So, I am a pretty fearless person. Drive a truck by myself from Canada to South Florida - no big deal. Fly to Paris with 2 teenage daughters, rent a car, and drive around the suburbs - no big deal. Any medical procedure - no big deal. I just breathe deeply, and venture forth.
And so, my terror took me by surprise. Snorkeling: I mean, how hard could it be? You go in the water. You put the fins on. You put the mask on. You stick the breathing thing in your mouth and then… Well, technically, you then lean forward, put your face in the water - and enter snorkeling heaven.
Unless you are me. Then you do all the above, until the ‘put your face in the water’ part. I put my face in the water, and - like slipping on a winter coat - FEAR completely and totally enveloped me.
It was completely... and totally... irrational.
I mean, I was prepared this time. I have an issue with being in the water over my head. Well, the issue isn’t really being in the water - the issue is drowning in the water. You’re talking to the person who, while practicing scuba diving - in a pool - still was in a panic until I remembered the instructor’s words of wisdom: “If you feel you are drowning… Stand Up.”
But, you know, I’m older now; and wiser; and did I mention the ‘fearless’ part? So… how hard could this snorkeling thing be? I even prepared for that ridiculous drowning concern - I got a life jacket and wrapped it around myself. Now I was drown-proof - with absolutely ZERO reason to be afraid.
Till I put my face in the water, and thought I was going to die.
It was kind of a shocking moment for Ole Fearless Sue. And in that moment, I thought of… my grandchildren. Actually, ALL children.
Because we tend to dismiss their ‘silly’ fears.
Monsters under the bed? “Come on - there’s no such thing!”
Afraid of the dark? “Oh, how silly! There’s nothing there to hurt you!”
Not wanting to hug a stranger, or even a family member? “Don’t be ridiculous, they won’t hurt you!”
We tend to dismiss their fears - all the time.
And yet, fear is real. I relearned that lesson the moment I put my face in the water. There was absolutely no logical reason for me to be afraid; but suddenly I began hyperventilating, and had to physically fight a terrified uncontrollable screaming retreat from the sea.
And I’m an adult.
I think that my husband Bob could be a good reminder of how to deal with (silly) fear in children - and even in a grown up.
When he saw my terrified face, he could have said, “Are you KIDDING me?! After all the work I did to get this stupid snorkel equipment?!!”
“For goodness sake - you’re wearing a life jacket! Now this is just ridiculous!!”
“How OLD are you again?!! Oh, I didn’t realize that you were STILL A BABY!”
But he didn’t. He simply held my hand and suggested, “Why don’t we go back in now?” He later said, “When I saw your face, I knew.”
For as much as I was trying to be a ‘big’ girl - reciting the rosary till my breathing got better, telling myself to stop being stupid, concentrating on looking at the fish - nothing was helping - and, knowing me, he could see that.
How well do we ‘know’ our children? How well do we ‘see’ their fears? And how hard do we try to understand them?
I think sometimes that the answer to those questions is often: “not enough”.
I, for one, hope to remember this the next time a child around me is afraid of something I think is ‘silly’.
Meanwhile, I will continue to try to fight my own ‘silly’ fear. The first thing I need to remember is to prepare myself with prayer before I get in this situation again. Whether it is healing prayer to try to uncover the source of the fear; or deliverance prayer to make sure there is no spirit triggering it in me; or simply assurance prayer of my strength and power through Christ: either way - I need to pray first.
And then I will start small. Maybe a rough ocean is not the best location for a fear-filled snorkeler to start out. Maybe a calm waterway - or even, for heaven’s sake, a pool. (“If you feel you are drowning… just stand UP!”). Whatever. Trying to force myself to get over my fear by tackling it in the worse conditions is maybe a lesson in futility.
And it’s the same lesson appropriate for children. Start small, pray often - and pray with them. The presence of God is always the most important lesson for them to learn - and to remember in those moments of fear.
Along with, of course, the presence of a loving, and understanding, adult.
Now that’s something good, that Fear can teach us.
Ashley and Susan
Two women asking the world to not just hope, but to Hope in Love.