During the summer of 1989, most evenings I came home from work, ate supper with my family, and then sat in a lawn chair in the front yard of our home to read the newspaper. We lived in a quiet, residential neighborhood in Peoria where there wasn’t much traffic.
Each evening while I read the paper, my 8-year-old son, Harry, rode his bike on the street in front of our house. There were no sidewalks, so he had to actually ride on the street. He was only allowed to ride his bike on the street when either Georgette or I was in the front yard keeping an eye on him.
One of my rules for Harry was that as soon as he saw a car coming down the street from either direction he was required to immediately pull over to the side of the road, lift his bike over the curb, and then stand with his bike on the grass until the car passed him.
One evening while he was riding, I looked up from the newspaper to check on him. At that time, he was about a block away, riding toward me. I noticed a car coming around the corner and moving toward him. Instead of pulling off to the side of the road, Harry switched from a sitting position to a standing position on his bike and started peddling faster. He was heading right toward the car.
I jumped up and yelled, “Harry, STOP!” He immediately did what I told him to do. After the car passed him, I yelled, “Get over here right now!” He started slowly riding toward me. When he was about 20 feet away from me he said, “Dad, I could’ve beat that car.” Although that was the wrong thing for him to say to me at that time, his statement revealed what was going through his mind while he was racing toward the car.
I forcefully reminded him that he was no match for a 2,000-pound machine that was moving toward him at 35 or 40 miles per hour. I tried not to be too hard on him, because I understood that his fearless behavior was the result of his lack of maturity and experience, but I did end up forbidding him from riding his bike for a week. After his riding privileges were restored, he always abided by my rules.
I have fond memories of the time I spent with my children when they were young. When we did things together I felt as though I had permission to be a kid again. I feel that way now whenever I’m around my grandchildren. When I’m playing with them or teasing them, I don’t have to be a professional, a mature adult, or someone who has to worry about his image or reputation. I can be a little rebellious and act up if I want to — and get away with it most of the time.
In his book Fearless author Steve Chandler pointed out the following:
Every human is born with a creative drive. You were. And as a child you expressed it every day. When someone brought out the crayons you weren’t frozen with fear, you eagerly filled the pages with color.
When you played you made up stories freely. You didn’t worry whether you were a published playwright. Then you sang. You danced around, without having been taught to dance. In the sand you built a castle, even though you had not been certified [as] an architect. What were you thinking? You weren’t.
Michael Kelly, the author of Living Every Day with Passion and Purpose, pointed out that the phrase “Do not be afraid” appears in the Bible more than 1,000 times. That’s more than 1,000 messages from God that we have nothing to fear.
So how are we supposed to handle fear? What’s the most effective way of dealing with it?
As I mentioned last week, fear has an insatiable appetite. It is fed with destructive thoughts. The person who is seized with fear focuses on the worst possible outcomes. He wishes things were different. He complains and talks about all the things that could go wrong. He blames others for his problems. The more he thinks and talks about how he feels or what he could lose, the greater the fear becomes. It can become so powerful that it paralyzes his ability to think and act rationally. It shuts down all creativity.
I have a five-step process for dealing with fear. The first step is to acknowledge that when you’re emotionally upset or angry, it’s probably because of fear. Fear is almost always at the root of emotional instability and anger. You fear that you will look stupid. You fear that you will run out of money. You fear that you will lose your job. You fear that you will not be able to cope with your medical condition. You fear that a loved one is drifting away from you. You fear failure. You fear ridicule. You fear that you will be forgotten. You fear that you will be wronged. You fear that you will be humiliated.
The second step is to embrace the fear rather than attempt to fight if off or run away from it. Fear is part of the human condition. It’s important to view it as a catalyst for new growth and creativity, and an opportunity for greater understanding and wisdom.
The third step requires that you ask and answer three specific questions:
• The first question is, “What’s the worst thing that could happen as a result of the situation I’m in?” The way the human mind works is that when a question is asked, there is an immediate interruption in the current thought pattern. Your mind can’t help but stop and answer the question. It’s important that you write down the answer to the question on a sheet of paper, because doing so forces you to clarify your thoughts.
• The next question is, “What’s the best thing that could happen as a result of the situation I’m in?” When you write down the answer to this question, your mind shifts to a creative state and begins to focus on a positive outcome rather than a negative outcome. And there’s a good chance your answer will include some ideas or solutions that you haven’t previously considered.
• The last question is, “What’s the most likely thing that could happen as a result of the situation I’m in?” If you are doing your best to think through and write down the answers to these questions, by the time you get to the third question, you will no longer be upset or angry and you will be thinking rationally about your situation.
The fourth step is to humbly acknowledge that you are a child of God and that, as your Father, He has allowed you to suffer for a good reason. You may not know what the reason is, but you can be assured that it is to bring you closer to Him and His heavenly kingdom. Just as I knew what was best for my 8-year-old son, your Father in heaven knows what’s best for you.
The fifth and final step is to lighten up and have some fun while you navigate through the storms that disrupt your life. Use the creative drive you were born with to eagerly fill each day with color. Tell some good stories about how you not only survived, but thrived. Laugh. Sing. Dance. Pray. And thank God for giving you the precious gift of life.