Walking through the woods can be creepy. All the quiet serenity of nature is just that – quiet. And you never know what might be out there, hiding among the trees. The slightest sound of a creaking tree or rustling squirrel can make your heart skip a beat!
Hiking in the dark is exponentially creepier. The quiet is that much quieter, the occasional creaks and rustles that much more alarming, and the creepy things don’t even need to hide behind a tree – they could be standing right next to you and you wouldn’t even know 😱.
On our family backpacking overnight (that’s camping where you carry all of your stuff in a backpack to a site along a trail) a few weeks ago, our grand plans to catch the sunset from our favorite cliff overlook and then set up camp at a nearby site were foiled due to the first-come-first-served rule. The next site was over a mile away and it was dark.
We had flashlights, of course, and were traveling on a well-marked path, but as a mom, all of my irrational fears and protective instincts were in overdrive. Every noise that wasn’t us, every break in the eerie silence, every breeze that rustled a leaf upped the anxiety and dwindled my hopes of ‘staying calm for the sake of the kids’!
The longer I’m a parent, the more I understand the importance of staying calm. Raising my voice, using threatening words, and expressing all.the.feels. has never helped and will never help. My reaction affects the escalation of a situation more than any other factor.
But the longer I’m a parent, the more I also understand the incredible difficulty of carrying this out. Even my most disciplined efforts to stay calm can’t withstand the third time today someone has left the milk out, the seventh time someone has whined about doing a chore, and the fifteenth time I’ve asked you to put the technology away!
I’m fully aware at this point that I can’t remain calm on my own and that my only hope is the Holy Spirit’s continued work in me. And the work He’s been doing most recently is revealing my fear of the dark and exactly how misplaced my faith is.
In Paul’s second letter to his younger protege, Timothy, he focused on preparing and encouraging Timothy to deal with false teachers in the church he (Timothy) was pastoring. Though he might be intimidated and fearful of confronting false teaching, Paul reminded him that God had not given him a spirit of “timidity,” but of “power” (1:7). And although in his youthful zeal he may be tempted to react hotly through arguments and debates, he should “flee the evil desires of youth” (2:22) and respond with love and self-control.
The root of both of these extremes, for Timothy, was fear – fear that he was not old enough, wise enough, or good enough to handle this darkness or fear that the church he was leading would end up divided and destroyed by it.
But in the middle of his letter, Paul encouraged Timothy with these words:
If we died with him, we will also live with him;
if we endure, we will also reign with him.
If we disown him, he will also disown us;
if we are faithless, he remains faithful,
for he cannot disown himself. (2:11-13)
Paul’s encouragement was that no amount of darkness – no dangerous predators, falling branches, or sinister figures lurking in the woods – could take the church down, because its real leader was God Himself, and He was and is nothing but faithful. Timothy could act and live out his role as pastor without fear. And with fear out of the way, every step he took as a leader could look more like power, love, and self-control.
Parenting feels like a hike in the dark over treacherous mountains in a menacing wilderness. Our strong reactions to the seemingly inconsequential “I’m tired” and “Are we almost there yet?” aren’t about those actual questions, but about the stress of the unknown that surrounds us.
We fear our children will get injured, sick, or suffer in some way. We fear they won’t take advantage of the opportunities placed in front of them to succeed and grow. We fear one bad choice will multiply, sending them down a path that leads away from Jesus. We fear they’ll never figure out how to “use their words” and have healthy relationships with their siblings. And we fear they’ll have lifelong brain-altering effects from all this screen time!
Reactionary parenting is always rooted in fear. Like Timothy, we fear that we’re not enough to handle this darkness or that if we don’t fight hard enough against it, we’ll fail our children.
But if Paul was writing to our families today, he would say the same thing he said to Timothy: God is faithful. We’ve trusted our children to Him and His plans for them cannot be altered by our failures or our successes. Fear can be set aside because for Him there is no unknown – what looks like a shadowy dark forest to us is a perfectly sunlit clearing to Him. There are no surprises and He is never alarmed!
With our faces oriented toward His view, we can walk forward in our role as parents, every step looking more like power, love, and self-control, because we’re trusting in Him and not ourselves.
“Jesus, I feel within me a great desire to please You but at the same time, I feel totally incapable of doing this without your special light and help, which I can expect only from You. Accomplish Your will within me – even in spite of me. Amen.” -Claude La Colombière (1641-1682)