One night when I was about 7, I was convinced there were snakes in my bed. Mom! Dad! Snakes! Help! I yelled. When they appeared, they started to pull back the covers, which I knew would reveal the terrifying creatures lurking near my feet. But with the light on and the covers removed, I could see what was there. To my relief, there wasn’t a snake in sight.
My parents could have simply come to my bedside and, in the dimness of the nightlight, told me not to be scared: “Don’t worry, there are no snakes in your bed.” Or they could have brought the Lord into our midnight conversation: “Don’t be afraid; trust the Lord. You’ll be just fine.” Or they could have said: “Remember our memory verse: ‘When I am afraid, I will trust in you’” (Ps. 56:3).
But thankfully, Mom and Dad’s plan included something more: a physical inspection to prove I was safe.
Why does the “turn on the light and inspect the room” approach work when a more directly biblical approach (“Do not fear”) seems less effective? After all, the command to not be afraid, occurring 365 times in Scripture, is the most frequently repeated instruction in the entire Bible. Why does “show” appear to be more effective than “tell”?
Know What’s Real
In part, the answer is that fear runs on imagination. What’s that shadow over there? What if it’s a lion? Maybe that shadow is a lion! When fear grabs the wheel of the imagination, your body comes along for the ride.
The heart revs its engine, sugar levels spike, the adrenal gland pumps epinephrine into the bloodstream, and muscles are primed with nutrient- and oxygen-enriched blood. Just try telling this coiled spring of terrified energy to simply calm down! The body is responding to cues that the mind and imagination insist are real.
And this is where God’s Word lights the way forward. While the command “Do not fear” appears throughout Scripture, it rarely appears alone. Consider, for example, Isaiah 41:10: “Do not fear, for I am with you; do not be afraid, for I am your God. I will strengthen you; I will help you; I will hold on to you with my righteous right hand” (CSB).
This verse contains two of the 365 “don’t fear” commands. But the rest of the verse doesn’t direct; it informs. It doesn’t merely tell you what to feel, but also what is real. The Almighty says:
- I am with you.
- I am your God.
- I will help you.
- I will hold you.
This is the Bible’s equivalent of flipping on the light and looking under the covers. Here, my frightened child, is what is actually true in this world.
Did you notice how God doesn’t just speak to the mind, but also to the imagination? Half of these “reality” statements reflect what is—what’s true at that very moment (God is “with you” and is “your God”). But the other half is about what will be—what’s yet unknown, what might happen in the future. This is the realm of the imagination.
The Bible is full of such flip-on-the-light reality checks. Here’s just a sampling:
- God is our shepherd, guiding and guarding us even in the darkest valley (Ps. 23).
- God has promised to be with us always (Matt. 28:20).
- He can see perfectly even at nighttime—darkness is like light to him (Ps. 139:12).
- Nothing is too hard for him (Jer. 32:17).
Turn on the Lights
Now, some might conclude: That’s what our kids need—Bible memory! We’ll memorize verses like these as a family. That way our kids can recite them when they’re afraid (and hopefully we can get some sleep!).
But Bible verses aren’t like magic spells, banishing fear back under the bed. Somehow we’ve come to think of verses like incantations to be repeated over and over until magically they do their work on us. Like the glow of a nightlight, this approach will have some good effects. But there’s a better way.
Remember that, in his Word, God is telling us what is real. He’s informing us about the actual contours of reality. As parents, then, we want the truths of God’s Word—like the ones recounted above—to shape the mind and guide the imagination according to what is real.
So when you hear the midnight call—“I’m scared!”—keep these helps in mind:
- You may want to turn on the light in that room and let your child look around and see that all is well—no monsters, burglars, bugs, or snakes (hopefully).
- As you speak to your child, don’t just remind them of the command to not fear; give them reasons why they need not fear. What is actually true about God?
- To do this, you’ll want to work with your child in advance on some specific verses, like Isaiah 41:10. Don’t just work for memorization, but for understanding.
As parents, let’s turn on all the lights the Lord has provided, and let’s help our kids live and thrive in the good reality of our great God.