A Playhouse Called Fear

What would your life be like if you had no fear?

I asked myself that question a few years ago and discovered that a wound from my childhood had affected me most of my life. For years, I thought anger was my central issue, but as I began to peel back the layers, I discovered that at the core, it went much deeper.

When I was two or three years old, our family lived in a small town in rural Kansas. The house across the street from us had a beautiful playhouse in the backyard.

One day, I was playing with the neighbor kids in the backyard across the street. Because I was the youngest one in the pack, I was always a step or two slower than everyone else. Well, the other kids huddled in a circle for a moment and then one of them said, “Let’s go play in the playhouse!” Everyone else ran inside and I followed behind.

After entering the playhouse, all of the kids ran out the entryway and slammed the door shut. Then I heard someone lock the door on the outside.

I tried to open the door but it was fastened shut.

I didn’t know what to do.

Then I looked to my left and saw a Mickey Mouse phone attached to the wall. I picked up the phone and cried out to Mickey to save me. Unfortunately, Mickey didn’t pick up.

Suddenly, I was overwhelmed with panic. What if I never get out of here? I thought. I felt so out of control. Then something happened inside me that I distinctly remember to this day: like a pilot light from a furnace, my anger was lit.

Obviously, I was eventually rescued, but the damage was already done.

From that point on, every time I felt like I was being controlled, that internal flame roared to life and manifested itself as anger. As a child, when kids made fun of my new haircut and I couldn’t make them stop, my anger burned out of control. For years, I felt like a volcano, the red-hot lava simmering below the surface, building pressure until it released itself on any unsuspecting person nearby. Usually, my wife and oldest daughter caught the overflow.

Finally, I came face-to-face with my anger issue. When confronted with my anger addiction I decided to bring it to God.

He led me to a story from Mark 4:35-41. One evening, Jesus invited his disciples to join him in a boat to cross the Sea of Galilee. Midway across the lake, a furious storm struck the boat, nearly capsizing it. Jesus, however, was fast asleep in the stern.

Imagine going out in a boat, in the middle of the lake, in the middle of the night. No outboard motor—only sails and oars. No navigational equipment, not even a flashlight.

If one of those storms should hit, how would you feel?

The disciples shook Jesus awake. “Jesus. Jesus! Teacher, don’t you care that we’re about to drown?”

Then Jesus stood up and calmly said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” The wind immediately died down and it became completely calm.  Jesus looked at them and said, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”

Astonished by what they had just seen, they asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!”

Studying this passage, I realized that Jesus is in control. Even when the waves are crashing into me, even when I feel controlled by others, Jesus is still in control—and I have nothing to fear.

I wish I could say it happened in an instant, but over time, the raging storm inside me began to subside. I didn’t need to be afraid. Jesus is in control.

You may wrestle with an assortment of fears:

  • Fear of the unknown
  • Fear of being known, of people seeing the real you
  • Fear of being alone
  • Fear of being wrong
  • Fear of rejection
  • Fear of not being successful which is different than the fear of being unsuccessful
  • Fear of failure
  • Fear of being average
  • Fear of unemployment
  • Fear of not being able to support your family
  • Fear of dying

Fear is such a powerful emotion that it can take godlike control over our lives, affecting our relationships, the way we see ourselves, the way we make decisions, the way we see God.

Experience poverty growing up and you could respond by becoming a workaholic so that you never have to go without again. Even if it means working a job you hate, a job that kills your heart. The fear of poverty.

Fear of being alone can drive you into the arms of a person who doesn’t love you, who may be abusive, but is willing to provide a minimal amount of companionship.

We can lift up our voices in praise to Jesus on Palm Sunday and by the next Friday, fear can drive us to crucify him on a cross.

We think that control brings peace, but it actually works in the opposite direction of peace. In Isaiah 26:3, we read, “You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you” (italics added).

Trust doesn’t mean taking control, it means giving up control.

