Having a Brave Home
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Kevin ThompsonKevin A. Thompson (MDiv, Beeson Divinity School) is lead pastor at Community Bible Church, a growing multi-site church with four locations in western Arkansas. Every year he meets with nearly one hundred couples with a range of needs, from pre-marital counseling to navigating the most serious betrayals. A marriage and parenting conference speaker, he and his wife, Jenny, have two children and live in Fort Smith, Arkansas. He blogs at www.kevinathompson.com.
As Christians, we desire to be brave and trust fully in God. Kevin Thompson encourages our families to follow Him without fear, because His love never fails.
Having a Brave Home
Kevin: What always strikes me is this: I think to myself, “They really have reasons not to jump right now, because I’m not always trustworthy. Yet, I know that I’m going to catch them; I know it’s going to be okay. Why won’t they just jump?”
Isn’t that how God looks at me?—because I have no reason to doubt Him; He will absolutely catch me and has never failed me.
Ann: Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Ann Wilson.
Dave: And I’m Dave Wilson, and you can find us at FamilyLifeToday.com or on our FamilyLife® app.
Ann: This is FamilyLife Today.
Dave: One of the things we used to do, as a family, which I’ve got to give credit to my wife, is go on vacations. We went on a couple RV trips—
Ann: Yes; they are so fun.
Dave: —where we travelled the country in an RV. We used to call it “camping”; but it’s not camping when you’ve got an RV with a generator, and AC, and all the great stuff. I remember we’d stop at these campgrounds, and they always had a pool. I’ll never forget when our boys were real little—and every dad or mom has probably experienced this—you’re in the pool; and they are afraid to jump in, because they haven’t really done that yet. They are there, and you in the pool, are like, “Come on; come on.” You’re trying to convince them—
Ann: —“You can trust me.”
Dave: —“You can trust me.” But you can see in their mind this little tension between faith and fear: “Do I trust Dad?” “Do I trust Mom? Can I trust? I’ve never done this before,”—fear is—“I’ve never jumped in a pool. My head has never gone under.”
Of course, you are like, “Look at me. Look at my arms; they are the size of a Greek god,”—right? [Laughter]. “I’ve got biceps that would never let you down.” They are either going to jump—and that’s that faith moment—and there is that split second, where they don’t know. Then they feel dad or mom catch them, and they are running back to do it again; because they’ve experienced it.
But you know, when you apply that to our walks in our faith life—I mean, we don’t have that thought in the pool—but if you think it through: “If they never jump, there are consequences because they’ll think: ‘You know, I’m not a jumper kind of kid,’ ‘I’m not…’—there are consequences. If they do jump, there are consequences.
I think this applies to what we are talking about today with Kevin A. Thompson, pastor in Arkansas, who wrote a book called Fearless Families. It’s all about fear. I love what we were talking about: building a “Home of the Afraid”—your term—or “…the Brave.” I know you’ve written other books; and you’re a dad, and you’re a pastor. You live this, not only in your home, but in your church and in your community.
First of all, let me say, “Welcome to FamilyLife Today.”
Kevin: Thank you.
Dave: Glad you’re here.
Kevin: Great to be with you both. [Laughter]
Dave: You’re sitting there, like, “When can I jump in?!” because you’re shaking your head. I could tell that you’ve experienced that. Have you experienced that, as a dad, with a kid on the side of the pool?
Kevin: Oh, there is no question. What always strikes me is this: I think to myself, “They really have reasons not to jump right now, because I’m not always trustworthy. Yet, I know that I’m going to catch them; I know it’s going to be okay. Why won’t they just jump?”
Isn’t that how God looks at me?—because I have no reason to doubt Him; He will absolutely catch me and has never failed to.
Dave: See, look what the pastor does with that. [Laughter]
Ann: I know; it’s so good.
Dave: He just takes it to a whole other level.
Ann: When I see Dave telling the boys, “Do it; do it,” I think, “Is he going to catch them?”
Kevin: Yes, because you’ve seen him fail.
Kevin: Dave has failed you.
Ann: He has, Kevin. [Laughter]
Kevin: But God never has.
Kevin: Yet, so often, whenever I think about that division between my children and me, it just reminds me that is such a small division compared to my division between God and me. Anytime, I’m frustrated about my kids—not trusting me, not telling me the truth, not obeying me, not doing/all those things—“Kevin, just flip that around. That’s how God feels. He just knows you are going to have a better life if you will follow Him.”
That’s what Fearless Families really is about in the end. It comes down to a very basic question: “Are you going to go the way of love or not?”
