Living Fearless at Home
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Fear might be what drives some people in how they live, but it doesn’t have to be. Kevin Thompson shares how the source for our decision-making can build a braver home.
Living Fearless at Home
Dave: Okay; so today, we get to talk about fear and about being fearless in your home and in your family.
Dave: I think of this moment in our life, where we were scared to death; do you know what I’m talking about?
Ann: I think I know where you’re going, because they aren’t many times that we have been scared to death.
Dave: I mean, frozen; it was 2 or 3 am.
Ann: Yes; I woke up in the middle of the night, because there was a TV blaring downstairs. None of our kids were in the home at the time; so I thought, “Did we leave that TV on?” But it was so loud. I wake Dave up; and I said, “Did you leave the TV on?”
Dave: And the TV is right below our master bedroom. I’m like, “There is no way; that TV was off!”
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: So the TV clicked on; but then fear grabbed us, like, “What if somebody is in our house, watching TV?!”
Ann: I said to Dave, “You go down; you go check it.”
Dave: I said, “I’m not going down.” [Laughter]
Ann: Then I said, “We should call the police.”
Dave: We go over and lock our bedroom door. I’m so embarrassed to admit this; we call 911.
Ann: I did, at first—I’m like, “I’m just calling,”—because I didn’t even want you to go down.
Dave: We asked them/we said, “Our front windows—you can look through—could you just come over and look through our front window and tell us if there is somebody in our house?” Long story short, they actually did. The fear I felt in that moment was so real. Fear is a real thing.
We’ve got Kevin Thompson with us today, who has written a book called Fearless Families. Obviously, it’s not about being scared at night—I don’t think—is it?
Kevin: Not completely; no. [Laughter]
Dave: It’s a lot bigger than that. The subtitle is Building Brave Homes in an Uncertain World.
Kevin, you are a pastor; right? You’ve been a pastor—how long?
Kevin: Almost 20 years.
Kevin: Next year will be 20 years to be at Community Bible Church in Fort Smith, Arkansas.
Dave: Yes, with two kids?
Kevin: Two kids; yes; and a wife.
Ann: You are the lead pastor of Community Bible Church.
Dave: You’ve written a few other books. Let’s talk about this one because, you know, when you talk about fear—and you start the book with a story of fear, even in your own home with your own son—tell us that story.
Kevin: Whenever you have a TV blasting, in the middle of the night underneath your bedroom, there is a certain God-given response to that: your heart raises; your adrenaline gets pumping; you’re ready to go. You’re going to fight;—
Kevin: —or you’re going to flee; or you could freeze. It goes all the way back to the idea of our ancestors, being out on the prairie, and a possible danger coming out on the horizon; and in that moment, they had to make a choice. Those are great responses when your life is truly in danger.
That is a horrible response, Dave, when Ann says, “We need to talk.” [Laughter] Yet, what happens in our homes, and what happens in our lives, is that same response then rises up in these emotional moments—
Kevin: —when our lives are not on the line—but in reality, instead of fighting/instead of fleeing or freezing, we then need to engage with our whole hearts with these people that we love. Yet, instead, we respond out of this fear response, which creates trauma within the family and everywhere else.
Dave: My response every time Ann said, “Let’s talk,” early in my marriage—and usually it was a conflict—I literally walked out of the room. You’re so right; it was this built-in—I didn’t even know it—fear: “Conflict—talking/communication—is bad. You avoid it; or you fight, and it ends up ugly.” There were times I just froze as well.
I mean, what you are talking about is so true; but man, you talk about leading a family or trying to create a home that’s fearless: “How do we go?” because that’s built in us. It’s really a gift from God in a good way, but it can be very negative; right?
Ann: And think about the era that we are living in. I mean, if there has ever been a time where fear is running rampant, it is right now. Our families are facing it.
Kevin: Absolutely. I think the first thing that we have to do is to recognize and to source that God-given response, but understand it was given for a God-intended purpose. So the places that we are tempted to fight, flight, or freeze—we have to recognize that/recognize: “This is not the place for that,”—and then make a different choice. That’s really what the book is about.