You can believe in your head that God is all-powerful, all-knowing, ultimately in control, good, and loving. But in your heart, you just don’t trust him.

The best answer I can give is the cross: “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” Romans 8:32 (ESV)

If God loves us enough to give us his son, then we can trust him.

And you don’t need to live in fear.

Michael co-pastors The Neighborhood Church in Littleton, Colorado with Eugene Scott. He’d like to say that he no longer deals with anger and control issues…but then he’d be lying.


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11 responses to “A Playhouse Called Fear

  1. Georgie-ann

    Thank you, Michael!,… this is such an excellent story,… the “happenstance” of circumstances beyond our control, especially when we’re so little and so dependent on the watchful care of others who love us to keep us constantly safe and protected, which sometimes situationally just falls apart on us through no one’s fault, particularly,…

    How ironic,… I just read an article that tells of the real childhood experience of Thomas Kinkade and his brother, who “grew up in poverty,” and would actually stand together outside some of the beautiful idealized houses he later painted, ALWAYS in the position of “watching others” living that apparently “beautiful high life,” having that “joyful” seasonal party, while they were never invited in,… bathing in the warmth created by that beautiful light glowing within, while outside the elements made themselves felt,… this can have a bittersweet emotional effect, which I think he captured well, but, thank God, if one isn’t also somewhat truly overwhelmed and embittered “inside” by their vulnerability to “social exclusion.” (Btw,… such things are never “as perfect” as they look from the outside, but as children, we don’t actually know that yet,.. and they were very lucky to be compatible and have each other to “experience” these things with, together,… they had the warmth of their own companionship and apparent familial love, that could help sustain them,… this is actually “worth a million bucks” in a child’s life — the “intangibles” we often overlook that are so important to our emotional “well being” and steadiness,…)

    He was locked out. You were locked in. Both helpless to change anything. (And too bad about Mickey! You learned very early what he was really worth!)

    Having been the “big sister” of three “little brothers,” believe me, my heart goes out to you! The idyllic picture of that sweet little playhouse (that you posted with this article), contrasted with the idea of the prison and psychological torture chamber “it” suddenly and unexpectedly became for sweet little you, is really just so ironic (thank you, Alanis!),… But in many ways, it happens to us all, all the time,… unsuspecting and trapped in a bad marriage,… becoming the victim of someone else’s controlling abusive nature,… having a bad teacher,… being mocked or bullied by the insensitive and pig-headed goats of the universe,… living in a society “gone mad,”… etc.,… Where do we go? What do we do? What do we think?,… caught under these circumstances, and “helpless?”,… “Post traumatic stress syndrome” happens to people in other places and situations besides on a war-time battlefield,… humans “do it” to each other all the time,… especially now,…

    The “facts of life” for us humans are that we ARE all too vulnerable,… period. Imperfect and vulnerable. We really do need Jesus “to get on board” with us,… Jesus, who transcends “life” like nothing else possibly can,… a real savior in a real way,… no “Mickey Mouse” about it!,…

    I often say that I got a large part “of my religion” on Broadway! Thank goodness for some of the good and inspiring songs and messages that came out, especially following the whole world’s nightmare of World War II,… “Climb Every Mountain,” “When You Walk Through a Storm,” “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” “I Believe,” “There’s a Place for Us,”,… These are some of my favorite faves of all time,… They still make me cry,… and I play them rather often,…

    I also think studying history and reading classic books like the Dickens’ stories (as a young person), has helped to put the “problems” and unfairnesses and inherent abusiveness of life and people — (the vulnerable ones and the “mean” ones, too!) — into a context where greater objectivity is possible, because this is not just a simple, isolated personal affair for each individual, but a “story of life” in general, in its many imperfect facets, as we all experience it — one way or another — here on earth,… Like it or not, we ARE all in this together!

