PLEASE DON’T SEND IN THE CLOWNS!
Series: When Faith Meets the Family Circus
I Samuel 17
May 14, 2017
Have you ever heard of coulrophobia? It is the fear of clowns. And it is a very common thing—Even celebrities as notorious as Johnny Depp, Jennifer Anniston and Sean “Diddy” Combs suffer from coulrophobia.
I’ve never liked clowns either—they frightened me as a kid, and I’m not particularly comfortable around them now! They’re creepy. There’s something sinister behind those lacquered up grins. Ronald McDonald’s cool, but don’t give me any Bozos! Someone walking around with a red rubber ball for a nose, three coats of grease paint on their forehead and size 24 shoes is not my idea of a sane person! And you won’t see me promoting any clown ministries here at Vision of Hope!
It has been said that fear is the wrong use of imagination. Well, our kids have a lot of imagination, and they do deal with all sorts of fears, including clowns. It is a scary world our kids live in. The 24/7 era of social media exposes them to a barrage of terrifying images and events.
If only we could insulate them in bubble wrap. But we can’t. In the day-to-day hectic environment of the family circus, how do we help our children find faith to deal with their fears and overcome them? That is the question we want to wrestle with this morning as we encounter a most familiar passage from the Old Testament—the story of David and Goliath.
Yes, the story of David and Goliath is one of the most beloved and memorable stories in all the Bible. You know the account: the ancient Israelites are in the field doing battle against their mortal enemies, the Philistines. The battle has ground down to a stalemate.
The Philistines propose a common military practice in those days to settle the standoff—they will send a representative from their army to fight the best warrior the Israelites can muster.
Hand-to-hand combat between the two men will settle the entire war. (when you think about it, that wouldn’t be a bad way of settling some of the conflicts in our world today!)
Well, this is a decent and honorable thing to do in most situations. However, in this instance, the Philistines have the deck stacked heavily in their favor.
Visualize, if you will, a big nasty fellow who is cloned from the DNA of Shaquille O’Neil and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. Now make him 3 feet taller, and cover his from head-to-toe in 126 lbs. of sheet metal. Give him a spear with a head that weights 16 lbs, and a mouth as loud as one of those monster truck announcers. There you have Goliath, the biggest, strongest, meanest, vilest combatant who stands in the Philistine corner. His very presence strikes dread in the heart of the Israelites.
10 Then the Philistine bellows, “This day I defy the ranks of Israel! Give me a man and let us fight each other.” 11 On hearing the Philistine’s words, Saul and all the Israelites were dismayed and terrified.
And the whole Israelite army scatters in a stampede of cowardice.
Our children have many goliath-sized fears they deal with in their lives as well, fears that fill their hearts with absolute terror.
For preschool children, their greatest fear is bigness. Anything from big animals to big noises can trigger a panic attack.
I find it quite amusing that one of my son Tyler’s favorite hobbies is collecting and shooting handguns and rifles. This is the same kid who, when we took him to see the Clyde Beatty-Cole Brothers Circus each year, would cower under his blanket and wail uncontrollably when the gigantic cannon firing the human cannonball would roll into the circus tent. He was petrified out of his skin at the loud explosion of that giant apparatus.
Preschool children are frightened of bigness…and yes, that includes clowns…and let us not forget monsters. How many of you parents have to check the closets and underneath the bed every night for zombies and vampires and aliens and the like?
About midnight one night mom and dad were awakened by a bloodcurdling scream. She went running to Jason’s room.
A bad dream in the middle of the night had awakened the little boy, and he was terrified. The mom comforted and reassured him everything was okay. She declared the space underneath the bed and in closet monster-free. She brought him a glass of water and tucked him back in.
As she turned out the night and prepared to exit the room, Jason inquired, “Mommy, will you sleep with me the rest of the night?” “No, Jason,” she replied, “I have to sleep with your father.”
As she quietly closed the door to his room, she overheard Jason muttering under his breath, “The big sissy!!”
