Lately our 4-year old has been having the occasional bad dream, and the other day he told me he’s afraid of the dark because something unseen – “wolves or bad guys” – could come for him. He made the comment in passing; his fear is nothing debilitating – easily assuaged by his two nightlights- and doesn’t interfere with his night sleep. Fear of the dark seems to me to be, at some level, a rite of passage that most every young child goes through at some stage. The next part of the conversation was most important to me:
Me: “You know what you can do that helps the most if you’re ever afraid at night, don’t you?”
Him: “Yes, pray to God. But I don’t do that.”
Me: “Why not?”
Him: “Because I think I should be able to do it by myself. I don’t need God to help me.”
Here we go, I thought to myself. He’s four years old and yet a perfect specimen of one of the most monumental human struggles: reliance on self instead of reliance on God. “Of course God could help me,” we think. “Of course I could ask him. But I should able to do take care of this sort of thing on my own. God’s a last resort (or for the weak).” How many grown men and women has Satan taken down with that lie? Evidently it’s not taught but bred right into our hearts… it comes with the territory of being human. It’s part of the curse. As is the enormous rift between knowing what we could (or should) do and actually doing it. Not the same at all.
So what did I tell my son? I told him that yes, he could try to handle it by himself, but God can do anything and can change the thoughts in our heads and the feelings in our hearts. He’s sitting right there, loving us and waiting for us to ask Him for help when we’re having a hard time. He sure hopes we’ll ask Him, because He knows that He’s’ the one who can fix our problems. He wants us to ask Him but He won’t make us. Without making a huge deal about it or dissecting the concept of pride in that short teachable moment, I tried to encourage my son to swallow his and go to God for help. I mentioned a few ways that I do this when I’m afraid, which he appeared to appreciate. Then during our Bible-reading time the next morning, I chose the story of Joshua – how God told him not to be afraid because He was always with him. And Joshua let God take his fear away.
Not much left to do after that but watch for other opportunities to casually bring up this topic in relevant moments. And pray, of course! Pray that God will teach my son to lean on him – to welcome the chance to do so! Pray that self-reliance will not become a foothold in his heart but that he’ll become willing to seek God for strength when he’s still young. And it heartens me to know that God wants this for my son even more than I do.