life but not the parts we’re not sure we can control.
You knew I’d get back to that variable of control, didn’t you? That thing we moms keep grasping for but always seems just out of our reach? All the methods we’ve talked about before, the efforts to maintain control on our lives just to be good enough, successful, acceptable, we put them into hyperdrive when we’re worried or fearful or afraid.
Fear always comes when least desired. Either life is moving along smoothly, kids are compliant, the household is running like a well-oiled machine—you know, all the appliances are working, the marriage is comfortable, the social media persona is racking up the “likes” and BOOM, fear enters in the company of a test result, a news report, a phone call. It such an inconvenience to have your rare peaceful day ruined—OR, it’s when none of those things are happening, PLUS the car has been making a noise, the kids have projects due that they just told you about, you forgot to call your mom on her birthday, and BOOM, fear enters in the company of a test result, a news report, a phone call. You don’t need this right now. Certainly, under the circumstances you should be given a pass on the bad news fairy.
Some of us cope by making lists of what to do in the worst-case scenario. We bury ourselves in research and follow up on our discoveries with changes in where we shop, how we cook, what products we use, etc. Lists and rules and preventatives will save us, and we tend to think this not because they actually will but because just doing something measurable seems more productive than just doing something immeasurable, something that doesn’t have results that can be seen or quantified, something like trusting God.
It’s easier to maintain the status quo of idolatry, the idol of being in control, than it is to trust God.
Rather than getting control of all that fear, are you sure fear hasn’t gotten control of you?
When we fail to trust God, we doubt his sovereignty and question his goodness. We are commanded not to be anxious in Matt 6:25-34. I know you know which passage I’m talking about, but let’s go ahead and read it:
“Therefore 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? 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? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 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? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.
“Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” (ESV)
Prophets and Pilgrims aren’t immune from fear and doubt.
In 1 Kings chapters 16-19, we read of the prophet Elijah’s confrontation with Ahab, the wicked king of Israel , who was “more [evil] than all who were before him”. Elijah spends some time being ministered to by ravens and drinking from the brook Cherith where the Lord sent him to hide while Ahab searched for him to kill him. There he discovered the trustworthiness of God’s promises and that he had a responsibility to declare the faithfulness of a promise-keeping and providence-dispensing God.
I remember thinking of this passage when recently reading through Pilgrim’s Progress at the point in the journey when the pilgrims Christian and Hopeful were wasting away in the dungeon of Doubting Castle. Christian’s disobedience had landed them there when he neglected the warning to stay on the good and reliable Way of the King and not wander to the right or to the left. The Way passed through lands belonging to Giant Despair, who loved to capture pilgrims and make them useless in service to the True and Good King. Despair and Doubt were his weapons, and by beating the pair with these bludgeons, this wicked servant of the Prince of this World succeeded in clouding Christian’s mind with dark thunderstorms of hopelessness, resignation, and defeat.
But Hopeful (gotta love that Hopeful) would not give in, clinging to the Promises of the One who said His “eyes keep watch on the evil and the good” (Proverbs 15:3). He encouraged Christian about the unfailing goodness of their King. After a night of terrors, Christian is led to recall that the Key to Escape from Doubt and Despair had been with him all along. As long as he had the faithful promises of the Son of the King in his possession, he did not have to succumb to the humiliation and darkness.
For many years, I wrongly connected the key in Christian’s pocket to promises that the Lord would get me out of trouble. But that’s not what the beautiful consolation of this scene is about. There is no promise to be kept free of trouble in this life. The key here is the same one Elijah relied upon when he found himself watching the Brook Cherith dry up and felt the armies of Ahab breathing down his neck: not escape from the visible troubles, but confidence in a God who keeps His promises. What made Elijah one of the “good” guys spoken of in Proverbs 15 is not that he was one of those saved from trouble, but he was one of those the Lord saved through faith–-belief that God would do as He said. The Lord told Elijah, “Arise, go . . . I have commanded.” When Elijah arose and went, he saw what the Lord had arranged. I like to think he patted that little Key in his pocket.