The book is about the concept that fear is really ruling our lives in a way that is destroying us. What’s happening is we are making decisions, based on fear, when we need to make them based on love. In the home, in that moment, the home should be the one place that fear does not dominate. I think the home and the church are really the two places that God designed, knowing that we are broken people in a fallen world. Fear is going to be overwhelming to us; and yet, here are two institutions that He gave to us to allow us to learn, to explore, to choose the way of love instead of the way of fear.
Yet sadly, so often, in the very place that God has given us to begin to diminish our fears, they actually are increased. I think about the “Church of the Afraid”; I think about the “Home of the Afraid”—and how in these places, where God desires for us to learn how to make choices based on love, we’re making them based on fear—what is scary to me is: we don’t realize it; we don’t recognize it!
Ann: Yes; what happened? How did we get there?
Kevin: I think that is a great question. I do think it’s just part of our sin nature and part that God did put this design within us; and now, as fallen people in the fallen world, it’s all changed in many ways.
I start the book with the story about Silas—fourth grader at the time—we live two blocks down from the school, so it’s always a fun time. This was about the age in which Silas is kind of aware that he is holding his dad’s hand. I remember, one day, he runs off—as we get to the edge of school—and runs off. My sixth-grade daughter looks at me and goes, “That’s okay, Daddy. He’s just trying to be somebody.” [Laughter] I thought to myself, “Aren’t we all?”
Kevin: But one morning, we get up—normal routine—go to school. I get to the door; he’s not there. I think he’s forgotten his lunch or his backpack. I call his name; he doesn’t respond, and I go look for him.
I find him hiding. In that moment, my world changed; because anxiety that he had been having and was building—the noise in his head that had been building for years—finally expressed itself. What began for us, from that moment, was a journey in which we realized how he was struggling with anxiety.
What I learned in the next two years—it wasn’t just a genetic component of anxiety that was going on—but as he was going through his issues with anxiety, I noticed that his anxiety was creating anxiety within me. Our home was becoming so tense; because we were literally making every decision based off of: “How can we keep him safe?” “How can we lessen the emotional trauma of what’s going on?” “How can we make him feel the most comfortable?” There is an aspect of parenting, where we need to do that; but there is another aspect of parenting, where that’s not really our job.
Ann: Okay, Kevin; like just hearing this, so many listeners are resonating right now; because I’ve talked to more parents than ever before in my life that their children are experiencing anxiety, fear, and depression—which just exactly is what you said—is now stirring that up in themselves. We feel paralyzed. Every parent that I’ve talked to, they are saying, “Help! We don’t know what to do.”
Kevin: That’s kind of the journey that we went on as we recognized the fear that was going on in our own home and, ultimately, the fear that was going on in my own life.
Some people call this a parenting book: Fearless Families. It is not a parenting book. It applies to parenting—no doubt—but we think parenting book of: “Alright, here is what parents should do to raise kids…”
Kevin: This really is, for me: “Here is what I need to do to endure parenting.” [Laughter] That’s what it really is to me; because I don’t think I ever realized how heartbreaking parenting truly is—and that’s just on a normal day—
Kevin: —that’s just in normal circumstances—and how my nature tends to go back to the concepts of fear, and I will make decisions based on that. What I came to find out is that, whenever fear becomes the prism through which we are making all decisions, we begin to lean on and even make idols into some concepts that really are false gods.
The very first one I talk about is the concept of safety—that safety is a good thing: “Who doesn’t want to keep their children safe?” Clearly, we need to keep our children safe; and yet, that is not something we can fully ensure. So when safety becomes the ultimate god—I call it the foundation of the ”Home of the Afraid”—
Kevin: —the “Home of the Afraid” is built on the foundation of safety. We believe: “If we can keep our kids safe/if we can experience safe, then we can build on that foundation and then be strong.” The problem is—you’re a pastor; you’re a pastor’s wife—you all know, that life can turn in an instant:—
Dave: Oh, yes.
Kevin: —the phone call can come; the diagnosis can be there; the global pandemic can suddenly show up. We understand that, while safety is something that’s wise to discern, it cannot be something that we idolize.
Think about this: “Is it safe?” How many times did Jesus ever ask the question, “Is it safe?”
Ann: That’s a great question. [Laughter]
Kevin: He never did—
Kevin: —and never called us to do so either; that, to me, is convicting.
Dave: In what ways, does that become an idol? Define idol—because I know where you are going, and I agree—but I want to make sure we understand this concept. It becomes: “What does it mean it’s an idol?”