Dave: Yes, as you thought about writing a book called Fearless Families, is that because you saw a lot of fear, maybe in your own home or in other homes? I know you pastor and you know a lot of families. Was it something like, “Man, I see fear everywhere; I’ve got to address that”?
Kevin: I think the funny thing about the title of the book is the concept of it comes out in my daughter, who is now 15. She looks at me; and she goes, “But Daddy, we’re not fearless,”—[Laughter]—basically, calling out the hypocrisy of that—like, “Who are you to write a book about fearless families?”—right? [Laughter] But it really is this concept of how fear is dominating every aspect of our lives.
That’s really where the heart of the book came from: in my own experience that I had with my son that kind of revealed the anxiety I had within my own heart and how that was playing out in the lives of everybody that was around me—the family that I have in my house with my wife and children; the family I have at work at the church, with my coworkers and the employees that work for me; the fear that I was now kind of bringing to my friend group—all those different little families that I have—how my fear was adding to their fear and how it really was dominating our world. This was before the pandemic.
Kevin: Then the pandemic hits; and then it just explodes—of this concept of fear, literally, driving every aspect of who we are—I think so often people don’t see it. I think that is the amazing thing to me—is now, that people see the book, and they are starting to read it, they’ll say things like, “Kevin, I never realized how I was driven by fear until I read this book.”
Kevin: I’m like, “Are you crazy?!” A couple comes to my office, and I can point out ten different ways that they are making choices based on fear; but they don’t even realize it. Fear is so much the water that we’re swimming in; we never even recognize it. We don’t know how it is ruling our lives.
Ann: It is interesting—I remember when our kids were teenagers—I’ve probably never been as fearful as that era when they are all teenagers. I read Tim Kimmel’s book called Grace Based Parenting. He asked the question:—
Dave: Oh, yes.
Ann: —“Are you parenting out of fear?” My answer was “Of course! I should be afraid; look at our world.” I realized, “Oh, most of my decisions that I am making with our teens are based out of my own fear of what they’ll do, of what they’ll become, of how they’ll make us look.” All of it was out of fear. You’re right; I didn’t even recognize it until someone pointed it out. So you’re helping us; you are asking us, “What are we afraid of?”
Kevin: The reality is, in many of the statistics, we actually live in one of the safest times ever—that whenever you look at child abduction, child murder—whenever you look at the big statistics, this is actually one of the safest times ever to be a child.
But what happened, I think, with the onset of 24-hour news channels, the danger rate for children was dropping 60 percent; the news stories about child abduction just going up 600 percent; and then 9/11 happened. My generation was watching these events before we got married, before we had kids, or maybe right when we were having them. Suddenly, the world seemed like a very dangerous place. Then a pandemic hits. Literally, what used to be the most mundane kind of concept of sharing a handshake or a hug could now kill a family member? It’s no surprise, I think, that we live in a very fearful generation.
Yet, at the same time, is our awareness of that fear making our lives better? Are we making better decisions because we are feeling so fearful? Nobody would say that.
Kevin: Nobody would claim that this is going the way it is supposed to go. I understand—especially raising teenagers in a fearful kind of culture—but I think the question then becomes: “Do the decisions you make, based on fear, lead to better outcomes?”—no; they simple don’t. “Wouldn’t decisions based on love be better?”—of course; I think we all naturally innately know that. We just don’t believe it.
So it comes down to this question of: “Which are we going to believe? Are we going to believe what feels natural to us?—or are we going to believe what God has taught us and follow after Him?”
Dave: One of the things we do, when we are afraid, is we make an idol of safety. You know, it becomes sort of our god: “I’ll do whatever it takes to be completely safe.” But you mention in your book, other idols/other things we sort of place up; because we are living in fear. What would they be?
Kevin: We talked about, previously, that the “Home of the Afraid” is built on the foundation of safety, that we make that the primary question. Fear drives us to idolize this concept. Well, the natural roof that is built on top of the foundation of safety is that of appearances: that we are now going to project a strength/a power on ability. We’re not going to show any weakness whatsoever until, maybe, we are what we are actually projecting or, at least, until we’re not found out to be in that way.
What becomes the dominate kind of image and metaphor for the family—what’s really driving us is we know we don’t have it all together—but we can’t show that weakness; we can’t reveal it to our kids; we can’t reveal it to each other; we definitely can’t reveal it to those who are outside of our families. We are so concerned with projecting something that doesn’t match the reality of who we are. Why?—because when safety is the foundation that we’re building on, we can’t show any weakness.