The promises of the Lord are the key to navigating fear and doubt.
“He has given us His very great and precious promises!” 2 Peter 1:4
“God’s will is always good. . . . It is rational and reasonable, but the circumstances we find ourselves in in which we must trust God often appear to be irrational and unreasonable. . . .
It frequently doesn’t appear that God is in control of our lives. . . . It is difficult to see God working through secondary causes and frail, sinful human beings. But it is the ability of God to so arrange diverse human action to fulfill his purpose that makes his sovereignty marvelous and yet mysterious.” ~ Jerry Bridges (2)
God is sovereign over everything. Over people, nations and nature. I need to remember to ask myself some questions when any one of these seems to be too big of a circumstance for God to control:
- Can I trust God to intervene in the heart of another person so that God’s purpose for me is fulfilled?
- Can I trust God to turn the hearts of presidents and legislators and Supreme Court justices so that God’s plan for our nation and our world is realized? Prov 21:30 says, “No wisdom, no understanding, no counsel can avail against the LORD.” (ESV)
- Can I trust God to rule over nature in such a way that not an eyelash shall be disturbed by a breeze, not a drop of rain shall dampen my hair, not a microscopic drop of any virus will invade my airspace if he hasn’t determined an outcome that glorifies his character and delivers me in the end?
“What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31 ESV)
I can trust God in all of those situations because he has said that I can. His word is absolutely sure. He is trustworthy. He cannot lie. But our eyes can. What appears to be reality can cloud the view of God’s promises.
In Matthew 14, when the disciples were out on the water and their boat was being beaten by waves and wind, Jesus came to them on the water. They were frightened, but he assured them it was he. Peter said, “Lord if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” So Jesus commanded him, saying, “Come.” And based on the trustworthiness of Jesus’s word, Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. But what happened? When his eyes saw the irrational circumstances—the wind and the waves—Peter became afraid, and he began to sink. (Matthew 14:22-33)
Seeds are sown in troubles that nurture a heart after God.
As a Pollyanna, I realized my folly. I haven’t been asked to walk on water, but I am being asked to believe in the trustworthiness of Jesus’s word. By doubting, not believing him, and falling back on my own, self-defined ability to trust and cope with fearful circumstances, I was guilty of idolatry.
In this I harmed my own spiritual walk as well as my witness to my kids.
- I prevented myself from sympathizing with those who experienced fear and worry. I lacked compassion or patience and prided myself on not being such a worrier. And so I didn’t model for my children how to be kind and how to bear one another’s burdens. As we face the unknown of the coronavirus epidemic, it will be essential for the church to show a heavenly kind of courage as we go toward the danger to relieve the burden of the sick.
- In my effort to remain stoic in the face of fearful circumstances, by pretending things weren’t as bad as they seemed (instead of trusting the Lord’s outcome), I minimized the little “deliverances” the Lord provided along the way—beauty, flowers, music, a smile, a laugh, an act of kindness—those things for which I could be thankful every single day.
- I didn’t ponder how the events that cause fear may be God’s providential and merciful act to shake me out of sin and warn me against hardening my heart to his will. He may be giving me an opportunity to repent.
- I was unable to help my children (and others) deconstruct their fears and build a foundation of faith.
I robbed God of an opportunity to demonstrate to me in a personal, intimate, vulnerable way the intersection of his omnipotent sovereignty and his providential care of me. God’s wisdom is greater than anything my adversary may have. In 2 Samuel 24:14, David acknowledges God’s mercy is greater as well, “Then David said to Gad, ‘I am in great distress. Let us fall into the hand of the LORD, for his mercy is great; but let me not fall into the hand of man.’” (ESV)
Earlier, David, the newly anointed king, hid when Saul was seeking to kill him. Saul was more powerful—as still reigning king, he had an army at his disposal and the authority to strike his enemy. David hid for months in a cave, wondering when God’s prophecy of his kingship would be fulfilled.
