The Dread of the Unknown
The dread of the unknown grabbed hold of our grandson when he was three. He was playing in the living room when a sun came out from behind a cloud, striping the floor with light and dark.
“Grammy, what’s that?” he asked, pointing at the dark bit.
“It’s called a shadow.”
“What’s a shad-e-ow?” He got the “shad” part right, but pronounced the “ow” like the end of radio.
“It’s what objects and people make when they stand in the sun. The light can’t get through so it forms a dark outline–a shadow.”
“I don’t like shad-e-ows. Make them go away.”
In that moment, a fear was born.
No matter what we said.
No matter that we showed him how shadows come and go without harm.
No matter how often we showed him it didn’t hurt to stomp on someone’s shadow.
No matter how many times we grabbed at shadows and couldn’t catch them.
His fear of shadows was real. It was debilitating. It ruled his days for almost a year. And then it slipped away, as silent and insubstantial as a shad-e-ow.
My grandson’s dread of the unknown wasn’t much different than what I experienced after our medically fragile baby was born. I spent the first year of his life in the grips of fear.
What if he died? He didn’t.
What if he got sick again? He did get sick. A lot. And then he got better.
What if I couldn’t pump enough breast milk for him? Somehow, there was always enough.
No matter the good things that happened.
No matter how often my fears didn’t come true.
No matter how many times our baby fought off illness.
No matter how many times we had just enough and no more.
My fear was real. It was debilitating. It ruled my days for my baby’s first year of life. While my grandson’s fear slipped away almost unnoticed, my fear for my baby departed kicking and screaming, lurking in corners eager for a chance to return.
The dread of the unknown, I now realize, is part and parcel of parenting a child with special needs and disabilities. The decisions, the diagnoses, the outcomes, the timelines are different for our kids. Our parenting journey contains many unknowns. It can be hard. It can also be unsettling. But we can’t let the dread of the unknown magnify the hard bits of parenting our children and block out the joy and delight of their lives. Instead we must understand the distinction between fear and faith.
Fear is the dread of things unknown, the terror of things unseen.
Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things unseen. (Hebrews 11:1)
Fear is grounded in what we don’t know about parenting our kids.
Faith is grounded in the hope of one wants to be known.
The dread of the unknown may be part and parcel of raising our kids, but we can loosen its grip by looking to the Savior who came to earth to be seen. The one who lives in the light and not the shadows. The one who loves you and your child with an everlasting love that casts out fear. The one who is ever and always the hope of all who seek to know him.
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Jolene Philo is the author of the Different Dream series for parents of kids with special needs. She speaks at parenting and special needs conferences around the country. She’s also the creator and host of the Different Dream website. Sharing Love Abundantly With Special Needs Families: The 5 Love Languages® for Parents Raising Children with Disabilities, which she co-authored with Dr. Gary Chapman, was released in August of 2019 and is available at local bookstores, their bookstore website, and at Amazon.
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