Think about it: if you are out on the prairie, and there is a lion that is out there, then you can’t limp; you’re the one he is going to chase down. I mean, literally, survival of the fittest—
Kevin: —is still driving us. Survival of the fittest—that is a concept, in many ways, that is a God-given concept of fight, flight, or freeze—we understand it when our lives are on the line; it can be the right response.
But whenever it comes down to having a difficult conversation with your teenager, or with your spouse, or with a coworker, or a friend, that is the worst response you can possibly give. What happens is—when we idolize safety—we naturally begin to idolize appearances; because if I show weakness/if I show vulnerability, I’m not going to feel safe in that moment. Because I don’t trust you, I can’t now reveal my full heart in who you are.
The next thing you know—a marriage that is built on appearances—you’re showing part of your heart; you’re [spouse] bringing part of your heart; and it’s not even a real relationship. You said, “I do,” to bring the fullness of who you are to the table; but neither one of you are doing that because you are afraid that—“If I show the weakness,” ”If I admit this hurt me,” ”If I ask the question, ‘How have I hurt you?’—you can then use that against me, and manipulate me, and abuse me, and bring it up.”
We’ve been hurt so many times that we just very naturally learn to project: “I’ve got it; I’ve got it together,” “I have it all: I can be it all; I can do it all.” It’s killing us in the process.
Dave: What’s really scary, when I hear you say that, is that idol is a big idol in the church. People feel like to walk in the doors of a church: that’s where the people that have it together live.
Ann: —so we put on our mask.
Dave: We put on our mask. I said, many times at our church over 30 years, I’d like to put a sign at our front door that says, “Drop your masks here,”—you know? This was before we were wearing masks in a pandemic.
Kevin: Now, you definitely want to say that. [Laughter]
Dave: But you know, you just want to say: “I want/I hope this place could be an authentic place, where you can come and be real.” As much as you say that, you still realize: “It’s really, really hard to do.” People see the church as a place, where “I can’t be [real], so I put on the appearance; and I don’t share weakness.”
Sometimes, we do the same thing in our home! It’s just like: “I’m not going to tell Mom or Dad what I’m really struggling with,” “I’m not going to tell my son or daughter that I’m not as put together as it looks like, as a dad or a mom.”
What do we do with that?—because, I mean, that’s the “Home of the Afraid.” We have another part of your book, which is the “Home of the Brave.” How does the “Home of the Brave” counteract that?
Ann: Let me give an example of that I remember. I didn’t grow up in the church. When we started going to church, and we had kids, I remember sitting in a Bible study with a small group of women. I said, “I really yelled at my kids this week, you guys. I feel like I’m going crazy, and I’m a crazy person. I feel so bad and guilty.” And then there was total silence; everyone had small children. I said, “Oh, do you guys never yell at your kids?” Somebody said, “I’ve never yelled at my kids.” Nobody said anything.
I walked away, thinking, “Oh, I’m the only one. They are true followers of Jesus. I’m the only sinner in the room.” I thought, “I’m not going to share anymore of my mistakes and the things that I’ve made.” I just learned to put on a mask.
Actually, I didn’t; because I just got out of that Bible study, thinking, “Surely, there is someone, because—
Dave: “I’ll find another church.” [Laughter]
Ann: —“because I can’t hide, and I don’t think it is good to hide.”
Kevin: The message that was sent by that group, in that moment, was not: “We don’t make mistakes,”—
Kevin: —because somebody could have stepped in and said, “You know, I don’t yell at my kids; but here is what I do…”—
Kevin: —and to show humanity in that moment.
Ann: Right; or just—
Kevin: Instead, the message that was sent to you is: “Hey, we don’t reveal weaknesses here.” What is that?—that is the roof of appearances—that we are not allowed [to express weaknesses]. Because safety is the foundation of who we are; appearances have to be the roof.
What we think is that: “Appearances are going to protect us now from the fears of life and from the pains of life.” So if you can project a strength/project a power, then somebody else won’t accuse you of something. They won’t try to manipulate you or guilt you into something. If you refuse to show that weakness, we think they’ll have/they’ll have nothing to come after us with, and we will be safer in that way.
Dave, you’ve been a pastor of a great church for 30 years. You know better than anybody: “Until you come in here and live in an authentic way,”—“Until you admit what is going on, you have no chance of healing. Until you reveal it, you can’t heal from it”; right?
Dave: Right; right.
Kevin: You have no chance.
