In reading Matthew’s Gospel a few days ago, I was struck by how Jesus praises the faith of the centurion: “I tell you the truth, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith” (Matthew 8:10). That affirmation stands in stark contrast to the condemnatory greeting Jesus gives his disciples when they wake him in the middle of a furious storm: “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?” (Matthew 8:26). Why did Jesus praise the centurion and condemn the disciples? After all, the disciples respected Jesus’ power enough to beg him to save them. And the disciples were experienced fishermen, so this must have been a major storm. So what did the disciples do wrong? They were afraid. They panicked. Like the centurion, they knew that Jesus could deliver them, but they weren’t sure he would. So they were still full of fear.
Back-to-school season kindles new fears in some parents. After the more relaxing pace of summer, you may worry about the influx of school stress—ranging from trying to get out the door in the morning to navigating hours of evening homework. You worry that your kids won’t get the teachers they want, or the ones that you want for them. You might be afraid that your more introverted child will withdraw into books, or be afraid that your more extroverted child won’t hit the books enough.
So how do you have the type of faith that Jesus applauds? A gospel-infused response to fear is more than repeatedly telling yourself, “Don’t be afraid. Trust Jesus.” There has to be a healthy middle ground between denial and despair. What can we do when we face back-to-school anxieties and fears?
- Pay attention to them. Don’t deny them or dwell on them, but acknowledge the fears you have as your family plunges back into the world of school lunches and rushed carpools.
- See if you can figure out what’s underneath that fear. What is behind the fear you have about your child, or your family’s schedule? Is it your own feelings of inadequacy, or your own struggles with loneliness?
- Talk to others about what you’re fearing. Don’t forget that you are not alone in these fears. Other parents have their own fears, and even if they aren’t identical to yours, they generally stem from the same roots of shame or inadequacy. Knowing this can bring comfort.
- Talk with Jesus about them. Talking with a friend helps. Talking with Jesus helps more. Fears get smaller when you talk with Jesus about them.
- Talk with Jesus with your kids. When any of your kids share their concerns about their teacher, homework, or friendships, try to talk to Jesus aloud right then and there. Pray that God would guide them to the right friends at lunch. Ask God to put them in the classes where they can best be salt and light.