My sweet child is young and is still learning so many things about this great, big world. Just this week she learned that if food is hot to the touch, it will also burn her mouth, so she should put it back down and wait before eating. This was a lesson learned by trial and error (and many looks that said, “Why did you let me eat that?”). Currently she is learning just how much she can irritate the dog (i.e. pull his ears, legs, tail, poke his eyes, yell at him, etc…) before he loses patience. She’s also learning the delicate timing of how fast she can get away from him when he’s had enough.
But there are plenty of things she doesn’t know about. Like sharks. She doesn’t know about sharks. She has pictures of fish in many of her books. You can ask her to point at the fish and she will. But she doesn’t know that some of those “fish” grow to be very large and have very sharp teeth and can eat you.
We took our sweet girl to the beach this month. She had only been in water a handful of times so we were prepared for some natural fear of the water. We were also prepared for a downright paralyzing fear of the sand, due to her being OCD and never wanting any dirt on her hands. She will literally spend 30 minutes picking invisible specks of dirt off her hands and feet. She carries wipes with her at all times, just in case there’s dirt somewhere and it might get on her. We can’t explain this phenomenon but we do take full advantage of it.
So we were a little nervous about the sand and the fact that it would be completely covering her at all times. As kids often do, she surprised us and immediately loved digging in the sand. The ocean, on the other hand, took a little more time. We tried over and over to put her little feet in the water and she would pull her legs up as fast as she could and wrap them tightly around us.
But I was determined. I wanted my baby girl to have fun at the beach and I wanted to show her that she didn’t have to be afraid. The problem is, the ocean is downright scary. She doesn’t know it, but there are plenty of things to be legitimately afraid of in the ocean. Like sharks. Ok, so obviously a shark is not going to attack in three inches of water, but the ocean is seriously a breeding ground for danger. Stingrays. Jellyfish. Crabs. Oil spills. Undertow and riptide. (And when you’re 2 1/2 feet tall, you can add plain old waves to the list of really scary things.) This stuff is real! I know when I was kid, I would swim in with reckless abandon as kids do. But I can’t remember the last time I went further than knee deep in the water. Because, sharks.
So I had a major, pivotal, decision-making moment while holding my terrified one-year old in ankle deep ocean water. I’m afraid of what I can’t see in the water. And rightfully so. There are plenty of dangers lurking. I can choose to stand here, ankle deep, and let our experience with the ocean be shallow. And my daughter (eventually) will learn to let fear control her. That’s not what I want. I want her to be wise, discerning, informed, careful even…but not fearful.
So I nudged her along. I carried her along the shoreline and every three steps would dip her and sweep her legs through the water and tell her to kick the scary waves back into the ocean! She kicked and kicked and laughed and laughed. Mom’s arms and back got more and more sore. I would put her down for a second to stand on her own and she would reach back up for me. Then, finally, I put her down and without warning she ran full speed into oncoming waves. They knocked her down, rolled over her head, she laughed, got up and did it again. And again. And again. And again.
So Mom had another choice to make. I can let my one-year-old have more fun at the beach than me…or…
I broke a very long streak of basically never putting anything more than a kneecap in the ocean. And I have my daughter to thank for that. I wouldn’t say we overcame our fear. I would say we found joy in spite of it.
I know there are healthy and appropriate fears. It’s ok to be afraid of snakes and spiders, particularly poisonous ones. It’s not ok to never go outside because you’re afraid of snakes and spiders. Scripture tells us “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” and “Happy is the man who fears the Lord.” (Psalm 111:10a and 112:1a HCSB, respectively) To fear the Lord certainly doesn’t mean to avoid Him or to stay away from Him because He is big and terrifying. There are unknowns and plenty of danger lurking, but our fear should make us run straight into Him. Like the ocean, He is vast and mysterious, but He still offers us a chance to know and enjoy Him. We fear Him because if we are really following Him into unknown places, He won’t always be safe and comfortable. But there will be joy. So much joy.