You know, what’s funny is, as a pastor—as you all have done in your church for so long—is you just beg people continuously: “Just drop it. Tell us the truth, and we’ll deal with it. We’ll handle it; but as long as you are acting, it’s simply not going to work.” What you are doing in that moment is you’re calling them out of the “Home of the Afraid”/the “Church of the Afraid”—
Kevin: —and into the “Home of the Brave”/”the Church of the Brave.”
Well, what is the roof? Well, the foundation, now—is not safety—it is trust: “We’re going to trust God,” and “We going to trust each other.” Now, we don’t just give trust to one another without forethought.
Kevin: It has to be earned in many ways; but we are going to have the courage to recognize, “We do need to trust other people.” Once you have that trust with other people, then you can begin—instead of putting up the roof of appearances—you can put up the roof of heart: “Here is who I actually am.” You can think of that concept of heart; you can think about the concept of character: “Here is who I actually am.”
As parents: “Here is the home that we want to have,” “Here is what we are going to be building,”—the importance of character. It is interesting to me that we live in a time in which the topic of character is now thrown aside as though it is not important. Somehow, we’ve cut out of the Bible the idea that character is a prerequisite for biblical leadership in the home, in the state, in the country—anywhere. There is no biblical model for that being the case. As a matter of fact, there is a lot of biblical models for: “Here is what happens when you no longer care about character.”
Dave: Right; right.
Kevin: So even the concept of character development, churches don’t even think about that anymore; a lot of parents don’t even think about that anymore. But in the “Home of the Brave,” what we are going to say is: “Appearances matter; a good name matters; but what matters more than appearances is reality: ‘Who are we?’ ‘Where are we?’ ‘Where do we want to be?’”
Until we admit where we are, we can’t take the proper steps to get where we want to be:
So somebody walks into your church. You are begging them: “Don’t go through five years of hypocrisy, and then let me see who you actually are. Start right now, and you’ll be different five years from now.”
You look at your kids. You/I beg my kids—right?—two teenagers: “Just tell me the truth! I can deal with it. Just don’t put on this show. Just tell me who you actually are.”
Well, how much is God telling me that? How much is my wife telling me that?—like, “Kevin, you don’t have to downplay this; you don’t have to diminish this.”
This is in one of my early marriage books—Friends, Partners, and Lovers—but it’s the basic concept that I had to learn that I could tell Jenny what hurt me, and it wasn’t going to kill us. But I had written the story [in my mind]—growing up in a home of divorce; right?—I had written the story that: “If this conversation goes wrong, this could be over.” So I put up the roof of appearance: “I’m fine; everything is okay.”
Dave: “We’re good.”
Kevin: Well, Jenny is like, “I know you’re not fine! I can see that you are not fine. Why don’t you just tell me?” To now, put up the roof of heart, that I’m going to engage the totality of who I am, in the brokenness and the messiness of it all; but once you actually start to do that, then you have the chance for transformation; you have the chance for change.
Imagine what your home would be like if we really dealt with reality: no lying, no mask, no hypocrisy. I’m not saying, using our failings or our brokenness, in a mean-spirited way; but I’m just saying, “Have this common aspect of grace and mercy to where you can tell me what your hurt actually is. Now, we can get to work.”
Dave, I don’t know about you; but as a pastor, some of my favorite people are recovering addicts—
Kevin: —because they understand the danger of lies/of deceit.
Dave: Yes; they are the most honest people in your church usually.
Kevin: Absolutely; that’s why they are healthy—
Kevin: —is because they have understood that deception leads to death. The only chance at life is truth. So they will literally come in, and they will destroy the roof of appearances faster than anybody else. Then they will bring their actual heart into what’s going on.
Ann: That’s good.
I’m thinking of this, as I am thinking of heart, I’m remembering that one of our kids, when they were in their late 20s, came back to us and said, “I wish you guys would have cared for my heart more than the idea,”— because he came to us and told us [as a teenager] he had been drinking and got drunk. When he told us that, we did have consequences and all of that—but later, he said, “I wish you would have asked me, ‘Why?’”
But he says now, like, “I didn’t know who I was. I wanted to fit in. I wanted to be a part of everybody, and I was feeling incredibly insecure.” Now, as an 18-year-old/17-year-old—I don’t know if he could have communicated that—but it’s interesting that you say that. He wanted us to care for his heart: “Don’t explode, and I know there will be consequences; but go deeper with me continually and find out: ‘How is your heart?’”
The appearance thing, especially with teenagers, when they are making bad decisions, it’s really easy in the church to judge one another: “Oh, their home/they are really messed up; but we….—it’s easy to do that. I like that you are talking about that really getting to the heart/knowing your values; that’s really big.