Kevin: So when something good becomes the dominate thing—which for me, in many ways, that was the running question with my son—“Is he going to feel safe?” “Is he going to feel okay?”
What happens is we get involved in counseling. The counselor looks at me and goes, “Kevin, your job here isn’t necessarily to make him feel as safe as he can. It’s, as he is going through the circumstance, that he knows he has your support/that you are with him in the midst of this, not to rescue him from this.”
Ann: That is different; isn’t it?
Kevin: That is radically different, and it changes the question. So whenever we talk about that idea of safety, it is wise to discern and ask the question; but it becomes an idol when we make it the dominate question.
Here is what scares me for the “Church of the Afraid”: if you ask the majority of our people, they would equate safety with God’s will.
Ann: That’s a great point.
Kevin: They would think, “God would never call them into something dangerous.” Well, is the mission field safe? Is it necessarily safe at your job to testify about Jesus? It may not be safe, but it might be the right thing to do; so often, Jesus calls us into risky things.
Dave: The first time we took my oldest son on a mission trip to Africa to the bush—and it was going to be really rugged—I remember a couple of parents that we were saying, “Hey, go with us”; because it was really parents and their son or daughter.
I remember a couple of parents said to me: “That’s the most unsafe thing I would ever let my son or daughter do. They are 13 years old; it’s irresponsible of you to even ask us to consider this.” I should have been wiser; I just looked at them like, “That’s your concern?! Of course, it’s unsafe.” I mean, it’s as safe as it can be, but there’s not a
100 percent safety in walking out to your mailbox today, really. But they were unwilling to let their son or daughter and themselves go anywhere near that.
As I came home from that trip with my oldest son, I’m like, “That was life-changing; he’ll never be the same.” There was some fear involved, of course; bad things could have happened. But if safety became an idol, in the sense that we bowed down to, we lose what God wants to do in our lives and our kids’ lives.
Kevin: Yes; so in the book, I make two divisions. I talk about the “Home of the Afraid” and the “Home of the Brave.”
Kevin: I constructed, as a very basic like third-grade drawing of, what a house looks like. There is a foundation; there is a roof; and there are two walls. The foundation of the “Home of the Afraid” is this idea of safety.
Well, God invites us into a different foundation; it’s a foundation of trust. When we trust Him, we learn then to trust one another. The “Home of the Brave” is now learning how to trust God and trust each other.
Dave, what you were teaching your son in that moment is: “You know what? These lives are fleeting.
Kevin: “We can trust God with them, and we’re going to do risky things. We’re not going to be stupid; we’re not going to seek out martyrdom.
Kevin: “But we’re going to risk our lives for something that is far greater.” In so doing, you were teaching him trust—not only were you teaching him to trust God—you were teaching that you trust him. You were instilling manhood within him,—
Kevin: —which is a powerful thing. What you were doing is you were creating the “Home of the Brave.”
It doesn’t mean that we ignore safety. Clearly, we take it into context and consideration; but it does mean that there are greater questions. There are greater questions of: “What’s the right thing to do?” “What is the loving thing to do?” “What is pure?” “What is noble?” “What is true?” Those are all far better questions than “What is safe?” Whenever we prioritize the question of safety over what’s right and what’s loving, we have made safety into a god. As soon as we do that, we’re going to experience the negative consequences of that.
But here is the thing: that is our natural bent. Our natural bent is that I will go back to this concept of what’s going to keep me safe. Think about this within the context of an emotional discussion with your spouse. Why do we avoid that?—why do people basically have one of two reactions?—if they are in the conversation, they either raise their voice, or they emotionally shut down.
Kevin: In both cases, they are doing the exact same thing: they are going to a place of safety.
Kevin: They are not willing to put their heart out on the table, and to risk, and to say, “Here is what I feel; here is what has hurt me,” “How have I hurt you?” They are not willing to have the meaningful conversation.
Yet, when a husband and wife trust each other—when you have the commitment to know that: “You know what? There is nothing that you are going to do to break my love,”—whenever you have the transparency to say, “I’m fully invested in this, and that trust is there; that I’m not going to use you or manipulate you; I am for you; I love you.” I have to remind myself of this all the time.
