“Breaking news: A Delta Airlines flight has just crashed at DFW airport on final approach. First responders are racing to the scene, fire trucks from the airport are there spraying the fuselage with water to try and control the flames already erupting near the plane’s tail section. Passengers are using the escape chutes. We have a reporter on the ground headed that way and we will bring you further details momentarily.”
After a week of vacation we were feeling pretty relaxed and calm, but the radio’s announcement jarred us back to the hard realities of life. Dennis and I hushed all six kids belted in behind us from their constant jabbering so we could try to understand the details of the crash and the fate of the passengers as the story unfolded in real time.
Our oldest, Ashley, 9 at the time, listened intently too. She knew her daddy flew on airplanes a lot. And in an instant, she realized the truth that her daddy could die in a plane crash, too. She was suddenly very afraid.
A few weeks later, Dennis walked to the garage and got in his car to head to the airport. Ashley raced after him and stood with her little arm on his through the rolled-down window begging him not to go. He, of course, had to go, but assured her that God could be trusted to care for her no matter what happened to him. God wanted her to learn to trust Him with her fears and worries even as a child.
Dennis asked her if she would choose to trust Jesus. She said she didn’t want to! I love the honesty of children.
Many times I don’t want to trust Him either. I’d rather try to fix my fear, my worry, my problems myself.
I took Ashley’s hand and we waved bye to Daddy, but we continued this lesson on trusting God with our fears as we talked more in the days that followed. It’s not a lesson that children—or adults—learn easily.
As a mom I longed to protect my children from such fears and especially from actually experiencing disasters and death. But I couldn’t, then or now. None of us can. What we can do is take their little hands and put them in the hands of Jesus, which is the analogy we used with our daughter.
It is Jesus who she must trust, not us. It is His character of love and grace that will guide her throughout her life, not ours.
Here are four ways to help your children learn to trust a God that can’t be seen or touched, a very big step for little hearts and minds…and moms and dads too.
- Model His always-listening ear. Obviously you can’t listen to everything they want to say to you, but you can give your children your undivided attention when they need to talk about feeling afraid. Help them verbalize what their hearts feel. And then pray for them that this fear will take them closer to their heavenly Father who loves them more than you do. I would pray something like this:
Thank you, our Father in heaven, that You hear our every word, You know our every thought, and You want us to talk to You about everything. Thank You that You can be trusted. Thank You that You are in control. Thank You that You promised to never leave us or forsake us. Thank You that You promise to give us peace. I pray for my sweet little girl that you will take her fears and give her peace. Amen.
- Ask your children to pray. Encourage them to tell God how they feel. If you invite and encourage this kind of prayer, your children will know it’s okay to talk to God about everything. They will be more likely to talk to Him honestly when you aren’t around, which is your goal as a parent. After I finished praying something similar to the above example, I would say: “Now it’s your turn to pray. I want you to tell Jesus how you feel. Then I want you to ask Him to help you.” Bow your head and wait for their little voices. Then before leaving this moment, I reminded my children that they can talk to God anytime and anywhere, and that I want them to learn to talk to God on their own.
- Remind your family that trusting God is a choice. Faith is not a feeling. It is a decision to put your hand, your life, your circumstances in His hand for Him to change, redeem, and work for good. It is true with children, as it is with adults. I remember our children using their fears, a million ‘what if’ questions, to keep us talking at bedtime. Our kids were smart and yours are too. They can manipulate with their emotions if you let them. It’s a challenge to know when to listen and how long to listen and when you must say, “It is time for you to trust Jesus and go to sleep. Mommy can’t stay here with you any longer. Will you choose to trust Jesus?” You cannot make the decision for them. God will guide you, if you ask Him, to know when to stop listening and when to prompt them to choose.
- Pray for your children at night and before they head off to school. Praying for your kids is such a profound way to instruct them in the truths of the Christian life. As you pray the truths from the Bible, out loud for their hearing, they are picking up pieces of those truths. They are hearing what you believe about God, and they are watching to see if you model what you believe.
All of which means moms and dads need to be continually growing too. Are you reading God’s Word for yourself? How do you manage your fears?
Fear will be with them, and you, for the rest of their lives. After all, fear was the first result of the Fall. Adam and Eve hid themselves from God because they were afraid.
Instead of being driven by fear, though, let your fears drive you to Jesus, to the cross, to His welcoming arms. If you do, you will naturally model the right kind of response to fear for your children.
Those who know your name put their trust in you, for you O Lord, have not forsaken those who seek you. -Psalm 9:10