Liz is terrified of sharks. I am terrified of mice. Me, I see a mouse and I scream and I run. And still that mouse will spot me and chase me down and try to run up my pant leg. And that, my friends, is a fate worse than death.
Liz, on the other hand, is afraid that a shark will swallow her whole.
Liz claims that she is justified in her fear of sharks. Statistically, of course, that is absurd. Yes, a shark can bite off your torso, but you’re as likely to be killed by a shark as by a falling piano and nobody’s afraid of pianos. Besides, her argument falls apart over the fact that she gets nervous in the very deep end of a pool at dusk, where the water is cold. It simply isn’t reasonable, which she would be the first to tell you. (In contrast to my mouse-up-the-pant-leg fear, which is very reasonable and very, very real.)
They say we should learn to face our fears. To which I say: You first, dude.
Why should we learn to face our fears? They never tell you that. You want me to release a few dozen mice into my house so I can face my fear? Lemme tell you something – you ever prank me like that, the joke’s gonna be on you because I’m burning down Fairfield County and moving my family to Kuwait.
But our shark vs. mouse debate has led me here:
The object of our fear is less important than why we are afraid of that thing. Meaning, you can have irrational fears (about spiders and stuff), or rationally-irrational fears (like your kids getting abducted, even though that’s highly unlikely), or rational fears (like of grizzly bears if you’re picnicking in the Yukon).
And yet those all pale in significance next to Anxiety.
Anxiety lingers. Anxiety is the constant fear that MAYBE there WILL BE a mouse in the room at some point.
Anxiety, unlike fear, should be faced. The problem is that we can’t outmuscle anxiety. It can’t be shouted at or run from. The only way to get rid of anxiety is to give someone permission to pry it out of that iron grip of yours.
This is, again, the beauty of counselors.
Lizzie and I lean into marriage counseling – we always have. Listen up, men: Couples counseling is a powerful way to strengthen your relationship with your partner, period. We have a marriage counselor that we adore named Steve.
Here’s how Steve does it – he gets right there into our anxiety. He sinks into the pain and validates it and understands it. And he slowly eases open our clenched fist and helps us release it, even when it’s more comfortable to hug it close like some kind of gross security blanket.
For me, my big anxiety has always been that I somehow won’t be able to provide for my family.
Now, I don’t really have any good reason to believe that – I’ve always been blessed with income. But anxieties, as illogical as they are, still insist on seeping into your entire identity like food coloring. Remember my last entry, about being insanely cheap as a human being? Any truly cheap person will tell you that there is, at the core of that, a fear that you’ll never have enough.
Give somebody permission to help you let go of that anxiety. Because it’s near-impossible to do it yourself.
Me, I got Jesus to do that for me. I know not everyone is down with Jesus – I get that, having been an atheist for my first 32 years. But Jesus promises to take anxiety away and crush it into dust. Still, I have to keep giving it to Him, again and again, on a near daily basis. And He just keeps annihilating it, like a steam roller over a champagne flute. It’s impressive and it’s visceral and my life is different because of that.
But I’m still stuck with my actual, stupid fears. Which brings me to…
Top Five Things I Have No Right to be Afraid of:
Spiders, for some reason, I can deal with. It’s the cobwebs. If I’m walking through the woods or an abandoned house or something, I’m coming in with my arms pinwheeling and extended in front of me like Frankenstein falling down a flight of stairs. A cobweb hits me in the face and I will scream like I’ve been stabbed in the neck.
2.) Open Manhole Covers.
I’m petrified of falling into an open manhole. Why are we even making holes in the ground like that, just willy nilly where people can fall down them? They put a few orange cones around it as if that’s going to do anything? It’s like going to the zoo and finding that they’ve just put a few orange cones around the Bengal tiger.
3.) My Attic.
I know that, statistically, the odds of there being anyone in my attic when I go up there are miniscule. Thus, the odds of there being, say, a man dressed like a clown with a bloody ax up there are so remote as to not be concerning. But when I’m climbing those attic steps it feels about 50-50 that I’m going to get murdered by a clown. I’d like to say I blame Hollywood or Stephen King but the truth is that I blame the insane asylum that let that clown escape in the first place.
4.) Getting Kicked by a Horse.
You know those scenes in movies where the cowboy is leaning over a fence watching his horse run around the paddock at dusk and it’s supposed to be all beautiful and relaxing? I literally can’t watch that. I’m just like “Get outta there, idiot!” because in my mind the horse is just waiting to pass that cowboy and kick his head clean off his shoulders so his hat is just hanging in midair for a moment before floating to the ground.
5.) Tongue Depressors.
I know nobody loves them. But they are the first thing I look for in a doctor’s office. I’m terrified of them. I would rather my doctor come toward me with a coping saw, breath stinking of moonshine. My doctor takes the top off that tongue-depressor mason jar and he’s gonna be looking at a Conor-shaped hole in the wall.
I have no interest in passing any of these fears on to my kids. They’ll have their own. I just pray that I can be a father that helps them let of their own anxieties. And in exchange, they’ll be taking care of any mice we find in the basement.