But this scheme of Saul’s to hunt down and destroy God’s anointed provided the very circumstances the Lord used to develop David’s character, those qualities David needed to develop in preparation for being king, and to multiply David’s gifts as a psalmist. In that cave were the seeds sown that made David a man after God’s own heart.
Similarly Job’s faith was strengthened despite all the terrors that Satan unleashed on him. Paul was effective as a humble servant of the early church because God afflicted him with a thorn in his flesh. Instead of worrying, Paul wrote multiple epistles to believers throughout the empire, including this in his second letter to the Corinthians:
“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10 ESV)
How many have found God’s grace to be sufficient during times of great fear and trials because of God’s words to Paul during the time of his affliction?
Did you ever think that this world is designed to be scary and unsettling and nerve-wracking? Our hearts are idol-making factories, and usually our favorite idol is ourselves. We love to think we’re in control, but the Designer of this creature is recrafting our hearts to be attuned to his goodness, mercy, and righteousness. And our kids’ hearts as well.
There are good things to fear. It is good to fear for our children’s souls rather than their embarrassing behavior. It’s good to fear that they would neglect the graces that the Lord has provided for them to know him better, such as the Word, and prayer, and worship. It’s important for our children to hear us cry out to God over these fears, and to witness how we trust him alone for mercy and rescue. They will benefit eternally from seeing us look to the cross and away from ourselves.
They would benefit from knowing that we pray for them to experience trials and difficulties, inconveniences and hurt feelings, that they would be refined by the Holy Spirit, sanctified for good works, and assured of their salvation.
We can model and encourage a posture of . . .
Remembering that God is working all the time for my good, and specifically remembering the times that he has made that measurable. We all know what Romans 8:28 says:
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.
But do we realize how that fits with 1 Thessalonians 5:18, which says, “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” The all things of Romans is the same word as the all circumstances of 1 Thessalonians. God gives all things, for good, for the called, who have a purpose, and for which we are to be thankful and for which we can worship him.
If we have been redeemed from enslavement to sin and delivered from eternal punishment, the one who has made us a recipient of his grace deserves our bowed knee. 1 Peter 5:6–7 says, “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.” (ESV)
“Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:31–32 ESV)
We can pray for deliverance. The Lord will help us in our fear. Not to remove the circumstance, but to restore, reinforce, rejuvenate our trust and faith in his goodness, power, and wisdom. Just ask. Psalm 56:3-4 says: “When I am afraid, I put my trust in you. In God, in whose word I praise, in God I trust; I shall not be afraid. What can flesh do to me?”
We should be jealous that God alone receives the glory. No fear, nor attempt to control fear on our own, nor efforts to disregard the purposes the Lord has for all his sovereign acts will succeed in stripping glory from God. As Isaiah prophesies: “I am the LORD; that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to carved idols.” (Isaiah 42:8 ESV)
Habits of Trustfulness
Talk with your kids about their fears and bring them along with you through this new journey in spiritual habits such as these. And it goes without saying that cutting back on the news and social media would make any household less stressful or fearful.
Let me close with this passage from the opening of 2 Corinthians:
For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again. You also must help us by prayer, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many. (2 Corinthians 1:8–11 ESV)
There are different kinds of fears, and maybe you were hoping for a more forensic approach to fear and response. Moms, if you are a child of God, whether your fears are from societal pressures, like acceptance or achievement, or fears from daily circumstances, like foods or household accidents or the stress of a chaotic day, or fears from major events, such as a plane crash, or a terrorist attack, or an epidemic, ask the Lord to calm your heart and increase your trust in him. All these fears can be met with the promise, “The Lord is in control of today. He has delivered me. He will deliver me again.” Teach your kids what this means, walk with them through their fears.
It’s not a magic formula; there is no “get out of trouble free” card. God stands on the authority of His own character and His own word. He does answer, always in ways that are for your good and his glory, and he will help you be content and obedient with his answer.
- This is an edited transcript of a talk delivered at the Three Rivers Grace MomsConnect group, March 10, 2020.
- This list (and much of this post) inspired by Jerry Bridges’ Trusting God.