Fear & Offense - the Toddlers of 2020
Let me paint a picture for you...
You’ve had a long day and you’re hungry. You decide to get some Chipotle (obvi), and as you head into the store you immediately see that only a few workers are wearing masks. You also see three people in front of you, some of whom are wearing masks. One of the ladies turns to you and smiles (you can see it in her eyes 😏) and says… “Hey, don’t I know you?” and she walks over to shake your hand.
How do you respond? How does this situation make you feel? What opinions form in your mind?
If this scenario doesn't cause any brow-furrowing or offense, then you are winning at 2020. Seriously. But chances are it does evoke an emotion. That’s because it involves ... MASKS.
Yep. I’m going there.
For the last several months, mask-wearing or not wearing has been all the rage (pun intended). It’s caused controversy and division within families, churches, businesses, and friends; and while I understand the right to voice your opinion (really I do), what’s on my heart today isn’t who’s right or wrong. It’s the issue of Fear and Offense.
Fear and Offense are the toddlers of 2020, and they’re currently running rampant in our cities. They’re sticking their tongues out, and they’re trying to steal everyone’s joy. As parents, what do we do with toddlers? Do we let them take off their diapers and spread their 💩 everywhere? No. (Not willingly anyway.) So why are we letting Fear and Offense control us now?
Before I go on, let me just say that I get it. I’ve felt irritated too when “so-and-so” has done “such-and-such” involving masks. I’ve also experienced anxiety when talking about COVID. (No one is immune to this - ha! another pun.) But we can't let these emotions rule us anymore. It’s just not healthy for us.
Stress and trauma cause cortisol and adrenaline to surge through us. These hormones are the BFFs of Fear and Offense, which explains why “masks” have become so polarizing: when you feel stressed or anxious for too long (hello 2020!), this inhibits the other parts of your brain to function properly. Essentially, you “flip your lid”. (Term courtesy of The Whole Brain Child. Read this book immediately!)
Parents, you know what I’m talking about. You’ve seen it happen when your toddler loses it after giving him the purple cup -- I mean, HOW DARE YOU do that when you know so clearly that he prefers the red one!!!
When our kids are in this state (and even adults, for that matter), they can’t reason effectively because their amygdalas are raging. Instead, we need to wait for their prefrontal cortex to “close", and then we can explain why purple is really just a darker shade of red.
The same is true for masks.
Boundaries need to be set. This means that we should STOP before we DO or SAY anything when we're stressed, anxious, or angry. I know this seems impossible. I mean, the Toddler of Offense wants us to share our stress-induced opinions everywhere, but in reality this isn’t what we teach our kids to do.
We don't let our 3-year old repeatedly tell grandma that her belly is giant and floppy and has a baby in it, do we? No. We set boundaries. We let him express his thoughts with us - his trusted people - who can help him navigate his opinions before he sees grandma. What we're doing is teaching our kids the Proverbs 19:11 rule:
“A wise person demonstrates patience, for mercy means holding your tongue (TPT).
The other part of that verse says, "When you are insulted, be quick to forgive ... for you are virtuous when you overlook an offense" (v 11). Be quick to forgive.......what would the rest of 2020 look like if we operated out of that instead of offense?! It would be glorious! 🎉
The first step toward reaching this goal is exploring the root of our offense; and at the base of almost every one is Fear.
For me, this has meant getting real with my feelings about COVID. I had to admit that I did, in fact, have fears, and then I had to identify what they were exactly. I then discussed this with my husband and 1-2 friends (not over Facebook) and replaced my fears with truth:
Perfect love casts out all fear (1 John 4:18).
For God did not give ME a spirit of timidity, but one of power, love, and self-discipline (2 Timothy 1:7, paraphrased). 👈 I personalized this one!
These two verses helped stop my panic attack. I said them over and over again out loud (that part is key) because our positive words have the power to silence our amygdalas!
So to recap:
Press pause when you feel Fear or Offense.
Talk to someone you trust about your feelings.
Get feisty with some Scripture.
And then set some boundaries.
Setting boundaries is a lot easier than you might think. For starters, you could lovingly tell your family that you'd like to talk about travel, food, or the weather instead of masks. You could also walk away from COVID conversations when you start to feel anxious or stressed; OR you could change the topic all together! (I’ve done this.)
The point is, you have a choice. Our Toddlers want us to think they’re in control, but good parents know that’s not true. We know we’re the boss, and we know how to put our toddlers in check.
So let’s put Fear and Offense on a time-out. Let's press pause when we feel stress or anxiety so we can replace it with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. This will then prompt us to make allowances for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who has offended us.
Because at the end of the day, it's not masks we're really mad at; it's COVID, and the fact that we have no control over it. If we can learn to clothe ourselves in love, despite these uncertain times, we will bind ourselves together in harmony instead of stress (Colossians 3:12-14, paraphrased).
Harmony. Now THAT'S the kind of friend I want my toddler to have in 2020.