Dave: What I really was surprised by, in your opening story, was Silas, you know, hiding; because he was afraid to go to school. I’m reading that, you know, right at the beginning of the thing: “It’s Fearless Families; Kevin is going to say, “And I spoke into him, and we got up, and we went.” [Laughter]
You end up taking his psychologist report—because he sat down to show it to your mom; right?—
Dave: —who has been a teacher all these years.
Kevin: —40 years.
Dave: Her answer to you is: “Oh, now, I understand you,”—your fear!
Ann: —as a boy, growing up.
Kevin: That’s exactly right.
Dave: I did not see that coming—that you, now, are going to admit you had fear—and even as a dad, there is some anxiety and fear.
Dave: We sit here; and we think, “Okay; I’m going to lead the ‘Home of the Brave,’ and that means I’m going to be fearless”; but what happens when we are scared ourselves?
Kevin: No; that’s exactly right. What I have found is that adulthood is far more scary [Laughter]—than childhood; right? I get it. We have better tools, and we should navigate. That’s not to downplay or diminish what our kids are going through by any means.
But yes; my son—we had him tested—we found a few learning differences that were there. What he was eventually diagnosed with was school refusal. Silas was a straight-A student. He wasn’t being bullied; he was loved by his classmates. But what was happening was, underneath, there were these learning differences that we didn’t know about; and it was creating stress within him. So school, every single day, was becoming more and more scary. Yet, we didn’t know; we thought he was having a great time, and everything was going well.
We had this testing done; get this report. I take it next door to my mom; she’s a school teacher for 40 years. She reads it; she looks up at me; she goes, “This explains so much about you.” [Laughter] I was like, “What?!” [Laughter] I got to looking; and sure enough, these things were evident in my life, early on, as well. Now, as an adult, they are just as present.
I think what is interesting to me is so many of the things that scare you, as a kid, really don’t come to fruition as an adult; right? You watch cartoons: I’ve never slipped into quicksand; right? The anvil has never fallen off the cliff and busted me in the head; but at the same time, the cartoons don’t show the truly scary parts of life either. We experience that every day, how life can change in an instant. It’s far more scary, I think, as an adult than as a child.
The reality of God’s invitation of: “Are you going to trust Me or not?”—because here is the reality—when we idolize the question: “Is it safe?”—who are we idolizing in that moment?—ourselves; we think it’s all on us.
Dave: The amazing thing is the fear doesn’t go away!
Dave: It doesn’t work! You know, a week later or a month later, you are still afraid, even though you are safe as can be. It didn’t touch your fear.
Kevin: A statement at our house, for the last three years, has been this: “When you feel fear, you can avoid it, and let it grow; or you can face it and diminish it,” “You can avoid it, and let it grow; or you can face it and diminish it.”
One of the great signs of the healing process for my son is, now, he’ll say, “Dad, I’m nervous.” “Okay; well, tell me what you are nervous about.” Then he’ll begin to walk through, maybe, what the next day holds, or what he is experiencing in the moment, or whatever is going on within his own life. Then I’ll ask the question: “Okay, what tools are you going to use to help that process?” “What are the stories you are going to tell in your head?” “What are the physical things that you can do? Are you going to work out?” “What are you going to do now?”
So it’s not, as a father, it’s not: “Here is what I can do to solve this problem,”—that’s where I was three years ago—it was: “Oh my goodness! My son is facing this. What am I going to do to save him?”
Whereas now, it’s: “Okay; let me help you and, hopefully, empower you to use the tools that you and I have learned to begin to diminish this fear.” But in the end, it’s not going to fully go away; but you have a choice to make, in the end: “Are you going to listen to the fear?—or are you going to listen to love? Choose the way of love.” That’s what Fearless Families is about.
Dave: Now, is, also, the way love—how would you tie in faith? Because I often think of fear—I always think of the tension—it’s really between fear or faith. I guess you are saying trust is similar to faith; or maybe, you are even saying love is similar. I either going to trust in faith; or I’m going to be gripped with fear.
Kevin: The way I think of it in my mind—and I’m not saying it’s necessarily right; it’s just the way my mind works—is that the battle between fear and love are revealing what we have faith in. The reason I prefer to say it’s a battle between fear and love is because, when you define love now—not as a force that expresses itself in a feeling—but instead, as a choice that expresses itself in an action.
