Clara Anne, my sensitive, perceptive, imaginative, and lovely almost seven year old, has been battling fear recently. We have been having a hard time putting her to bed at night, because she keeps on saying that she is scared. She has been getting out of her bed and coming to ask us to pray for her, sometimes two or three times before she will fall asleep. Sometimes she is crying already just a moment or two after we've left the room.
As we've talked with her, we've tried to find the reason for her fears. Her answers have varied: she doesn't like sleeping in the basement (it's too dark, she says, though we have a night light for them in the bathroom), she feels lonely being on a different floor from Mommy and Daddy, she feels alone in her bed (despite the fact that she is sharing with her sister), generally it's been things like this. One night we had a rather longer discussion where she tried to give me her theological reasons for being scared. It went something like this: "Mommy, when it's morning I feel gayful (yes, her word :) and joyful because it is light and sunny, but at night I feel so small, just like a little girl, and like maybe God isn't with me anymore." When I asked, "Clara, why do you feel God isn't with you? He promised to always be with you!", she said, "But Mommy, before there was anything, it was all dark. God wasn't there when it was totally dark before the world was created."
I quickly corrected this theological error (No, Clara Anne, God WAS there, He just had not created anything yet! He was there in the darkness too, forever.) but she seemed unconvinced. Clara Anne was feeling the fear that we can all feel sometimes, especially the fear of not being able to change how we feel about something. In her mind, if she feels scared, she's scared, and there's nothing she can do about it.
I can relate, as I've been fighting my own fears lately about my dad and his condition--Alzheimer's disease that seems to be progressing quickly. There are so many unknowns as we look at the future, and there are certainly lots of things to worry about. Fear is threatening to choke me, to steal my joy, and to reach its tentacles into every moment. What will happen to Dad? When will he need more help than my mom can give? How will he get that help? How expensive will that be? Do I need to be with them or do I stay here and try to support from a distance? What if something happens to Mom in the meantime? Can they stay in their house? The questions just go on and on...it can be so easy to fear.
But, we've been giving Clara Anne some very specific advice to face her fears, advice that we are reminding ourselves of as well! One: she HAS to fight against fear. She cannot allow her mind to get fearful and scared and then just give in to it, crying and making things worse. We have repeatedly encouraged her to fight back with Scripture. We are always memorizing Bible verses, so she can have a review each night as she seeks to put her mind on things above and not give in to fear.
A second strategy for fighting fear is to be thankful. When we are actively using our minds to thank God for what He has done, it gets us thinking the right way again. Thankfulness and fear cannot coexist! It's always a good exercise for me to force myself to list the things I am thankful for--I have to remind myself of God's goodness and faithfulness by being thankful, and this just chases the fear away. We've told Clara Anne: "If you start to feel afraid, say 'NO!' to that fear and start to think of everything you're thankful for! Make a list in your mind and praise God for your blessings!"
And, finally, spending time in the Word is really key as we face our fears. We now are allowing Clara Anne to have a reading light on for 10 minutes after we turn out the light and she reads her Bible for that time. She loves this and since we started allowing the light and Bible reading, she is sleeping much better. She hasn't been up at all during the night this week and we are thankful that she is going to bed without quite so much drama.
Fighting against fear is so key for us as Christians. Our lives can sometimes seem to be spinning out of control, but in reality the Lord holds all things in His powerful hands. The "what-ifs" and unknowns can be daunting, but I am so thankful that He is in control of past, present, and future, and He can be trusted. I do not need to fear, my Savior will give me all that I need, for my good and His glory. I hope Clara Anne is learning some valuable lessons as she fights her fears as well. I'm thankful that she is sleeping better and hopeful that she is putting down a marker in her own life: Don't fear! Trust God! He is trustworthy.