I wonder what it is for you?
Is it when you hear about parents dropping their children from the windows of a burning tower block? Is it when you hear of an 8-year old dying in a terrorist attack at a music concert? Is it when you think about Brexit negotiations, expensive university tuition fees, a housing shortage and your inability to get on the housing ladder?
What is it that brings you fear as a parent?
The above examples are all current issues occupying the headlines and, to be frank, it is easy to feel overwhelmed, scared and saddened for the world that our children will grow up in.
No matter your personality type, your life experience, or the strength of your faith, as soon as you get that positive pregnancy test, fear creeps into your life. Because now you are not only concerned about your own needs but also for those of your children.
This is the fifth and final part in our “Parenting Mistakes to Avoid” series where we explore how the gospel is the answer to the mistakes that we often make as parents. This isn’t about the “Oops! We’ve given the baby too much salt” kind of mistakes. Rather it’s the mistake of forgetting the gospel in all the different ways we do: the deep-rooted-heart-issue-mistakes like feeling excessive guilt, feeling like our identity is bound up with that of our children, discontentment, competitiveness and others…
So today we are exploring mistake number 5: fearing the worst.
For us personally, we are fearful about the teenage years and our boy’s experience of secondary school. We hear radio documentaries about the bullying epidemic, or we watch TED talks about teenage mental health, or we learn that the only secondary school that we are keen on, has just this week, been put into “special measures” by Ofsted – and we fret. We’re afraid of the many damaging influences outside of the home and we start to feel fearful about their wellbeing and spiritual development. It may a decade away, but already we can be fearful at times.
Fear can lead us to react in all sorts of ways. Let’s explore some of them:
1. Disengage and retreat
The world can be a sad and scary place. Unfortunately this has always been the way ever since the Fall – when humanity turned it’s back on God. Ever since that moment when human beings decided to reject a relationship with their loving creator, the world has been broken and relationships fractured.
It can be tempting to think that we should just turn off the news, stop being aware of the suffering of huge swathes of humanity and get on with living our own little lives. As ordinary citizens we feel disenfranchised, and so we disengage and retreat. We withdraw ourselves and our children from the mess of other people’s lives and society. Rather than being a light on a hill we let our light be snuffed out by the overwhelming darkness. We become about self-preservation rather than self-sacrifice. So rather than exposing our children to the brokenness of the world in a safe environment, we wrap them up in cotton wool.
2. Anxiety and overprotection
Or perhaps we don’t disengage. We engage. We are aware. But this leads to anxiety and to being overprotective parents. It can be in the little things – we watch our child’s every move on the climbing frame, hovering over them and intervening in every dispute. Or perhaps we don’t let them go on that school trip because we’re afraid of them getting hurt. We are paranoid about them, we often glance at their smartphones, we don’t allow them to spend much time with peers, we watch the clock with nervousness and contemplate the worst possible scenario in our head.
But there is another way… It’s not easy – it’s not always simple. And at times we we will get it wrong and make the wrong judgement call.
We should aim to engage with the world we live in, inform our children about the brokenness in age-appropriate ways and crucially, offer gospel hope and action.
Because in the end… without the hope of the gospel, the darkness of fear and dread can engulf us. But we are not without the gospel!
So here’s the alternative: Gospel hope, leading to courage, prayer and action.
Do you know that we are told over 100 times in the Bible to “Fear not”, “Do not fear” and “be not afraid”? Why would this be the case? God knows our predisposition towards fear, but he knows that it need not be our reaction. We have a God who is loving and in control. Not a single atom in this universe can move even a fraction without his permission. What’s more, we’ve been told the outcome of all things ahead of time. We know the future before it will happen – the Bible tells us.
God will not allow the suffering, pain and sadness to last forever, he will bring an end to it, and remake the world in perfection. There will be a day when God will come back to judge the world, and on that day justice will be done, and those sheltered by the grace of Jesus Christ will live forever in the perfect New Creation.
Whether our fears are founded or not, whether we fret about hypothetical situations or real troubles, we can be sure of this, in the end, Jesus wins.
We may have some cause to be afraid in this world, but we can take comfort from Jesus, who before facing the most terrifying experience in this world – the cross and judgement of God – selflessly looked to the needs of his fearful disciples.
Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.”
You see, there was nothing more terrifying to the disciples then their leader, Jesus, being killed. What would they do without him? How long would it be before the religious authorities would come after them too? They had good reason to fear. And yet it was unnecessary. Why? Because Jesus would be victorious over death, and he promises eternal life for all who follow him.
Jesus doesn’t sugar coat what it’s like to live in this broken world, “In this world you will have trouble” but he does offer hope in the midst of it, “Take heart! I have overcome the world!” (John 16:33)
So where does that leave us?
There are many things that can cause both us and our children to fear. Some of them are justified and real threats. Some of them are just in our heads and imaginations (I’m thinking about our toddlers recent nightmares about “the scary owl!”). But whether true threats or imaginary, Christ is victorious over them all. We need not fear because we believe in the one who looked fear itself in the eye and overcame it.
This is the gospel. This is what gives us hope. And it is knowing this God which enables us lift our heads, to pray into the situations around us, and practically give, serve, act to bring light into dark places.
We as Christians should be the biggest activists for good. We should be the most generous. Most fearless. Most hopeful. Yes the world is a scary place, but anytime that we feel that dread creep into our hearts we need to look to Jesus – our hope and our refuge.
“In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world!”
(Jesus Christ, in John 16:33)
“How sweet the name of Jesus sounds, in a believer’s ear! It soothes his sorrows, heals his wounds, and drives away his fear.”
“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.”