It draws the question back to: “Okay, you’re feeling whatever you are feeling; that’s fine. What are you going to do about it? What action are you going to take? Are you going to take an action that is based on fear?—or are you, now, going to take an action that is based on love?” If you take an action based on love, you are doing so in faith. That is now an example that you have faith in God, not necessarily faith in yourself.
Dave: Yes; I’ve always said—I think it applies to Fearless Families; it definitely applies to our personal lives in terms of your faith—I’ve always tried to stress: “It’s really where Jesus says about the size of your faith; right? He says you can have faith, the size of a mustard seed, which is miniscule; and it can move mountains. It can make a difference.”
I’ve always grown up, thinking I need great big faith; and Jesus is like, “No; you just need little faith, but you need a great big God.” So I’ve always said, “It’s not the size of your faith that matters; it’s the size of your God.”
Kevin: We talk a lot in our house, and in our church as well, the difference between worrying about something and weighing something.
Ann: Oh, that’s good.
Kevin: Worrying about something is not productive. You’re just ruminating in your head all the things that can go wrong and the decisions you’re facing; right?
Ann: Oh, yes; we all do that.
Kevin: It feels productive—it feels like you are doing something—but you’re not! You’re in the exact same spot. One of the tests, now, if you are worrying something is you get stuck. Worry makes us get stuck. We are in the same place three days from now that we are right now.
Whereas, we talk about weighing a decision, which is kind of like the old bank scales. We talk to our kids; we’ve talked to each other: “Are you worrying about it, or are you weighing it?” “Are you honestly saying, ‘Alright; is this the right decision or not? Now, let’s move forward.’” That’s the way of love. The way of love is: “What is the most loving action to take, right now, today? Let the chips fall where they may. How can we discern that and do the right thing?”
Safety comes into that conversation, no doubt.
Kevin: But it’s not the ultimate god of what’s going on. The bigness of who God is does apply, which empowers us to choose the way of love.
Kevin: The way of love makes no sense if God is small, because it’s not going to work; but if God is big, then the way of love is always the right way. That is what, then, empowers us to have trust in Him and to choose that way.
Then, it’s one thing to have trust in a perfect, holy, just God, who is never going to fail you. It’s different for my son to trust me, because I am going to fail him; I’m going to make bad choices sometimes. It’s difficult for my wife to trust me, because I’m going to fail her; there are times, in which, I’m not going to be the husband she needs or deserves.
Yet, for us to have a healthy marriage, we’re going to have to learn how to trust each other, which now necessitates forgiveness, and love, and mercy. It demands, now, for me that—man, the mistakes I make, they better not be life-altering mistakes that could just destroy her trust—because when a family, when a marriage, when parenting, when a church loses that foundation of trust, there is nothing left to build the house on. So if you don’t have a trust of God, what good is the church? In a vertical marriage, if you don’t have the trust of God—
Kevin: —the marriage can’t be built up. Yet, when that trust exists—when a husband and wife trust each other—there is no limit—
Kevin: —on what they can do.
Kevin: When a person trusts who God is, there is no limit with what God can do with that person.
Bob: It is easy for any of us to become fearful when our safety is threatened/when trust has been violated. A spirit of fear—not just normal, healthy fear of things we ought to be concerned about—but a spirit of fear/that does not come from God. God does not give a spirit of fear; that comes from another place.
Dave and Ann Wilson have been talking today with Kevin Thompson, who has written a book called Fearless Families: Building Brave Homes in an Uncertain World. We’ve got Kevin’s book in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. You can go to our website, which is FamilyLifeToday.com, to request a copy; or you can call us at 1-800-FL-TODAY. Ask about the book, Fearless Families, from Kevin Thompson.
We’ve already heard this week about how social media and screen time can be an issue for families. There is a reason to be cautious and careful when it comes to screen time. Arlene Pellicane has written a book called Screen Kids, and we’re making that book available this week to any FamilyLife Today listener who can help extend the reach of FamilyLife—help us reach more people more often—through this daily radio program, the podcast, what we have available online, our resources, our events. You make all that possible, as a FamilyLife Today listener, anytime you get in touch with us and make a donation.
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Be sure to join us, again, tomorrow when we’re going to talk about what happens in a family when mom or dad, or both of them, become controlled by fear. When fear becomes the atmosphere in your home, what happens? Kevin Thompson will be back with us again. I hope you can be here as well.
On behalf of our hosts, Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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