The greatest fear of school-aged children is separation—being apart from mom, dad, the family. Some of you go through this torment every August with school starting back.
I’ll never forget the summer, years ago, when Valerie and I served as camp counselors at Camp Overlook, a United Methodist Camp on the Harrisonburg District. The camp director, Ron Robey, thought it would be a fantastic idea to bring in 3rd graders for an entire week’s experience.
Things went along pretty well, except for bedtime. There was this crescendo of wailing as kids cried for their mommas and daddies! I had to hang up 8-9 sleeping bags to dry every morning after they had wet them during the night! It was a long, long week!
Now 3rd graders participate in a day camp only, foregoing the torture of night-time separation. Smart move!
For tween-agers, the greatest fear is social rejection—of being cut off from the pack, of not fitting in. It is a tough, tough age…an age not when you glory in being different, but rather in simply being able to blend in.
We all know that youth at this age can be brutally cruel to one another. Go mill about the crowd of teens along the fence at any Friday night football game or, heaven forbid, take a peek at your daughter’s social media—you’ll see rejection being played out over and over. It is a horrible fear—being shunned by your peers.
Then, for adolescents, the greatest fear, believe it or not, is dealing with change.
Upon graduation from high school, Bob Kuechenberg, the former great player for the Miami Dolphins, was pondering what to do with his future.
He explained what enabled him to come to a decision: “My father and uncle were human cannonballs in a traveling carnival. My father told me ‘Go to college or be a cannonball.’ One day my uncle came out of the cannon, missed the safety net, and hit the Ferris wheel. I decided to go to college.”
Many parents of high school juniors and seniors have a hard time getting their sons and daughters to think about college or careers beyond high school. It’s that fear of having to deal with a new situation—and she or he just doesn’t want to face that prospect of leaving a very secure environment.
It’s tough for these older teens—leaving home and dealing with homesickness, wondering if you have what it takes to measure up in school or in a new job. It’s a scary time for them.
Yes, there are many, many Goliaths that cross the paths of our kids, fears that grip them with panic and paralysis. How can we help them to better cope with these fears?
Let’s return to the narrative from 1 Samuel 17. A young runt of a boy named David arrives on the scene, bringing some home-cooked meals and provisions for his older brothers in the Israelite army.
He hears Goliath bellowing his challenge to Israel to put up a warrior to face him. He hears the taunts of this gargantuan, evil soldier.
And David is quite appalled to see his brothers and the rest of the Israelite army scattering like a bunch of fleas. No one will take a stand against this giant. He is humiliating the very name of God Almighty!
David goes to King Saul to offer his services in the conflict. 32 David says to Saul, “Let no one lose heart on account of this Philistine; your servant will go and fight him.”
Saul laughs, but he cannot help but admire the confidence of this young boy. Where does such confidence come from?
Well, we know that David was the youngest son of eight children born to Jesse and his wife. And yet, he wasn’t spoiled rotten by his parents. His parents gave him the responsibilities of a shepherd, and when his older brothers were away fighting the war, it was David who had to provide for the remaining family left at home.
Our first step in helping our kids deal with fear is to build confidence in them. We need to encourage them to assume responsibilities and tasks that they can accomplish, and then back off and let them do them. Don’t be a helicopter parent, hovering over them and constant doing things for them. If they make mistakes, that’s okay. They’ll learn from the mistakes. They will grow in self-reliance, poise, toughness, and boldness.
But the important thing is to help them construct this level of confidence so that they won’t be overwhelmed when scary, difficult times come. They will be willing to take on the challenges, as David does in swallowing his fear and stepping up to face Goliath.
Another step in helping our kids overcome fear is to impart resourcefulness.
When David won’t take no for an answer, King Saul finally gives in and gives him permission to do battle with the giant. We read further…
38 Then Saul dressed David in his own tunic. He put a coat of armor on him and a bronze helmet on his head. 39 David fastened on his sword over the tunic and tried walking around, because he was not used to them.
