As I’ve stated on this blog before, I used to worry a great deal and try to exert control over every aspect of my life. Thankfully, with God’s help, I’ve learned to get a grip on that. Most days – it’s an ongoing process. I did, however, unintentionally pass these anxious habits down to my children.
My youngest child who is growing into manhood, has a very tender heart, and is very intelligent. He also has a head full of worries. Some worries all kids have. Some worries are unique to him. All of those worries are holding him back from living a full life.
I took this child swimming, but he was afraid he would drown. I took him to a new city, but he was afraid of making new friends because they might not like him. He got a guitar for Christmas but he was afraid he might not be great at playing it so he declined lessons.
These worries inside his head and heart were paralyzing him and he just couldn’t see it – he was still buying into the lie that ‘a safe life is the best life’.
I prayed about this for a long time. “Lord, how do I help bring him out of his shell and into his life?”. I wasn’t getting any answers, so I put it aside for a while. Finally, when I went on vacation God spoke to me loud and clear.
I’m a pretty strong swimmer, but I’ve never swam too far from the shore. I’ve never even snorkeled in water where I couldn’t touch the bottom. Then, while on vacation, I had the opportunity to go scuba-diving. I was excited and at the same time I was terrified. I did pretty well at managing my fear until I read the release form. “You may suffer bodily injury or death”. I must admit I didn’t read the whole thing. I quickly signed it and put it out of my mind. Then, the instructor started going over the equipment and safety procedures. I listened carefully. Then he started describing the injuries that can happen: lung over inflation, disorientation resulting in death, running out of air in your air tank, and many more. Then he pointed out that we were thousands of miles from any sort of medical help. My mind was a blur of what-ifs -“What if the equipment fails? What if I fail at this? What if my fear of claustrophobia hits me and I can’t surface? What if the injuries listed on the release form actually happen out here in the middle of nowhere?! “.
I was determined to conquer this fear. So, I suited up. I climbed on the boat. I rode out into the middle of the ocean in a foreign country and stood on the edge of the boat. The instructor said, “Jump”. I didn’t want to jump and nearly backed out of the dive completely. Then one of our guides whom I had never met before said something to me that must have come directly from God. “You have too many thoughts in your head. You worry too much. Trust your equipment. Trust yourself. Just trust….just do it”. At that moment I jumped into the ocean with a weight belt strapped to my waist and sank like a stone 40 feet below the surface of the ocean. I was scared, but I jumped anyway. At that moment I made a choice to trust that I would be OK. Once I jumped, I felt immediate relief from my fear. I concentrated on my breathing, watched for my dive-master, checked my air-gauge from time to time, reminded myself to “just trust”. With each mantra of “just trust” I could breathe easier, and I felt more and more relaxed. Soon I was moving around without allot of effort and gazing at the reef. The coral reef was so busy with life and beauty that I could barely take my eyes off it.
After about 20 minutes the dive-master gave us the signal to ascend to the surface. When my head broke the surface of the water I had the widest smile on my face. I had conquered my fear with trust!
When I got back home I waited for the right opportunity to speak with my son. When the time came I sat him down and said, “Lets list all the things your afraid of, OK?”
I took out a plain white sheet of paper and turned it horizontally. With wide spaces between each one I listed his fears as he called them off to me. “Swimming”. “Making a mistake”. “Making a fool of myself”. “Being alone”. There were more. I listed them all on the paper. Then I called them off to him one by one and said, “Are you afraid of this?”
Of course he replied, “Yes” to each one and one by one we marked them off. I drew a thick line through them from margin to margin with a sharpie. Then I turned the paper vertically and said, “What do you see?”
He was silent.
I said, “Do you see the resemblance between these vertical lines and prison bars?”
He looked at me with wide eyes.
I said, “Imagine that’s your life out there beyond these bars. Imagine that each one of these things you are afraid of represents a part of your life that’s waiting to open up new opportunities for you, but because you are afraid you are unknowingly putting up a bar that prevents you from living a full life. Put up enough bars and finally you have a prison.”
“Soooo. You’re saying I shouldn’t be afraid?” He asked.
“No,” I said, “You should do them even though your afraid and trust you will be OK”.
“How?!” He puffed.
“Trust that you will do the right thing at the right time. I trust you to do that. Most of all, trust that God will protect and lead you in the right way”, I said.
I could see him thinking. “I’ll try”, He said.
“Don’t try. Just do it”, I said.
“I said I’ll try”, He said. I wasn’t sure he would.
A few days later when I picked him up from school he had a broad grin on his face. “I’m talking alot more and I have alot of new friends! Popular kids too! Jocks, smart kids, and girls too!” He said.
“I told you if you trusted people enough to show them the real you that they would see what I see and love you too!” I said tussling his hair.
“They think I’m funny!” He was happier than I’d seen him in quite some time. I was even more surprised when he asked me if I thought he could snorkel. “Sure”, I said, “If I can, then I know you can”.
What’s in your prison bars? What’s keeping you from conquering your fears?