It was time for bed and my daughter was distraught, “It could happen anywhere!” She overheard the news about Paris that morning and then managed to avoid thinking about it. But when the hubbub of the day calmed at bedtime, she had nowhere to run. Fear chased her down and mocked her. My sweet 8-year-old begged me for a distraction, “What can I do so I don’t have to think about it? I’m too young to know about stuff like this!”
Aren’t we all? I don’t know anyone old enough to be comfortable with the possibility that a gunman could come into a restaurant and take us out while we’re enjoying a glass of wine. And who is mature enough to handle the picture of a real-live human being strapping explosives on their chest and pushing a button that scatters pieces of their insides throughout a crowd of unsuspecting people?
I don’t blame my daughter for wanting a distraction.
I totally understand why she feels afraid. In the moment of my daughter’s intense fear, I felt confronted with my own. I know what it’s like to be taunted by the terrifying possibilities of what might happen. I experience it more often than I’d like to admit and all too often I get the feeling that something is chasing me down. In times like those I need a distraction to help bring me back into balance.
But there is an art to the use of distraction.
Distractions are helpful in moments of distress. Sometimes I need to shift my focus so I can stay calm and think clearly. In those moments I need a distraction to help diminish the fear I feel. But when I continue to use them to avoid thinking about painful things altogether, distractions increase my fear.
Because monsters are more frightening when they are hiding under the bed.
So this night when fear was mocking my daughter, I knew what she needed. She needed me to look under the bed – to give her the opportunity to bring her deep doubts, questions and fears into the light so she could see that they aren’t the big monsters she imagined them to be.
“Ask any question you want, Amelia.” The next hour was a beautiful outpouring of real, deep and intense questions. I hardly answered any of them. She didn’t really need answers, nor could she probably have handled it all. She just needed to know that it’s OK to ask the questions.
I savored every moment. When all was said and done I asked, “How did it feel to ask so many tough questions, Amelia?”
“It felt kind of good – you know – not to hold them back.”
Doesn’t it, though?
Holding back or distracting ourselves from the fear of pain isn’t necessarily a bad thing in the moment, until holding-back becomes locking-in. Avoiding. Refusing to be honest with ourselves, God and others. Fear feeds on secrecy and avoidance. So perhaps one of the most merciful things we can do for one another is to invite fear into the light.
Who needs you to check under their bed for monsters?
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