Kevin: And think about this within the concept of even that discussion. I think it’s important for the listeners to understand and to remind themselves: “We’re all going to mess up.
Kevin: “Every single one of our kids are going to be able to come back to us, if they want to, and give a list of questions of: ‘I wish you would have done this’”; and you know what? In a lot of ways, they are going to be right. That reality paralyzes the “Home of the Afraid”—the idea that I could possibly mess up my child/that I could make the wrong decision—it literally paralyzes us from making decisions/from doing anything.
But in the “Home of the Brave,” we can mourn that and grieve that—know we’re going to make mistakes—but still, the question becomes: “Okay, what’s the loving response to that? What is the next loving action that I need to take?” Even something like that, in the “Home of the Brave,” where they’re now revealing their heart, you can thank them and appreciate what’s going on, not feel any need to defend yourself or the decisions that you made. Say: “You know what? We must have messed that one up, and I would do it differently now.” It doesn’t paralyze you; instead, it frees you in what’s going on.
It is interesting that two families can go through the exact same circumstance; and for one, it can be grief-stricken; and for others, it can be liberating/of: “That’s an interesting insight.” Yet, it doesn’t paralyze you from moving forward.
Ann: And it makes you point them—again, it shows them that we are broken—and the Father/God the Father—it just points you back to Him, like, “Aren’t you glad that He doesn’t mess up?”
Dave: That’s good stuff; really good stuff.
Ann: I think it’s great for listeners just to have that conversation. I had this with our kids; I said, “What do you think our values are in our home?” when they were preteens and teens. I’m just going to tell you—it was discouraging—[Laughter]—because sports was number one.
Dave: Because we hadn’t read your helpful training. [Laughter]
Ann: But I think it’s great, just to open the door, and start having those conversations: “Do you feel like we’re afraid?” “Do you feel like there is fear in our family?” and “Can you be open and share your heart?” It can be a great conversation starter.
Dave: Yes; way to go.
Ann: Thanks for being here.
Kevin: Thank you!
Bob: It may be that your family would benefit from having the kind of conversation that Dave and Ann Wilson were suggesting—a conversation about fears—“What are your deepest fears, and how can we address those fears?” and “How can we build courage and confidence together as a family?”
Dave and Ann have been talking today to Kevin Thompson, who has written a book called Fearless Families. It is a book that we’ve got in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. We also have a link on our website at FamilyLifeToday.com to Kevin’s website, where he blogs and has additional resources available.
It occurs to me that it’s not just families that can be controlled by fear, but ministries like FamilyLife Today can experience this as well. David Robbins, who is the president of FamilyLife, is here with us. David, this is a culture that causes all of us to become anxious and fearful. This is something that, as a ministry, we’ve had to address; right?
David: Yes, this is something we’ve been processing, as a FamilyLife staff team, of—as the world continues to get more complex, as culture continues to get more challenging, and you navigate different issues—“How do we, as a ministry, continue to trust the Lord and His timeless truth to be bold in faith in what He wants to do in our day and to live out our calling, as an organization, to [raise] up families who, not only experience the gospel and become transformed themselves, but live as fearless families, proclaiming the gospel to their communities around them?” That part of our mission statement that we love—is only possible through families just like you—of those families, that are being encouraged and transformed, going out and transforming other families around them. That’s what Jesus invited us into, and that’s what we love being a part of at FamilyLife.
Bob: We can make this really simple for you with some of the tools and resources we’ve got. You can get together with other couples/other parents and say, “We’re going to go through a study on parenting called the Art of Parenting®. Would you like to go through that with us?” or “We’re going to go through a marriage study called Vertical Marriage. It’s a video series.” Invite people into your home. Fire up the video, watch together, and begin to have some interaction around important marriage and family subjects that can lead to a conversation about spiritual matters.
Go to our website, FamilyLifeToday.com. There is information about many of the resources we have available. Then plan, together, to step past the fear and start engaging with your neighbors.
Well, with that, we’ve got to wrap this up for this week. Thanks for being with us. Hope you and your family are able to worship together in your local church this weekend, and I hope you can join us back on Monday when we’re going to talk about how we can have winsome conversations with family members, coworkers, people at church about hard/even controversial subjects. Is that possible in our day? Tim Muehlhoff and Rick Langer think it is. We’ll talk with them on Monday. I hope you can be with us for that.
On behalf of our hosts, Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Bob Lepine. Have a great weekend. We will see you Monday for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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