Late last month, a sudden midnight thunderstorm sent both of the children crawling into bed with us. That meant I had to sleep in my daughter's bed until the storm passed.
As my feet groped for slippers on the dark floor, I heard my son calmly reassuring his mom: "Dad'll be okay. He's not afraid of anything."
"Not exactly, Dave," I protested through a yawn. "I try to be afraid of the right things—that's good—not the wrong things—that's bad. And besides, if you're not afraid of anything, then you never get to be brave. Let's talk about it in the morning," I whispered as I shuffled off to Leslie's room.
As the storm rumbled on, I lay there thinking about how to explain what I meant about good and bad fears. It took me years to learn the difference, so I'd like my kids to have the benefits of this lesson early.
I want them to understand that a good fear helps maintain alertness. It makes you watch out for things really dangerous and harmful, but it has to be based on knowledge and reason. Otherwise it might slip into superstition or paranoia.
A bad fear, on the other hand, holds you back. Fear of failure is an example—not wanting to take a risk by applying your best effort to a challenge. Excessive fear of making mistakes is in the same category. This fear stifles learning and interferes with decision making.
I don't want my children to be afraid to be themselves, especially when it means being different or out of fashion. This fear might keep them from discovering their own personal talents and interests, maybe even their life's calling.
I want my children to fear that which could cause them shame or disgrace, if either of those experiences is still possible in an age that has largely forgotten the concepts of respect and honor.
I want my children to be mindful that ultimately their every action and thought will be scrutinized by an infinitely just and divine authority. "Fear of the Lord" we used to call this, and it was considered a great spiritual gift. From this fear flows the power that energizes an active conscience. It makes morality possible.
I want my children to be braver than I have been at times in the face of fear, whether good or bad, because I know they will encounter both kinds as they grow up. And they will have to be brave if they become parents.
And maybe I should mention to them that sometimes fear is an unavoidable part of love, too, and that's why moms and dads worry so much.