Facing Fear

My four year old son just visited Disneyland for the first time, and it turns out he is deathly afraid of Goofy.

Something about that oversized goon with a big floppy hat, skipping around Toontown, just rubbed Shiloh the wrong way. Now I can’t say I am all that surprised, as he has not been the biggest fan of the mascots he has previously encountered (Mr. Beacon was downright villainous in our house for months after his first NCU basketball game), but I did have hopes that our weeks of preparation for this trip might have been sufficient for Shiloh to overcome his fears of larger-than-life cartoon characters.

Shiloh’s apprehension about the Disney characters proved to be the theme of the day, sparking numerous conversations about bravery. Don’t get me wrong, he had the time of his life and will surely be talking about Dumbo, Cars Land and “It’s a Small World” for weeks to come. But these thrills were sandwiched between pep-talks from Mike and I, reminding him that the rides were constructed with safety as the top priority and the characters would really only approach him if he initiated it.

Over the course of the day, we revisited a discussion that Shiloh and I have had many times in the past: you can be scared but still choose to be brave at the same time. Those feelings are not exclusive. In fact, bravery resembles love in a way, as it’s a proactive emotion that one needs to choose.

For Shiloh, he had the choice to acknowledge his fear and live in it, which would have likely resulted in a fairly disappointing Disney day. But instead, he noticed his fear, and then allowed his excitement and curiosity propel him toward courage. These moments of watching him stand in line for a “big-kid” ride were undoubtedly the highlights of the day for this momma. I knew how his heart must be racing while his determination moved him toward the front of the line. And the pay-off? Laughter and smiles from ear to ear, with building anticipation for the next thrill.

Choosing to brave the bumper car ride at Disneyland is significantly less consequential for the average adult, but we too have daily opportunities to press into courage rather than settle into fear.

My beloved state is currently being devoured by forest fires at this very moment. Recently, large populations in our country were destroyed by the power of a hurricane. Globally, wars are waged daily, innocent lives are lost, and evil persists. There is truly a never-ending supply of sources of fear that can beckon us to live in a state of constant anxiety.

And as human beings who are wired to feel and have functions in our brain designated to trigger fear as a protection mechanism, it’s natural to experience fear. Shaming ourselves or others for experiencing and acknowledging fear is not the solution. Like any other emotion, the significance lies in how we respond to this fear.

Our gracious God provides ample instruction for what steps we ought to take in response to fear, with urgings to take heart, for he has overcome….to allow his perfect love to cast out all fear….and to not choose to live in fear as he has redeemed us, summoning us by name and calling us his own.

God calls us to choose courage, being motivated by his love and by trust in his power and faithfulness. It is the same God stirring in Shiloh’s little heart to grant him the strength to face the ride with the twists and turns who also provides us with a deep well of love that sparks courage for the painful twists and turns in this life. He beckons us by name to join him and find our footing in his presence, that we may choose courage in the face of fear.

John 16:33 (NLT)
I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.”

1 John 4:18 (NLT)
Such love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear. If we are afraid, it is for fear of punishment, and this shows that we have not fully experienced his perfect love.

Isaiah 43:1 (NKJV)
But now, thus says the Lord, who created you, O Jacob,
And He who formed you, O Israel:
“Fear not, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by your name;
You are Mine.