    Some aspects of life are truly “luxuries,”… we could live pretty much “just fine” without them,… But our deep vulnerability shows up, very understandably, when necessary things are threatened or denied or lacking,… We are created with a strong guiding instinct for “Self-preservation,” and this is actually very healthy, as long as we respect everyone else’s needs for “Self-preservation” too, and treat them accordingly,… This will lead to the idea of “give and take” in life,… not “hogging it all,” but sharing willingly (and being polite!),… understanding the blessings of giving,… and, being willing to share, even to “suffer and do without,” so that someone else may benefit,… (I’m reminded of the mother bird who plucks out her own feathers to make a special nest for her children!),…

    Acts 20:35 “I have shown you in every way, by laboring like this, that you must support the weak. And remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’”

    I would imagine that someone tried very hard to comfort you, when they found you stranded and so traumatized so long ago, but obviously even “a mother’s grateful and loving hugs and kisses” (or whoever’s), didn’t or couldn’t reach deep enough to touch and heal the pain and desperation and terror that had struck your young soul, as much as I’m sure they would have wanted too,… But, Jesus’s hugs and kisses can do exactly that,… even now,… today,… That’s the absolute reality of “Who He is” and “How much He knows us and loves us,” and “Why we, each and everyone of us, need Him so badly as a(our) own personal Savior,”… Jesus, to this day, still wants to “kiss your Boo-boo” and make it all better,…

    For real,… (and He’s “got what it takes!”)

    (Take it from me!,… I know,… I’ve been there,… )

    • Thanks for your thoughtful words, Georgie-ann. Actually, I don’t remember anyone encouraging me after my traumatic experience. Forty years later, though, the Holy Spirit embraced me and helped me understand the events.

      • Georgie-ann

        Wow,… life carried on in the hands of children, can really be unintentionally rugged sometimes,… On the whole, my brothers and I remember our freedom to ramble around the neighborhoods at will with a decidedly retrospective “rose colored glasses” tint, and “all’s well that ends well” philosophy,… But “bad things can (and do and did) happen to good people,”… “accidental” is an influence that kids especially seem prone to,… Still, most folks “my age” feel that overall, it built character in a way that our current overly adult-influenced co-opting and managing of our kids’ “free (and spontaneous) time,” doesn’t allow for,… My condolences,… someone should have at least taken you to the “corner store” for an ice cream cone, special just for you!,… (When I was 7, we could get them for nickel at the end of the block, in Columbus, Ohio: “Neopolitan:” chocolate, vanilla and strawberry!),… (-:

        I also just read your comment to Elna,… “fighting the devil” was a very “popular” stance in Pentecostal movements that I was part of,… & I’ve probably got puh-lenty to “say” about it all,… I certainly agree whole-heartedly about putting our faith, focus and trust 100% in God,… (and the Catholic Church is really really great about this!),… It would be “a beautiful world” if I could say that that completely “takes care of everything,” so you can then just “forget all about the devil,” but it just doesn’t seem to be the truth of the matter,… Perhaps some of us are called more so than others to a ministry that does/will involve “spiritual warfare” from time to time,… more intense sometimes than others,… and I’ve never felt that “vigilance” and awareness in these (sometimes subtle) matters is rendered “optional” by any particular “faith stance” or verse of Scripture,… Jesus certainly could recognize “him” and his influence at work in life and in the “hearts of men” and in “personal confrontation,”… I’m sure a proper understanding of this is part of the “meat of the Word,”… but then again, I’m also sure that a lot of very improper things are going on “in the name of” all this, that shouldn’t be,… Anyone who has had to more or less directly “tussle” with the “old piece of garbage,” will probably be wearing “unseen” scars, but may also have developed very great (hidden) talents in this area as well,… Be wise,… but don’t limit,… don’t look for trouble, but if you find it anyway, “fear not,”… “I have overcome the world,” Jesus tells us:

        John 16:33 “These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”

        Well,… thank God!