“I cannot go in these,” he said to Saul, “because I am not used to them.” So he took them off. 40 Then he took his staff in his hand, chose five smooth stones from the stream, put them in the pouch of his shepherd’s bag and, with his sling in his hand, approached the Philistine.
David’s parents had evidently instilled in him some good common sense over the years—that ability to adapt, to be creative in overcoming the fearful things he faced in life. He knows that his ability to defeat Goliath with lie with his cunning, not his might. And so he chooses the best resources at his disposal—not heavy armor and weapons, but a sling and five smooth stones.
Eddie Lambert was talking about his sons Jason and Bryan a while back. He was saying how proud he was of his boys. As teenagers, they would often shadow their dad in his work as head of a heating, cooling and plumbing firm. They’d watch him deal with some of the nastiest, dirtiest jobs you could possibly imagine. They would assist him in installing and fixing things.
Now both of his sons have grown up and are working in the family business, and doing a great job of serving the community. They learned resourcefulness from their dad, and are putting it to good use.
As David’s dad taught him to hunt and protect himself with a sling and rocks, as well as giving him a foundation of creative, common sense, so we do our kids a great service in facing their fears if we impart this same resourcefulness in them.
The third and most vital step in helping our children to confront and overcome fear is to instill assurance.
When Saul tries to talk David out of doing battle with the giant, he replies, 37 The LORD who delivered me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine.”
So Saul says to David, “Go, and the LORD be with you.”
David goes forth to face the fear that is before him not just with confidence, not just with resourcefulness, but above all, with the assurance he is not alone. God is going to be with him in the struggle.
David’s parents have taught him that is never beyond the shadow of God’s care. He knows that the God who has stood by him in many precarious experiences as a shepherd will not abandon him now.
David approaches Goliath. The battle is over before it gets started. While Goliath is shooting off at the mouth, taunting David by describing how he’s going to feed his carcass to the bird of the air and the beasts of the field, David quietly draws back his sling and lets a stone fly. The stone embeds in Goliath’s forehead and he comes crashing down unconscious and defeated. God’s people have won! And David, having trusted God against all odds, has brought about the victory!
The Apostle Paul once proclaimed in a similar vein, “I can do all things through Him who gives me strength!” This is the lesson of faith we instill in our kids. Indeed, God is always a God of possibility, enabling them to reach beyond what is to take hold of what might be.
After providing them a foundation of faith in the home, we, like a mother sparrow, simply have to push them out of the nest so that they can take flight and learn that assurance first-hand for themselves.
It’s scary for them and for us. They have to risk themselves; they have to stretch themselves, to discover what God has in store for them as well as discovering his presence is with them.
What is the best way to awaken these virtues of confidence, resourcefulness and assurance in our kids, that they might cope with and overcome the fears they face? They have to see such virtues in us. We are the role models.
We are the best source—not the preacher or the youth director or the Sunday School teacher—but us. And so if we want our children to have a strong faith in God, a faith that overcomes fear, then we have to be about the task of tending to our own spiritual formation. Where is God on our list of priorities? Are we serious about the disciplines that enable us to grow in faith?
Do we desire a deep relationship with our Maker?
The manner in which we deal with fear from a vantage point of faith determines, to a large extent, how our kids will react to such fears.
It would do us well to commit Psalm 27:1 to our memories and to our lives:
The LORD is my light and my salvation—
whom shall I fear?
The LORD is the stronghold of my life—
of whom shall I be afraid?
On this Mother’s Day of 2017, we realize that parenting has changed over the years. Mary Bouck sent this quip into Reader’s Digest:
“Keep making that face and it’s going to freeze that way,” was what my mother used to say to us as kids. I knew times had changed recently when she caught my sister scowling and warned, “Keep making that face and you’re going to need Botox.” http://www.rd.com/funny-stuff/funny-mom-stories/
And yet, despite the many changes in parenting, there are also constants. And one of these is our calling to help our kids find faith to cope with and overcome their fears. May God give us guidance and strength to do this very thing! Amen!`