        P.S., I might as well go ahead and say it: having St. George (“the dragonslayer”) as a given namesake, not my choice as a wee babe, I have to admit that I do recognize the inclination and development of some personal skills along these lines, that if I could have avoided early on, I most certainly would have,… All I’m going to say, is that I’m not as faint of heart as I used to be,…

        Ephesians 4:4-7, 11-16
        4 “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6 one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.

        [Spiritual Gifts]

        7 “But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift. … 11 And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, 13 till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; 14 that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, 15 but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ— 16 from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.”

      • Georgie-ann

        edit: a nickel

        as much of a bargain as 5 cent ice cream cones might sound like today, we didn’t actually get them very often,… and in those days, we also had DDT spraying vehicles going up and down the streets and alleys all summer long, so we might have also gotten a nose-full of that stuff as we walked home with our cones,… life is never perfect,… but what did we know?,… my brother actually enjoyed riding on his bike with his friends, chasing right behind the spraying trucks,… and we’re still here, telling the tales!,… must be a miracle of some sort!

    • Georgie-ann

      edit: ” … as a (our own) personal Savior,”…

  2. elna

    Anger=fear… I first heard that phrase from a South African preacher, Angus Buchan, aka the Potato Farmer. I have always found that when I am angry there is some fear lurking behind it.

    I have some evangelical friends that live in absolute fear of the ‘New World Order’, the government (local and foreign) …HAARP , alien invasions, torandoes, earthquakes, ..etc etc etc…the list is absolutely endless…
    in Ps 1 God says that the leaders are planning against Him and His Anointed but …their plans will come to nothing…
    Then why are we as christians so afraid?
    I have this friend that was so so worked up about Satan and his minions that she ended up sounding like a spindoctor FOR the devil!!
    In the 1960’s with the explosion of paleontology someone asked a well-known rabbi what he felt about it….he said that he believes God created heaven and earth, and even the bones lying in the earth that was discovered!
    I believe it’s time that we stop focusing on the ‘enemy’ and start focusing on our God..the creator of Heaven and Earth, and every leader has been appointed by God, to do His will.

    • Elna, 15 years ago I was the person working overtime to fight Satan and his minions. It ultimately stirred up so much trouble that I learned that God never called me to fight principalities and powers. By focusing on the enemy, I was inadvertently giving him god-like power over my life. The author of Hebrews said “Fix your eyes on Jesus”, so that’s what I’m trying to do.

      • Elna

        I love the prophets…and the one theme that keeps on coming through is, that everything, good and bad, comes from God. If I trust God to be Almighty, and All-powerful, then I can rest assured that He had to give permission for everything that happens to me (Book of Job). GOD IS IN CONTROL. I must also admit that everytime I get angry,,it;s not fear or abuse that causes my anger…but my PRIDE…because I deserve better… and then the Bible tells me that I should just accept the wrong done to me 1 Cor 6:7 Now that really deflates my pride and my anger :)) I was once wronged by someone (his dogs killed two of my calves and he promised to replace them and he didn’t) and I kept this anger-flame going till God told me ….let it go,…”if I really possess all the cattle on the hills, then those two are nothing” …( I do tend to get tested on catchy sayings) and after a while I realised that God was right, I did not get poorer or go hungry..I actually have triple the amount of cattle that I had…and God chose that way to teach me that lesson…

  3. Georgie-ann

    “There’s a Place for Us” is really titled “Somewhere,”… it’s from West Side Story. A musical about fear/anger, violence, and (basic gut level) survival (in the NYC ghetto),… and transcendence. The “good news” is, transcendence is actually possible. It takes a “vision” and a will to follow “something higher/greater”, more healed and powerful in its peace-making, soul-affirming gentleness than the defensive fear/anger/”get them before they get to you” stance, which only continues irrevocably downward, never resolving a thing,…

  4. Evan Roth

    Amen Mike. There is no fear in Christ. Oh if I could consistently learn that lesson.

  5. Pingback: Why You Want To Live Scared (At Least A Little) | The Neighborhood Café

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